May 14, 2023
Scripture Reading: II Timothy 1:1-7
It’s Mother’s day! Of course it is! My first thought was: “Maybe it’s time to share with you all something about what my mother taught me.” I looked it up and realized I have never shared that with you here at St. Johns! But the topic is so complex! How will it relate to anyone else? Nobody’s mother is like anyone else’s! There are no standard mothers!
Besides, why am I even thinking about my parents? Both have been gone a long time. Mother died in January of 2001. Dad in January of 1981. And yet, anybody who deals with our emotional health knows that inside of us, for good or ill, they (and their influence) never dies.
So, I am going to suggest that it is a good thing to occasionally remind ourselves of the gifts our parents have left for us and to give thanks. Also, it’s valuable to do our part in resolving the tangles they left for us to unravel. You all probably understand what it is to get a perfectly wound ball of twine only to drop it and find it comes all apart and we toss it into a box to unravel some day. Then, we never get back to it. Just before we die, we pass the tangle on to our children who work at it for a while and finally they, too, are unable to untangle it and pass the mess to their children. And, on it goes!
I am drawn to the text that Mike read for us a few minutes ago. Paul is writing to his son in the faith, Timothy. He had become a mentor of Timothy and I’m sure his hope was that Timothy would take over some responsibilities in the nurturing of some of the congregations scattered all over the Mediterranean world. Paul saw in Timothy leadership potential because he knew the family and he knew what had been instilled in him first from his grandmother Lois and then from his mother Eunice. That spiritual heritage is an invaluable gift that parents pass on to their children – no matter what the child ends up doing with it. Sometimes they reject it outright, and often, if not always, they adjust it to suit their times and their needs.
I’ve done that! I was raised by both my parents and my grandmother, who lived with us as long as I was at home. All three were people of faith and one of the most precious gifts they each gave to me was their own commitment to following God in the best way they knew how. I’ve adjusted the gift and altered it but I prize the gift itself.
Early on, I knew all 66 books of the Bible and could name them. I knew the stories, the characters, and the lessons my parents gleaned from those stories. I don’t see the Bible like they did, but I’ll never devalue the original gift.
My mother in particular gave me a love of music and a love of the songs and hymns of the church. They are embedded in my mind. I’ll never forget sitting by my mother in church and learning at a young age to sing alto with my mother and getting an elementary grasp of harmony from her. She was my piano teacher’s assistant – knowing when I missed a note when I practiced.
She taught me tenderness. She taught me the value of character and especially honesty and being who you say you are. She supported me with her prayers but she wasn’t perfect. How often I have wished for an early model of strength and independence from her. I would give a great deal to go back and have her offer me an openness to think for myself and love that work. I never got a critical mind from her nor the skill to recognize and ask all the questions that I had, especially ones
that drew me to see things differently from her. I got more of her fear of the world than I could use and way more of a need to please everyone that I could.
I sometimes wonder who I would be now if my parents had been different somehow. But I know now that who I am is to a large degree the result of not just profiting by my parents’ strengths, but also by overcoming and learning from their weaknesses.
We parents put a lot of pressure on ourselves by adopting this unspoken expectation from our culture that parents really SHOULD be perfect. I know we adopt that notion because parents still feel guilty for their plentiful faults and weaknesses. But I also am convinced that God doesn’t see us like we see ourselves.
Every one of the Biblical characters had their flaws. It is so fascinating to me that as many of those flaws are included in the text as they are. Why do we know so much about David’s indiscretions? Why do we learn about the stubbornness of Moses trying to escape his calling? What about the intentional descriptions of Adam and Eve’s difficulty with simply minding God’s commands? And what about Peter’s hot headedness? And Saul’s desperate need for a conversion experience to save him from a life of violence and hatred?
What is this display of flawed and broken individuals? Why speak about it? Why be so open? And what does it have to do with being a Mom or a Dad or a child of one or both?
I know that part of it is to teach us that we need to allow the Spirit of God to work with us to become all that we are meant to be! And, part of it is to teach us that flawed and imperfect people is all we have to work with. They (parents, children, preachers, church goers) each have their own set of difficulties, tangles, temptations, and situations – like the pile of pick-up-sticks we each get laid in front of us at birth.
And part of it is to teach us that in the process of our growing and becoming, there is everything we need, including ample forgiveness for our failure and sins and the failures and sins of our parents. Grace is abundant and enough – always!
Grace is what has been imparted to our Mothers to give them the attributes that have blessed us and started us on the right path. But also – grace is the gift that has been given to us as children in such abundance, that we can extend that same grace to our oh-so-human parents. These parents whom we think we know, but if the truth be told, even in all of our years of living with them day in and day out, we do not know the full story of what they were given to work with and what obstacles they had to deal with just to be as good as they were.
So this morning, there is no question that I feel a lot of gratitude for my mother and the investment she made in me. I don’t know how she did it, but I’m thankful. And I have to say that I’m grateful, too, for the things I wish I could have received from her and didn’t. And that lack, too, has been a gift to me and I have passed on both gifts and burdens to my own children.
As Mary Ann said to her two daughters. “I’m going to do my very best to give you what I can and what you need from a mother, but know this: I’ll succeed in part of it and I’m going to manage to do my share to mess up your lives, but that’s why we have therapists!”