She was 85 and nearing the end of her life. I’d never met her before. You might call her a “lapsed Christian,” or maybe she was one of the “nones.” She hadn’t been to church in decades. She called for a visit because she had anxiety about death. But what broke my heart was her anxiety about God.
“Hi,” I gently greeted her.
“Hello pastor,” she replied. She began telling me about her Catholic parents, her “fall” from Catholicism, and that she'd never felt “at home” in a Protestant church. She stated that she hadn’t stepped into a church in thirty years, and her relationship with God had suffered for it. And now, on her death bed, she felt the weight of guilt and anxiety of abandoning God.
“I’m not in a state of grace,” she said with spiritual and emotional pain.
That’s when my heart broke. She felt guilty because she believed she had abandoned God and so God had abandoned her. I began to think of all the damage many religious people have caused throughout the centuries by imposing guilt upon people. A religion that piles on the guilt isn’t worth following. A god who inflicts guilt upon us isn’t a god worthy of belief.
There is a pernicious theological claim that states God responds mimetically to us. That God imitates us. So, when we turn away from God, God turns away from us. When we abandon God, God abandons us.
That’s a lie. Don’t believe it.
I was driving home from work a few weeks ago and found myself suffering from a little radio ADD. I flipped through every station on my programmed radio console with a sense of emptiness. Each station was playing what sounded like the same song with the same beat over and over again.
How can I find meaning in my drive home with the drudgery of the same bland music?
I finally gave up on my search for meaning and stopped on my favorite top-40 radio station, Chicago’s 101.9 The Mix. And there it was. Someone was singing these words:
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally.
“Wait a minute,” I thought. “The Mix is playing a song about God?!? Had The Mix been taken over by a Christian radio station? Had K-Love or Moody Radio joined messianic forces with Rafael and Ted Cruz to enforce Christian Dominionism all over American radio?”
“Talk to me about your mother.”
Such ominous words.
But talk to you about her, I will. And it's not gonna be pretty.
You see, my mother isn't perfect. Her love may be perfect, but she's not and like everyone else on the planet she has hurt the ones she loves the most in the very act of trying to love them.
It's Mother's Day this Sunday and we'll honor our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, spouses, grandmothers and, and, and...We'll honor women and men who have mothered us. And we should.
It's not easy work and Lord knows that Freud has helped us pathologize motherhood. In turn we have idolized motherhood and mothers. Neither approach works. Not really. So I would like to propose a via media for Mother's Day.
Every Sunday as I'm driving to the church I serve I call my mother to check in. She lives by herself and I worry. I'm her son. I can't help myself.