The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.
-Thomas Merton, 20th century
One of the things I know to be true about “faith” is that you don’t come to it alone. And by “faith” I don’t mean just belief in a set of doctrines, but deep trust that God is real and good and loving. There are many people who help us along the way of our faith journeys. Now that does not mean they all do it perfectly or that they are perfect examples of faith. They may be faithful in some areas of life; they may be loving in some ways, and they may be a mess or mess up in other ways. Still, there are key people who help us develop our relationship of trust in God and who help us come to know the love, compassion, and grace of God for ourselves.
For many of us, that is our mother. She is often the one to teach us to trust someone outside and beyond ourselves to provide love and nurture for us, before we even realize that we are learning this truth. That was true for me. My mother did that for me and she did much more. She taught me the stories of God and Jesus. She demonstrated a deep trust and faith in God. She attempted to live faithfully with God at the center of her life. She did not do any of this perfectly. She had her struggles with her own imperfections. Still, these are lessons I learned from her.
A few years ago UCC pastor Lillian Daniel shared a story about her mother with the readers of the Stillspeaking Daily Devotional. The story told about a dinner party her mother was hosting. As she brought out the main course, a roast duck, she tripped on a crease in the carpet and the duck flew across the room. There was a moment of panic and horror from her mother and the guests and then just as quickly her mother recovered. She marched over to the duck, picked it up and announced, “Let me just throw this duck away in the kitchen, and I’ll be back in just a minute with the other duck.”
Of course, everyone knew there was no other duck, but they all feasted on the duck she brought back from the kitchen, and on the grace that was served to both an embarrassed hostess and to her hungry guests.
Not all mothers exemplify Merton’s statement about the beginning of love. Not all mothers have the capacity to allow their children to be perfectly themselves. Not all mothers have received that same grace from their mothers or from society at large. But some do. And when they do it is a marvelous gift they share with us of how God loves us and how we can begin to approach that same level of love with one another.
This Sunday, whatever your mother shared with you, whatever her capacity to love you and accept you without trying to twist you into her own image, whatever faith or lack of faith she shared with you, I encourage you to offer her some grace. You can show her the beginnings of love as you let her be perfectly herself. Resolve not to twist her, or her memory, into your image of a “perfect” mother.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida