No event in my life has shaped me more than loving a child that I have borne and brought into the world. I am not a “natural” mother, if by that designation one means someone who always longed to have children and found her identity in mothering. But I chose to have children, and on this birthday of my daughter, I am musing on how much my choice to be a mother has been an agency of Grace and Joy in my continuing to become the person I was created to be.
Loving a child has opened me to wonder and to the laughter and amazement at the ways the created world, with all its manifestations and movable parts. contribute to the art of living. The world is full of the grandeur of God, that I had always known. However, to see, hear and touch the world through the senses, first of a toddler, then a unique and rare human being emerging as her own person, with a wry sense of humor, a fearless belief that all things were possible and a determination to walk and soar despite all the impediments in her way, opened me to a kind of faith, hope and love that I had not known previously. The creative Spirit of the Holy One is much more imaginative, shocking and hilarious than I had ever known. And if this were the creature that God had brought into being, how much more could there be in this wide world and beyond that could tune my heart to sing God’s praise, to rejoice and be glad, and to deepen my trust that, indeed, all will be well!
To love a child also created in me some tiny seeds of strength and resolve as the caregiver of one who lives with great fierceness in her heart and bones. So much of my socialization in growing my own self has been to be adaptive, compliant, self-effacing and nice. I like those qualities in myself; however, they are not adequate to a life fully alive. I needed to continue to grow in being strong without being harsh, in being sure without being judgmental, in setting boundaries without repressing the irrepressible spirit who had been entrusted to me. Again, I had to examine and re-learn what it meant to be a parent, nurturing unconditional positive regard for my beloved one, while at the same time “drawing her with bands of love” to “keep protection near and danger afar.” And I confess, mistakes were made, even as leaps and bounds of learning to love wisely were made as well.
Maybe more than anything, loving a child threw me on the mercy of God with a kind of vulnerability I never quite fathomed before. Bring the kind of person who sought “how-to” books long before they were a cottage industry, I followed every worthy expert, read every latest expert, went to classes with others. Only to find, that there were were so many things outside of my control–the unique personality of each child, the dynamics of the neighborhood in which we lived, the ethos of the schools to which they went, the tenor of the programs for children in the churches to which we belonged, the trend of the media—long before it was social. All these were forces which were much more powerful than the intentions, even the good and prayerful ones, of a parent who wanted to do the right thing. At some “click” moment in my parenting, I came awake to the understanding that God, the Holy One, loved and would always love, my children more than I possibly could, and though I needed to continue to be all that i could be as a mother, both of them were in the loving care of the One who made them just they way they were, was continuing to live in them by the Spirit, and would never let them go. Out of my control, they were still Beloved and Whole, just the way they were.
As they became adults, and now have children of their own, they are responsible for their own lives, yet they still invite me to be part of theirs too. My current loving of them is still full of wonder, still tenacious, and still vulnerable. But today as I celebrate my daughter on her birthday and my son in his active, adventuresome life, I give thanks for the way they have shaped me on my journey, and for teaching me dimensions of divine love I might never have known without them.
Oil painting, “In the Garden,” by Mary Cassatt, 1904