Every Mother’s Day for the last dozen years of my ministry as a pastor, we’d combine Mother’s Day with Graduate Recognition. This is because our college students ended earlier than high school students and if we wanted to see them all before they went to Cancun or their senior trip, we’d better get it done.
So, oddly, we celebrated Mother’s Day (which is lauded above Father’s Day). For all of my childhood, I figured Mother’s Day was in the Bible and we often got a sermon on the woman described in Proverbs 31. This was the only time we heard a sermon on this text unless a woman over 75 died, in which case they had asked that it be read to describe them as a virtuous and industrious woman, whether their family had recognized it or not. By Mary and Martha, those unappreciative kin were going to hear it on her way out.
Graduate Recognition is a time when a church, well, marks the end of one phase of mothering, so to speak. As I told one son-in-law when they announced their marriage, “Son, I’ve done all I can do. She’s all yours.”
Now they move to the next phase, which in this most odd time is less clear. Will the moving be metaphorical (Online college? A virtual backpacking trip to Europe? A job, perchance?)? or will it be literal (huge carloads of stuff to cram into some undersized cubbyhole of a dorm room)?
Whatever comes next, the American Dream of parents is what I called in a sermon the “threefold test of maturity.” You are:
- Out of the house.
- Out of school.
- Out of our money.
My daughter Erin said, grinning, “Two out of three isn’t so bad, Dad.”
But this “getting out on your own” has really flown into the Twilight Zone over the past year, and it isn’t over yet. I remember at the end of my freshman year of college packing up a Mustang Grande with my entire dormroom and driving to Denver, Colorado alone at age 18. No cell phone, no credit card, just a “gas card” and cash. That world actually existed.
Yet I WAS going “home.” My favorite definition of “maturity” isn’t that one above. It is this, given my by a counselor, and I have not been able to trace the author: “Maturity is to accept oneself and one’s origins as non-negotiable.” You won’t achieve that after high school graduation or even college, and certainly not in your twenties. You are likely to spend decades figuring out what the heck that means.
Let me just say that what you discover isn’t far from what the poets tell us, that there is something permanent and real right here in us, with us, next to us, in the people we’ve been given, but we cannot know that right away. Wendell Berry said it so beautifully in his short poem:
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
(Wendell Berry, “The Real Work.”)
So out you go, but the prayer of a parent is you will find your way back home. If you have to stay a while until you get it back together or if you have to, as John Denver once sang of the Prodigal Son, make your “way back home again over many a rugged mile,” you will discover the way. And it will be familiar and deep. What you loathed and couldn’t wait to escape or the great treasure you seek isn’t out there anywhere. It is within.
This past year has had plenty that was terrible and depressing. But it has called forth from us something by necessity—to connect where we can with other humans. Loneliness and distance have caused us to dwell in the Far Country even as we didn’t leave home for months and months. And an ache for the people who mattered most and on whom we counted grew deep until we thought perhaps we might not take them for granted ever again.
On this Mother’s Day, just after my wife and I returned home from the embraces of grandchildren from whom we’d been separated for over a year, as we survived an invisible virus and the stupidity of our fears toward one another, something eternal has endured. And the stream that is bouncing off the stones is singing. Listen.
Blessings on you all. Stay connected to the people you love.