What do we carry in our bags?
As a parent of young children the question of what I carry in my bags, both the skills and gifts that I bring to the mysterious and ever-elusive craft of parenting, and the baggage that my own parents and family of origin passed on to me, is very much on my mind. This Sunday is Mother’s Day, and we have invited our parish and preschool families to come and celebrate Moms together. Anticipating this event has got me thinking about what it means to be a parent, and what it might mean to be a mother.
As a parent, the last thing that I want to do is to allow my ‘baggage’ to adversely impact my kids. To clean up the language of the infamous Philip Larkin poem,
‘They mess you up your mum and dad
they may not mean to but they do
they fill you with the faults they had
and add some extra just for you‘.
It goes without saying that Larkin was not the most cheery fellow, but his point is valid – be part of the solution, not the problem. Half of being part of the solution is dealing with our adult stuff – the leftovers from our own childhoods – before we unwittingly inflict it on our own children. However, the other half of being part of the solution is to offer all that is good, and loving, and joyful, and wise, and I would say all that is of God to our sons and daughters, our grandchildren, nephews and nieces.
This is where I believe the Church has a wonderful calling to be a spring of life and hope for families and individual mothers and fathers and all those who care for children. John, writing in his New Testament epistle, writes that ‘whatever is born of God conquers the world’. From the surface of things, this looks a lot like a very modern view of human development. Our consumer culture would have us believe that we can be exceptional individuals if only we dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to that goal, if only we work hard enough. And isn’t this just exactly what modern society encourages us to think about our children: that they will be world-beaters, that they will be exceptional. Nobody is prepared for where the vast majority of us end up: mediocrity! I don’t say that to put anyone down, I say it to raise up that this is not a life where everyone will go to the moon, yet this is a life where everyone, without exception, can be transformed by the love of God. In Christ, we come to see that our exceptional nature is not that we are somehow better than others around us but that we are uniquely called and uniquely known as God’s own first love, each of us and all of us.
We hear more of this transforming love in the Gospel of John, where he encourages us to abide in the love of God, in the love that is God.Abiding in the love of another is a very maternal image to me and there is a sense that Christ’s love for us is something like seeing our growth as human beings in the ‘womb’ of God, the safe sanctuary of nurture and growth that feeds us all that we need to become who we truly are and then finally delivers us to new birth. Christ’s love is where we are to abide because that is where and how the new creation is birthed. The Church is both the living body of Christ through which new life is born yet also it is the midwife of that newness.
So, I do encourage you to come to church on Sunday and celebrate mothers and all those who care for children, not to receive yet another set of ’12 excellent steps to successful parenting’, but to receive the good news that in Christ we find a love that brings us home to our true selves, the self that is at last freed from its baggage with its hurts and failures, a love that sets us at liberty to love others, most especially the children who long to know that they are born of light and belong to a divine Love that will never let them go.