Category Archives: spirituality

Lawns, mothers, children and rough Mother’s Days

Two lawns: Which do you prefer?
It looks like one is in sun and the other in shadow, but they both lie in unobstructed sunlight.

It was Mother’s Day on Sunday in North America, and on my walk yesterday I ruminated over the dark side of the day that I kept bumping up against over the weekend.

  • The father of young children whose mother died too soon. Her young boys braced for a Mother’s Day where the empty space where her unconditional love used to be loomed large.
  • A mother estranged from her teenagers due to a difficult family break-up.
  • A note from an acquaintance on social media to “everyone, but especially to those who never got the mother they deserved. Today can be a rough day, but I’m here with you. I see you.”

As I walked ideas bounced around my brain, but when I arrived at those two very different side-by-side lawns, it led my thoughts to perfectionism and unconditional love (freely given, withheld or ripped away). 

Mothers

The lawn at the bottom of the picture is Perfect Mother as we all want to be: an unblemished Plato Ideal.

But the lawn at the top is the mother we really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.

I imagine that the carefree state of the lawn at the top drives the owner of the dark green manicured lawn crazy, its imperfections judged and remarked upon. Every mother knows what it is to be judged. Too lenient, too strict, too involved, too arm’s length, too busy working, too much at home, too preoccupied with appearance, too slovenly . . . too, too, too . . .

We are human beings that make mistakes. We lose our tempers. We’re tired. We can never live up to the many variations of Ideal Perfect Mother, and our children are the first to home in on our failings and foibles.

If we’re lucky, our children grow to understand and accept our imperfections and love us unconditionally, but that’s not always the case.

Children

The lawn at the bottom is Perfect Child: the unblemished Plato Ideal.

But the lawn at the top is children as they really are: messy, rutted, and weed-filled.

Parents usually come to the task of parenting with the misguided belief that their children will grow into miniature versions of themselves who will follow the paths laid out for them. Surprise! Children are singular and self-directed and not at all what we expect. 

They are human beings that make mistakes. They’re figuring out who they are and trying to find a way to love whatever that is. They can never live up to the many variations of Perfect Child, and parents are the first to home in on their failings and foibles.

The most important thing parents can do is love their children unconditionally as imperfect as they are, but that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it happens, but the parent is taken away too soon. 

A rough day

Messages all around us on Mother’s Day portray the Perfect Mother and Child ideal. One could easily be mislead into believing that every family situation is unblemished and shiny like that manicured lawn, instead of complicated, sometimes painful, and ever-evolving.

On my walk, the first lawn struck me as falsely green, drugged into submission and more concerned with appearances than authenticity. I preferred the messy lawn. No pretense, no trying too hard, and no plastering over imperfections.

I enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend, I hope you did too. But if you had a rough day, it’s okay and ever-evolving. 

My own lawn: Cared for, a little clover mixed in, and no shortage of weeds.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kids know: Sharing and including is way more fun

A surprising lesson from a kids game:

I played musical chairs with my Sunday school kids in two ways. First the traditional version with chairs numbering one less than the players participating arranged, music played, and when the music stopped the children scrambled to claim a chair. One sad-faced child did not find a seat and skulked away, excluded to watch forlornly while the other children played. One more chair removed, and so on.

For the second version, we started out with one less chair at the beginning, same as always, and we removed one chair on each round, same as always. The difference was no child was ever eliminated or excluded. When the music stopped, the children found chairs BUT everyone had to have a place, even if it meant sharing.

What warmed my heart more than anything? The kids shared their chairs even when they didn’t have to.

They didn’t evenly distribute themselves to claim space and only share when there were no more empty chairs. We removed one chair per round and when the music stopped there would be two or three left over. Kids reached out to take other kids by the hand to say, “Sit with me.” They were smiling and laughing and hugging. It was wonderful.

Including everyone was happier than excluding and rejecting. Sharing was more satisfying than staking out space alone.

The first time the kids played they did as they were told and followed the rules of the game. They didn’t question the dog-eat-dog nature of the game. The second time they also followed rules, but they were better thought-out rules, and it was way more fun. Inclusion is important in our affirming church. The kids lived that intuitively when playing a game.

How often do we follow dog-eat-dog rules without question when we could easily change the rules to a much more fun, satisfying option?

We must be careful and mindful of the rules we teach our children. What an awesome responsibility.

Time . . . because will you see the next sunset?

We have an art gallery in our church. A recent display featured the work of Leonard Minni, an artist who lived in Rwanda before during and after the 1994 genocide.

He visited our congregation to tell us about the theme for his exhibition: Time.

The crowd listened in awed silence as he told us that many of his pieces involve sunsets, because when he watched the sun set during the trauma in 1994 he wondered if he would live to see the sun rise, and would he live to see another sunset?

The art of Leonard Minni

One never knows what life holds.

Savour moments as precious. Soak up those sunsets. Be mindful with your Time. 

My family in an Anna Maria Island FL sunset

 

 

 

The weight and clutter of beliefs we carry

“When we carry a belief, it has a certain mental weight attached to it . . . The heavier the investment—such as religious loyalty, abortion, politics, patriotism, good versus evil—the heavier the weight of belief.”  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

In my work at a local library hundreds of books pass through my hands every shift. Most times I don’t pay too much attention, except to note where to place the book correctly. Sometimes a book stops me and says, “Made ya look!”

This week it was The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson. I have not read the book yet (if only I could read every book) but I gather the principle is this: clear out your crap before you die and make someone else clean up your mess.

I’m sure Margareta is more polite about it.

Speaking as someone who has had to clear up some such clutter, I endorse the idea. And I think we can go a step farther and clear out some of our mental and emotional clutter too.

In his book, The Unfoldment, Neil Kramer talks about the cluttery weight of beliefs we carry around with us. Some beliefs weigh more than others depending on how invested we are in them. Casual or lighthearted beliefs, like believing a four-leaf clover might bring us good fortune, are light and don’t bother us much to tote around. If we add on a lot more of those little beliefs (knock three times, don’t turn the calendar page until the new month starts, don’t step on a crack, don’t shave during playoffs, don’t wash your lucky socks . . .) the pack gets lumpy and awkward.

Big problems arise when we lug around sandbag-heavy beliefs. Those become a real burden because, even though carrying the weight is hard work, we don’t want to set those burdens down.

“Strangely, the heftier the belief, the more proudly people will sometimes bear its weight. If someone has carried a belief-anvil for 40 years, she is not going to react too kindly to someone telling her that it’s been totally unnecessary. All that effort and martyrdom would have been for nothing. So people hold fast to their own obstinacy, mentally staggering around under this peculiar encumbrance.  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

And a disbelief can be just as heavy. “Disbeliefs require the same maintenance, egoic investment, and channeled consciousness as their positive counterparts,” Kramer writes. (So that’s why so many atheists look like they are a day past a good bowel movement.)

I think we need to think about death-cleaning our minds, clearing out the clutter of beliefs we shouldn’t pass along for someone else have to deal with.

Lately I have found myself avoiding conversations with certain people on particular topics if I know they carry a heavy belief, or if I know I do: Politics is a mine field, the #metoo movement has pitfalls galore, and even Easter has potential for controversy. I’ve started to think, “I need to lighten up.” The weight is getting heavy.

The benefit of death cleaning, I suspect, is keeping only that which serves life, for the benefit of health and happiness and the good of others. Sounds good to me.

four-leaf-clover

It was fun when my daughter found this four-leaf clover, but I don’t REALLY believe it brings us good fortune.

 

 

Love: Looking outward in the same direction

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward together in the same direction.” —Saint-Exupéry

Something I remember at this time of year: A better translation for the word “love” in the Bible would be “compassion.” 

I changes everything. Imagine if couples promised to have compassion for each other instead of to love each other. It takes away the possibility of  the kind of damage people inflict on each other in the name of “love,” a word that can lead to possessiveness and manipulation.

Compassionate couples trust. They don’t need to keep watchful eyes on each other. They turn outward together to look at the world in the same direction.

They don’t waste time gazing. They look at what can and needs to be done.

They take action, do good, have fun.

If Valentine’s Day can lead to a little more of that, I’ll get on board.

Compassion

 

 

 

 

Charles Schulz wisdom: Everyone else is taken

“Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” —Charles Shulz

The book Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown gave me plenty to think about, but two things stand out.

First, she describes how during her childhood in the southern United States she often didn’t receive birthday party invitations, because when the parents of other kids saw her name on the class list they assumed she was black.

I had to work through that story on several levels. The shock of the overt racism and empathy with the feeling of being alone and left out, of course. But then there was this big cultural difference. I am Canadian and I live in Ottawa where francophone culture thrives. My first thought on seeing Brené was, “How interesting that she has a French name.”

Culture affects how we see the world.

Her name, and other factors in her life, led to times on the outside looking in, and led her to research belonging. The responses she received from a group of eighth graders about the topic stunned me with their profound insight. Here’s what they had to say:

  • Belonging is being somewhere where you want to be and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.

  • Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.

  • If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.

—From Braving the Wilderness  by Brené Brown

The most jarring sentence for me was, “Fitting in is being where you want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.” 

How often do we do that to ourselves? Choose to be somewhere doing something or being something that feels not quite right when the people around us don’t care one way or the other.

It’s a wake-up call to look around and ask ourselves:

  • Do I belong where I am or do I just fit in? Who cares?
  • Am I being myself or am I fitting myself?

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