For the kids and me, our weeks are hectic. Part of this is our own doing, and part of it feels imposed. But they’re busy nonetheless.
So it always catches me off guard when the kids and I have a ‘moment.’ I don’t know what I expect to happen: for one of them to say, “Mom — I have something I want to talk to you about,” and then sit me down for a serious conversation. No — anyone who has ever been around little kids for any amount of time knows this to be true: the truths and deep questions come in the middle of pouring milk into a cereal bowl or buckling someone into a carseat.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised when – in the middle of practicing some addition – Jake asked me, “Mommy, what do you want me to be when I grow up?”
Two years ago, the answer would’ve been, “Well, Jake, what do you like to do? I want you to be happy. You have plenty of time to figure it out, and I’ll help you.”
And part of my answer sounded like that. But now, the gist of my answer is different.
“Jake, I want you to figure out what the world needs, and then figure out how you can help. I want you to find something meaningful to do with your life. You have plenty of time to figure it out, and I’ll help you.”
And Jake’s answer was so sincere. “Well, Mommy… people need food and houses, so I’ll do that.”
“I think that sounds like a great plan,” I said.
Lots of my answers are different now than they would have been two years ago, and I am not so naive to think that my answers in five or 10 years will be the same as they are today.
And it’s not just that my answers are different… it’s that I realize I don’t have as many as I thought I did.
Recently, a friend confessed to me something that had been bothering her. It was something she’d never said out loud, she admitted.
“I have a hard time that God gets all of the credit when things are going well, and none of the blame when things are going bad,” she said.
And I have to admit that I have had the same thought. To say such a thing seems blasphemous in some religious circles — and maybe obvious in some secular circles. To have a relationship with God and still acknowledge – and say out loud – when things don’t line up… it requires a certain spiritual vulnerability.
I don’t have any answers for that.
I do know that to have a crisis of health is to have a crisis of faith. And maybe crisis is too strong a word — challenge? Reevaluation? Recalibration? It’s difficult to rationalize how exceedingly horrific things can happen in the world, and yet, it seems that God is letting them happen.
But I don’t have any answers for that, either.
Two years ago, I would’ve been disappointed that I didn’t have the answers. And part of me still is. But I’m not so much concerned with finding all the hard-and-fast answers anymore. It’s not that answers are overrated — it’s that the questions we ask are underrated.
It’s Lent, and today’s homily did not disappoint — the priest had some one-liners that I keep turning over in my mind:
“At the core of every sin is a lie. And at the core of every repentance is the truth.”
“Under every sin is the sin of pride. Pride means we think we are self-sufficient beings who need no one.”
Usually, words dripping with religious overtones – words like pride and sin and truth and repentance – they make me cringe a little. But today, the priest was so sincere, and his message so powerful, that his words went right in my ear and settled on my soul.
Two years ago, I would’ve come home and told Jeff about the homily. (It was too difficult and distracting to take two little kids to church, so Jeff and I took turns on Sunday mornings… and then we compared homilies at dinner on Sunday night.) We would’ve thought about it, and then I would’ve gone about life mostly as usual.
But above all, cancer or a chronic illness or a loss — any sort of grief — it is the greatest teacher of needing people. Jeff and I prided ourself on being self-sufficient people who could mostly handle things without much help. We thought that was a sign of maturity and security. We didn’t want to be a burden, and – because many interactions seemed transactional – we didn’t want to owe anybody anything. Indeed, it seemed almost unAmerican to need others — we were employed citizens who paid taxes, cut our lawn, and didn’t get into other people’s business.
Jeff and I may have been model citizens, loving parents, and good neighbors… but we had missed the boat. As a friend pointed out, a sign of humility is accepting help from others.
I don’t have answers to many of the Big Questions. And I also won’t participate in a sort of blind faith, where I throw my hands up in the air and say that it’s not for me to understand. So, it turns out that faith and religion are life’s most meaningful inquiries. And anyone who engages in the inquiry has to do so with humility… because the full answer is only known after we die.
All my life, I’ve valued answers… having them, finding them, understanding them. Turns out, maybe questions are the more powerful tool. Maybe questions are just what we need to keep pride in check — just what we need to develop humility… to develop love, compassion, wonder, and awe.