‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’ Isaiah 49v15
Mothers can’t help thinking about their children – caring, being concerned – it is the deepest attachment there is. After carrying the growing foetus physically, labouring to bring the child forth, the consequent emotional bond is huge: it needs to be to take her through the pain and work of the ensuing years, the sacrifice and training, the giving of herself to see the little one grow. Which is also why it is so hard to let go, when the time comes – cut the cord and the apron strings and let the adult loose… yet making ourselves redundant is our job! Perhaps its more amazing still when adopted children invoke that same heartfelt bond – and I know they do – and it is yet more tragic when sometimes the bond is never forged.
The Scripture calls upon this primitive biological connection to underline the point that separation must be nigh on impossible; a mother simply can’t forget her child… yet even if and when it does happen, God’s Mother heart is stronger, more faithful, more dependable – His bond to us is stronger than the strongest human link we can imagine. I myself am glad for this because my own mother, her mind clouded with illness, did forget me when it came to it – her pain was greater than her love. In my journey of healing since, I have discovered love that is greater than pain, that heals the wound and overcomes the hurt… and yet I’ve also found that true love carries pain bound up in its essence – as was exemplified in Jesus’ suffering for us. It seems you can’t have one without the other!
That is the yearning that can never be escaped! I look back at the photo above from so many years ago and my heart goes out to those little children of my youth, fast asleep on a long car journey: the feelings are stirred at least as deeply by the tender memory of two young adults empathising with each others heartache in more recent years. It’s not surprising that in extremis – as our family certainly are – anxiety builds up inside a mother’s soul. I’ve had so many years of suffering with them both – depressive illness, teenage struggles, adolescent angst and identity crises – pretty normal stuff! – and then this latest blow… Of course we’re longing for their hearts to be at rest, willing to do anything, wanting only the best for them… often trying far too hard and making many mistakes! Any parent understands that – anxiety is a normal response.
So once again I woke this morning trembling with that anxiety, head spinning with worries and thoughts, uncertainty and fear: it is the gut-wrenching stuff that is so hard to put aside – it makes me feel ill. Recent events and conversations, doubts expressed about the plans we’ve made – along with all the stress and tiredness of being far too busy over this last week – my mind and body can only take so much. I understand how people can collapse, take to their beds unable to function… yet believers are told not to be anxious about anything, because that Mother God will keep our hearts steadfast as we trust in the Rock. For my predicament I know no answer other than a touch from outside myself that helps me see beyond the wind and waves and has authority to declare, ‘Peace, be still!’
‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus’ Philippians 4v6-7
It seems a little simple, Paul – and worst of all I don’t know how to pray! I ran out of words so long ago and am left with only feelings and groans: those anxious thoughts that fill my head are known to God and may the One who knows my needs before I ask Him answer what I have no grace to speak! As I imagine Jesus walking on the water in the storm and try to lift my wordless face to Him, that starts to bring relief – and what I cannot say aloud I find my pen can scrawl upon a page to help to clear my head.
The trouble is, as Richard Rohr says, we often have made prayer a way to try to get God to do what we want Him to do… those ‘requests’ we’re encouraged to bring can become a sort of ‘shopping list’ if our hearts aren’t right. So actually I realise it is quite good I don’t know what to ask: I only know the antidote to anxiety is peace, which comes through trust. I also know the biggest lesson I have learned as a mother of adult children, is the imperative to let go of control. I cannot either get God to do what I want Him to do nor make my children do what I think best… manipulation and control are the opposite of the Spirit of Jesus who always brings freedom and gives choice; I either believe God is in control of all of it and agree that His will is best, or I tie myself in ever greater knots of worry! The contemplative mind deliberately puts everything aside to focus on what IS right now, accepting how things are and knowing that the Lord is still in charge, it demonstrates deep trust, it chooses not to know the answers but believe that they will come. It puts its faith in love.
So here is the technique I used to pray those worries away and lean into the Man of Peace… its also something I learned from Rohr in ‘Everything Belongs’. I’m sitting on a river bank and I imagine Jesus sitting next to me: He can read my mind, of course! A succession of boats pass down the river, left to right, all carrying the things and people I’m troubled about. The first one is a barge with Sam and Jessa in their flat and all that surrounds that situation – the deadlines that are making me feel sick, the ups and downs… I sit quite still and let it float away, while trusting that the Lord’s eye is on it all. The second carries Becca and her needs and friends and hopes – I let it pass downstream with the flow and release it all to God. And so the boats come by… they carry all the things that bother me, for which I feel responsible, yet most of which I can do nothing about – and all of which I can do nothing about when I am anxious!
A big key to it all is knowing what my real responsibilities are. The letting go means they as adults now decide what choices they will make: those things may have a knock on effect on me, be hard or hurtful – but I cannot take control away from them – I can only ask the Lord to intervene. Sometimes perhaps even he can’t override someone’s free will – but He is always able to give grace as I submit myself to Him – and He promises to work it out for good. This morning the worried state in which I woke, feeling sick and shaky, was soothed away in rest and acceptance as I decided to lean on the Lord and let Him take the strain. Nothing has changed – and I still don’t really know what words to use apart from “help, give grace, give wisdom to us all!’ – but somehow as I let it all go the storm in my heart is stilled – for now.
What a hope I’ve found, more faithful than a mother… Jesus, friend forever – as Delirious used to sing. Tonight I’ll make that my grateful prayer.