[Word count: 855. Approximate read time: 4 minutes]
God is not my mother. The two are not the same. They’re different. They are different.
Jesus was born in Bethlehem some two-thousand odd years ago, not Bakersfield in the 1950’s. Most depictions show him as a white man with a mellow expression and Clairol-ad-worthy hair. Not a black woman with luxuriously extended eyelashes, high cheekbones, café au lait skin, and a shy, affable smile.
They are not one and the same. It took years of work to convince myself of this. And it seems the maintenance on this work is never done.
I was about 7 when my mother became a born-again, charismatic Christian. So by the time I became awkward and rebellious, all chastisement was paired with scripture.
- “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
- “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long…” (Exodus 20:12)
- “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” (Ephesians 6:1)
- “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry…” (1 Samuel 15:23)
You’d be hard pressed to find a child who grew up in a Christian home without these and other verses as the dramatic soundtrack playing beneath their most memorable ass beatings. And everybody knows a movie isn’t a movie without the score. They go together.
A couple other things went together too. My mother established herself as the authority figure and backed up her authority biblically. This fused her and God together in my mind. The message received was “if you keep Mom happy, God will be happy… and you don’t want God upset, do you?”
After awhile, I was unclear whose voice I was hearing: Mom’s or God’s. It was as if Moses heard God speak through a burning bush, then got mixed up for years trying to placate the bush. I couldn’t tell who was issuing the threats and who was just echoing them.
The child that’s got his own
For a long time, I didn’t think God was paying attention to my prayers. They weren’t like my mother’s. They weren’t persuasive and declarative. They didn’t have enough words. They were too quiet. Quiet things usually aren’t powerful. Frankly, I didn’t think my prayers were very good. I thought my life was going well only because Mom prayed.
It was years before I had a faith that wasn’t on loan from a parent and subject to their parameters. When I did, it was a big deal. Like the first time you can buy something with money you earned yourself, I finally understood that Jesus would answer my calls as Mark. I didn’t need to tell him I was My Mother’s Son in order to get a prayer through.
The apron strings
Currently, the problem is that this period of questioning in my spirituality has her understandably concerned. But concern or not, I’m in my mid-30s now. I am dutifully about the business of working out my own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). I disagree much more now. I love my mother, but I don’t want to walk in her spiritual footsteps.
Open my mouth to express dissent and, like a shock-training collar, I get an arresting bolt of misgiving slice through me. What if God’s displeasure does run parallel with Mom’s? I shrink a little. It’s still a challenge to disagree with her and not think I’m simultaneously disagreeing with all of heaven and its hosts in one fell swoop.
As someone sacredly entrusted to raise me, my mother worked out her own salvation while also helping her children work out theirs. She fostered my faith. If it wasn’t for her zeal and advocacy then, I wouldn’t have the remaining frayed shreds of faith that survive now. She’s used to supporting my belief. What she’s not used to is me popping her hand when she reaches in to help. I can never find a loving enough way to tell her, “Back away. This is mine. You need only work out your own now.”
Go your own way
So now I’m writing Junkyard Salvation while living Junkyard Salvation. And it’s not quite the life of faith my mother envisioned for me.
“Honey, did you go to church last Sunday?” “No.”
“Well are you going this Sunday?” “No.”
“Are you looking for another church.” “No.”
”Are you still a Christian?!”
Bristling with a hard sigh, “YES.”
As she and many Christians understand it, “forsake not the gathering” (Hebrews 10:25) means you need to go to church every Sunday. I don’t forsake gathering. Lately though, my gatherings are one on one with someone a little older and wiser than I. They’re conversational. There will usually be some testimony, some complaining, some countering, encouraging, prayer, and some food.
When I get the conviction, I may visit a regular church. But I’m free to do that or not as I see fit. Mama may have. Papa may also have had. But God has blessed me. I am his child. And this faith is my own.
- Reconsidering Mary, Mother of Jesus (stacialbrown.com) — “I cannot imagine raising Jesus… I would not have known how to behave like a mother to him… I wouldn’t have known how to chastise him… I wouldn’t have known how to love him with reckless abandon.”
- The Shakes (junkyardsalvation.com) — “There is a very singular way her hand shakes when Mom prays for me… It’s just the slightest bit stronger than the dryer on its final spin cycle.”
- Like A Child (junkyardsalvation.com) — “I’m the youngest of my mother’s children, so she still worries and frets a bit over me now and then. That’s sweet, but overall, we relate differently now that I’m an adult. Out of respect, there are boundaries she will not cross.”
- The Importance of Mothering On Your Day Off (huffingtonpost.com) — “My heart was about to bisect like the body of an earthworm. I would watch it walk off and play and chatter: a part of me, apart from me.”
I went through this too. I think this is my favorite post so far 🙂
Thanks, Chrissy. I’ve been working on it since well before Mother’s Day. Glad it wasn’t TOO too late! 🙂
Loved it. I can relate…
Man, thank you. Both for reading AND for subscribing! 🙂
Good stuff Mark!
Thank you, good deacon!
I wanted to leave a serious response, but your avatar of Angry Man from Martin is causing me to laugh till I drool every 15 letters…
^— Does not see the humor.
Hi Mark, don’t sweat about not attending church every Sunday, the point is not about church every Sunday. It’s about not living in isolation, and making sure you are able to fellowship with others. We all need people in our life who both support us and are willing to help lovingly hold us accountable; someone we can vent to, pray with and give us the smack of reality we sometimes need.
From my perspective, you have just that in your “mentor” that you meet with. In fact, it may be more in tune with Christ’s view of how church should be! After all, Christ was all about the relationships. He was about really seeing people and caring about them genuinely. Remember, Jesus thought a lot of the stuff they were doing at the temple, even in His day, was wrong!
“As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace.” (Mark 11:1, 15, 16 NLT)
The fellowship you have with your “mentor” is more in line with the view Christ gave us for church: Talk, Eat, Pray, Worship…. Basically, be there for each other. “When it was evening, Jesus sat down at the table with the twelve disciples…..As they were eating, Jesus took some bread and blessed it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, ‘Take this and eat it, for this is my body’…… Then they sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:20, 26, 30 NLT) Talk, eat, pray, worship!
Aww, thanks, Kendra. I appreciate the kudos, but as I think about it, it’s been a minute since I’ve met with any mentors! (Work does this.) But it’s a good reminder to make sure I don’t isolate. Message received!
I 100% dig the part about prayer. “For a long time, I didn’t think God was paying attention to my prayers. They weren’t like my mother’s. They weren’t persuasive and declarative. They didn’t have enough words. They were too quiet. Quiet things usually aren’t powerful. Frankly, I didn’t think my prayers were very good. I thought my life was going well only because Mom prayed.”
I think that’s more relevant to folks who grew up in church than we realize. Mama can only pray us through for so long before it either becomes a pursued PERSONAL relationship or… nothing at all. Everyone’s got their own journey, their own Damascus Road and I think it’s dope you’re sharing your with us. 🙂