One of my favorite writers is Andrée Seu Peterson. An author and senior writer for World Magazine, her essays are without fail refreshingly honest and perceptive.
I’ve been reading World since its early days (1986) when print magazines were struggling to hold onto subscribers and trying to earn new ones. In a competitive market where the readership of other news magazines was diminishing, World found an audience and has continued to grow.
Today’s Faith & Inspiration post by Peterson is entitled Forgiving Our Mothers. As usual, with amazing brevity and clarity, she tackles what (for some, and possibly, many) is a prickly and unpleasant subject. She uses for reference a passage from Anne Lamott‘s book Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith.
Full disclosure, though I’m generally familiar with Anne Lamott, I’ve never read one of her books so my impressions may be unfair. However, based on the quoted section Peterson highlights, Lamott appears to be one whose prickly, unpleasant experiences and memories about her mother evince an open, oozing wound so deep and complex, there’s little hope for eventual healing. This daughter believes she was crippled by her mom and permanently hobbled. She says: “I would limp forever.” How unimaginable!
As Peterson observes about herself, I too am both a daughter and a mother. I well recall times when I was growing up that I swore I’d never, never, ever be like my mom! No, she didn’t do everything perfectly … just as I eventually became a terribly imperfect mother myself.
Because I did grow up finally and become a mom, I’ve learned to comprehend the impossible task set before us as mothers. Also, as I’ve aged, I’ve come to understand that even if we had all the tools and resources to perform as perfectly as possible, we’d quickly muck it up. And that’s okay … because one of the most important lessons moms can pass on to their children is permission to fail. If my mom had been a perfect mother, I’d have been riddled with guilt in not being able to live up to her model of perfection.
It’s difficult for me to identify with Lamott. As I read the brief description of her mom quoted in Peterson’s column, it sent chills up my spine. Not because the description resembles my mom, but because I pray I haven’t inflicted my children with a level of the regret Lamott expresses! How sad would that be?! (And there is still one son who has given me reason for concern!)
Though my mother wasn’t a perfect mom (as stated earlier), I realized early in my own mothering days that she was worthy of emulation. Of course, there were plenty of times when I heard her words being uttered from my mouth! (At first, I was aghast, but I got over the horror and settled on amusement.) These days, I acknowledge the looming reality of someday “having a dead mother” (Lamott’s words) but my response will be vastly different. I dread that day. (I posted a bit about my thoughts on that here.)
Peterson handles the whole forgiving our mothers idea with perfect common sense. Indulging this kind of “time-consuming, mental real estate-squatting” is useless and energy-sapping! I can always find someone else to blame for what’s wrong in my life, whether it’s my mom, or my employer, or the person who cut me off in traffic on my way home this afternoon.
Blame-shifting … isn’t that what happened in the Garden of Eden? Adam said: “The woman you [God] gave me …” Eve said: “The serpent beguiled me …”
How like them we are!
Forgiveness may be a Biblical concept, but even non-religious people benefit from forgiving. The Mayo Clinic offers a short article about the importance of forgiveness for one’s mental health.
Peterson’s essay points to the path of Forgiveness. Whether it’s in a mother-daughter relationship or with some other kin, we can waste precious time and energy blaming others or we can choose to forgive and be free.
In another post on this blog, I referenced my own need for forgiveness. As I think about neediness, the words of C. S. Lewis resonate: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”