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I am heading into a big transition. In a few weeks, I will preach my final sermon in the church where I have pastored for a decade. And then I will wait to see what God has next for me. The discernment journey that took me to this point has been clear, but not easy.
On a heavy Sunday afternoon in the midst of it all, I sat despondently on the living room couch, staring into the middle distance. “Do you need to talk to someone right now?” my husband asked. “I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t think so. I don’t know who I would want to talk to right now.”
We sat in quiet for a moment. And then Tim said, “Your mom.”
Oh! It hit me all over again. Yes! MOM! I want to talk to my mom. I feel like I’ve been gathering up stories and tidbits for almost two years now – subconsciously saving them for our next conversation. Suddenly the weight of all those untold stories felt so heavy. I sat there on the couch, crying for the first time in months, imagining what it would be like to tell her some of the stories. I could hear her groans and exclamations, picture her laughter, feel her sighs.
But then I got into the weeds of my thoughts. This particular story – of me leaving my congregation – might actually have been pretty tough to navigate with Mom. Her living presence with me through this season could have added another layer of stress. There was something about the consolidated memory of her meeting me in my tears that may have been a deeper ministry to me than her living presence in that very moment would have been.
Let me explain.
In his book, Sacred Fire, Father Ronald Rolheiser talks about the experience of receiving someone after they have left us. Of course, this receiving isn’t the same in essence as the receiving of the Spirit after Jesus’ ascension, but there is a Pentecost echo in it.
We only really grasp the essence of another after he or she has gone away. When someone leaves us physically, we are given the chance to receive his or her presence in a deeper way. And the pain and heartache we feel in the farewell are birth pangs, the stretching that comes with giving new birth. When someone we love has to leave us (to go on a trip, to begin a new life, or to depart from us through death), initially that will feel painful, sometimes excruciatingly so. But when that leaving is necessitated by duty or by life itself, then, no matter how hard it is, even if it is death itself that takes away our loved one, eventually he or she will come back to us in a deeper way, in a presence that is warm, nurturing, and immune to the fragility of normal relationships. (p. 301)
Mom’s warm and nurturing consolidated presence was what I experienced that Sunday afternoon as I imagined her laughter, her facial expressions and her sighs.
Would I trade that deep warmth for a single minute with her in the flesh, complete with all of her complexity and fragility?
Of course I would.
But I can’t.
And so I receive the essence of her that I can receive. And I trust that her essence is being held and knit together gently in the arms of Jesus until that time when the new creation is born.
Header Image includes a sketch of my hands with my mom’s hand by artist, Shari Doseger