Sermons

When Parenting Hurts: May 13, 2017

Recently, I watched a story about a youth, then 14 year old Jonathan Pitre, who suffers from a rare disease called “Epidermolysis Bullosa” or EB for short.  The genetic condition is marked by skin so fragile that it blisters and tears easily making everyday activities excruciatingly painful.  The skin is so fragile that children born with the condition are called butterfly children because their skin is as fragile as butterfly wings. [1]

A quiet but powerful presence in the video was Jonathan’s mother, Tina Boileau.  As the film clip focused on Jonathan’s sharing of his story while showing everyday moments at home, Jonathan’s mother was present helping him with some of the most mundane yet terribly difficult tasks: bathing and changing his many bandages which could take up to 3 to 4 hours daily.  Jonathan who is a vibrant and articulate young man suffers daily from terrible pain.  And his mother must do tasks that will clearly add to his pain, but are necessary for his survival, health, and well-being.  When Jonathan’s mother helps to remove the bandages around her son’s legs and arms, she risks tearing his blistered skin further.  When she gave her permission for Jonathan to participate in the ice hockey that he loves via a special sled, she knows that recovery from each minute played on the ice will make Jonathan’s life even harder.  When she watches Jonathan’s grimacing and contorted face as she removes yet another bandage, and watches him cope with isolation, doctors, a compromised immune system, and worries that no child should ever have, she suffers deeply too.

Parenting can be a many splendored thing, but it is also full of pain and hurt—whether we help to parent a child, or an elderly parent, a social cause, a long-range project or dream, or sometimes, even our own younger, more immature selves from one life stage of maturation to the next.  Our scripture knows parenting intimately and all the worries and wonders it brings.  When Jesus’ parents take him to the Temple to be presented to the Lord as the law required, the aged Simeon reaches out and takes the babe into his arms to bless him.  Not only would it have been difficult for Mary to relinquish her 4 week old newborn to an elderly stranger whom she just met, but the blessing must have sounded rather strange to Mary’s ears when she heard, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

That part about her son being a sign to be opposed…and also about having one’s soul being pierced?  Mary might have had some hint that she was raising God’s son, but it surely wouldn’t be a walk in the park.  Opposition and feeling as if your heart was being stabbed would be part of the deal too.

And as if the strange blessing weren’t enough, Jesus, as a budding and precocious teenager, gets lost in the big city on a day’s jaunt to Jerusalem and gives both his parents a scare.  As a young man, he leaves his father’s carpentry trade to wander the countryside—itinerant, poor, and with no means of visible support, and with a couple of fishermen he has persuaded to come with him.  I am sure that Mary won no points with Mr. Zebedee and his family the day that her son, Jesus, left town– taking with him Mr. Zebedee’s sons, James and John.

And do you remember the time that Jesus flat out denied his mother and brother entry when the disciples told him that they were waiting outside?  Mary could not have helped but to cringe when her son questioned, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and then points to a bunch of non-blood relations saying, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” 

Not only that, but when the townspeople whispered that Jesus is filled with the Devil, it’s his mother and family that set off to restrain him and talk sense into him.  And who can forget that Mary stood at the cross, and heard Jesus present the beloved disciple as her “new” son and entrust her care and well-being entirely to someone else.  In other words, Jesus “disowned” his mother in death for her good, but it had to have hurt like the dickens.  Over and over, Mary is beset with worry, pain, and hardship as she rears this child who had a vision, a life, and a calling that was separate from but also intimately connected with her own.

We could talk about prodigals who break their parents’ heart and squander their inheritance (Luke), about siblings who turn on each other while the parent watches (Genesis), about mothers who resort to lies to obtain for their progeny the benefits and protections denied to them (Rebekah), and about mothers who are cast into the wilderness by the privileged only to see their children suffer from severe thirst (Hagar).  Our bible writers understand that parenting is complex, and that with parenting comes a certain amount of pain because our love deepens our compassion, determines our priorities, and fires the fierceness of our commitment—and frequently, dangerously so.

Except when it doesn’t.  And let’s admit that sometimes that happens too.  For some children, parents or caregivers, or leaders, for that matter, cannot look outside themselves and their interests because they have not yet looked inside long enough to sort thru their own pain and misgivings about parenthood, service, or their way of life in general, and are not able to stop seeing their children, constituents, or employees as extensions of themselves and unique in their own right.  And if you had such a parent, boss, or leader, perhaps the most grace-filled gift you can give to yourself on this day is to find the compassion to say that you, because of your experiences, will make more loving choices now having been where you’ve been, and known what you have known.  Parenting a child, a parent, and a social cause has the uncanny habit of holding a mirror up to our shortcomings and the potholes we have yet to fill in our own souls which makes it a courageous and dangerous act.  If we can look in the mirror honestly—whether that mirror be our child’s eyes or the gospel’s truth telling—then we may be more mindful in the ways we choose to parent, less likely to impose our will imperially or inappropriately and more likely to nurture and nudge the good we find.

What kept Mary and others like her from giving up on her son and his dream?  Likely, it wasn’t a Hallmark card, a fancy dinner, a bouquet of flowers, or a particular holiday but a desire to see her child filled with purpose, connecting with others, and joyful in his calling over his lifetime.  As one mother says, “When your kids are happy, you are happy.”  Or perhaps it is knowing that you are not the only one who forms your child’s destiny…and you are not the only one chosen by God to help fulfill a mission, a cause, or a dream, however noble.  Each and every one of us has an important role to play in the life of a child, or the overall mission of the church, or the birthing of a more just and loving world.  Just as we share the parenting, we share the growing pains and disappointments.  We are not God which is why we should not write God out of God’s part or squelch the Spirit in a child or a dream with our own feisty spirit.  We are needed, yes, but we are not the only arbitrators of our child’s future.  We need each other for the success of our collective dreams, our collaborative action, and our collective children.

Parenting a child or a cause is holy work, much like the sweeping of a broom—repetitive, necessary, not altogether rewarding, and likely to cause some soreness over time.  We all share broom duties, whether we have personally made the mess or we have simply encountered the sticky puddle of goop, gritty dirt, or broken glass in our common home.  Shared sweeping like shared parenting: we are all responsible for each other– what we choose to sweep and seek, and what we choose to sweep under the rug.

Remember the story in Luke about the woman who sweeps the whole house to find the one precious coin lost from the 10 that she had?

In a blog post that touches on God as a sweeping parent,[2] Laura @MotheringSpirit writes:

 

Every night I take the broom in hand,

both of us worn and tired

but still working.

As I stretch out arms

to reach the bristles’ brush,

the steady rhythm comes back easy,

drag of dirt across familiar floor.

 

Every day it slides the same:

crumbs, hair, dust, food

all piled into tidy heaps

left waiting for the bin.

One swift dump, then goodbye.

But making clean is holy work –

refreshing for another day,

forgiving what is past and gone.

To gather, to release

and then repeat

makes way, always

for one day more.

 

I know the time it takes,

the pattern of the pulling

corners into center,

how to turn and switch

the broom’s direction when the grit is stubborn.

Sometimes I even do my sweeping in the dark

when all the world’s asleep.

 

Only when I lose the precious

slipped under couch,

rolled into corner dark

or simply disappeared –

then only do I blaze the lights,

look steady as I clean, search

focused on the finding,

knowing work that will not fail.

 

But if I did not sweep each day,

memorize these floors,

their stains and scuffs,

then I could not seek what’s lost

when it’s the coin that matters most.

So thus it was and always must it be:

pull creaky closet door to find old broom,

swish brush, brush swish

reach pull, pull reach

and then again to rest.[3]

 

Sisters and brothers, whether you have a child or no, whether you see yourself as a mother or not on this day, your sweeping and seeking matter.  Your pain and hurt are holy signs of your care and concern, and your intimate knowledge of the stains and scuffs on God’s holy floor, as well as noticing who and what have gone missing or has been disappeared will never go to waste.

 

The work does not fail because God will not fail.

 

Remember Jonathan Pitre?  He is sixteen now and he is a youth ambassador for EB in Canada and with other national audiences.  Presently, he is in the United States, having undergone a second stem cell transplant at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital which may help to alleviate the acute pain and symptoms of his EB.  The stem cells are from his mother, the doctors and nurses are international, the science cutting-edge, and made possible by many who have labored diligently in stem cell research to find a cure for this and other diseases.

We too, add our prayers and our sweeping.  Amen.

 

 

 

[1] TSN video, April 13 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuYxGtuBSgk

[2] Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.” In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.    —Luke 15: 8-10

 

[3] See http://www.motheringspirit.com/2012/11/god-of-the-sweeping/