As a hospital chaplain, I get a lot of unusual greetings from people. Many times, when I introduce myself, people are afraid I have come to deliver bad news. They wring their hands and stare into my eyes trying to make my words of introduction spill out faster.
On rare occasions, as quickly as I introduce myself, I’m asked to leave the room because patients think I am there to convert them and they want no part of it.
I even have a chaplain friend who, shortly after he introduced himself, was flashed by an old hippie girl who raised her shirt in an effort to show him how flat she was. I’m glad I’ve never caused a patient to feel that much at home.
Many times, patients greet me by calling me father. I always like to hold up my wedding band and joke that I am the other kind of father.
I’m honored they call me father, because their tradition assigns a lot of comforting and caring to that title. Other faiths refer to God as father and that works for them, however, for some people, the reference breaks down if they happen to have had father who was not really a father in the personal way.
For that reason, I think it is helpful to remember the motherly love that God has for us and with Mother’s Day coming up, this is a wonderful opportunity to think of God in this way.
It was the greeting I received from a mother recently that helped me to remember the love a mother must have in order to go through the strains of motherhood. It was a greeting I’ll not forget.
I met her outside her room as she was going on a rehab walk. The woman had just had a surgery that ended further chances of becoming a birth mother ever again. Despite the fact that she had all the children she and her husband had planned to have, the ending of her biological choice to become a mother again was haunting her.
She began our conversation with a simple and direct question, “Do you have a vagina?”
Now, don’t worry. Chaplains are highly trained for moments such as these. One mustn’t show shock. The cool and demure answer is essential. This was a winner-take-all repartee. So, it was essential that I stop choking on my gum and muster an answer that showed no fear.
“No, not really,” glancing below my belt line, “not of which I’m aware.”
“Yeah, I didn’t think so,” she said, nodding in agreement.
Her opening volley warned me she did not hold in high regard people who were without this vital part — people like myself and the surgeon that took away her childbearing ability. She was illustrating how unlikely it was that I would ever understand motherhood or would ever know what it was like to have that ability taken away.
I suppose my answer was void of enough shock that she granted me passing acceptance when she added, “I guess you’ll do for now,” and our relationship was allowed to continue.
You need not conclude from this woman’s audacious question that she was related to the exhibitionist hippie my friend met. This patient was a stable, mainstream, church-going woman who was blessed with the size family she and her husband had planned.
Her question held grieving venom from her loss of future childbearing potential. Despite the fact that raising her children had been such a strain, her natural inclination to have more and the sudden loss preventing this inclination were ripping her asunder.
She was gripped with a depression that had her stuck between her being a biological catalyst of creation and her current role as mother. The task of raising children had strained the seams of her sanity while the loss of her childbearing capacity had created an ironic moment of grief. The discrepancy in her soul was forging a canyon of hurt.
Bearing and raising children is such a strain I’ve often wondered why God didn’t make us so we would be born full-grown adults? Why does he make only babies? Perhaps it is a time-saving effort on his part, but I think he leaves the making of adults up to mothers and fathers.
Helping to make those children into adults can certainly bring a mother to crisis. This is when we look for ways to confirm that our values are being passed on to the generation to follow. We know our children may look like us biologically, but it will take much work to help them birth their own set of values, ethics and faith so as to sustain them in their adult years.
So, you have a choice this Mother’s Day. You can rage against the Hallmark conspiracy invented to feed the corporate greed of the great greeting card conglomerates, or you can call your mother and thank her for the courage it took to not only bear you, but to nurture you and continually sustain you. Actually, now that I think about it, I think everyone could use some mothering.