Thursday, May 14, 2009

Being Nobody's Son

Enlightening words from Jim Sollisch this past Sunday...

[Being a son...] was my defining role for 49 years, until my mother died last April.

I mention this because I have learned in this year of grieving that most people calibrate their sympathy to your age. People seem to assume that the further you get from looking like a son, the less painful it must be for you to lose a parent. I suppose there's some truth to that, but no matter how old you are there's a powerful sadness to being no one's child. It took me by surprise.

I miss my mom every day. She visits my dreams, nagging me. I ache to tell her what each of my five kids is doing. To show her the house my wife and I just bought. To let her know whom I ran into at the store. My longing surprises me because I, too, feel like I'm old enough to be immune from needing my mother. But I have learned that we are still children, walking around inside these aging bodies.

That hit the nail on the head.

A hard part about mourning the loss of a mother when you're grown up is that it feels so emasculating to admit to: that you miss your Mom. What man cries out for his mommy??? And so it is a challenge to confront your feelings (and not run from them) and still fight to maintain some sense of dignity in doing so.

Also, there is difficulty in coming to grips with the idea that you are no longer someone's son. Think about it: of the hats we wear in society, and the roles we play, how long have we played each of them?

I've been doing ministry for about 7 years.
I've been a real tax-payer for about 4 or 5 years.
I've been a licensed driver for about 13 years.
I've been a Christian for 15 years.

But now consider that I've been a son since I came out of the womb. Or if you want to be real precise, go 9 months before then. Before I even breathed fresh air, I was somebody's son. And, yet, now I don't play that role anymore. That was a familiar hat to wear -- a comfortable hat, and a comforting hat. But it's not there on the shelf to wear anymore.

I don't say that to elicit any "I'm so sorry" comments, or to linger any longer in self-pity. Just to share insight into what people feel when they lose a parent. I think I've shared in prior postings about how it's a sad thing. And that it's a unique thing. And several other observations. But what I'm saying now is how this deal is also a disorienting thing. That constant of constants in our lives -- Mom -- when she's not there anymore can be almost a confusing thing. I mean, in the sense that a major part of our identity over the span of our lives has suddenly vanished -- that's a challenging thing to cope with. It's just one more thing to face among all the rest of the challenges -- actually missing Mom, managing the waves of emotion that come with a death, and so forth.

And like Mr. Sollisch says, it took me by surprise, too. I hadn't anticipated it. But it's a part of the deal.

In some ways, I've thought of this part -- being nobody's son -- as "graduation." As we live life, we progressively graduate to new levels in life that present various challenges at differing degrees of difficulty. In some ways, it feels like a new level. And there are other levels ahead. And then there's Bowser waiting at the end... ;) just kidding.

But, in a sense, it's natural. Mothers eventually die. Offspring have to function without their mother at their side.

Of course, realizing that doesn't make the process any easier. :) As Mr. Sollisch said in the article, I'm not sure the longing to continue to be a son ever really goes away. But having the progressive sense about life helps conceptualize the big picture of everything. And having a big picture perspective is important to finding the way forward.

I'm not sure how to finish this up, so I'll say a note of thanks here to readers who have made kind gestures of compassion recently, around the anniversary of Mom's passing & Mother's Day. If there's one thing I continue to learn through this, it's compassion. I'm grateful for the notes, the kind words, the thoughts of remembrance. They've been a relief. And I thank you all for them.

Monday, May 04, 2009


Being a preacher, sometimes you wonder how your messages are heard. Does it go in one ear & out the other? Are they nodding in agreement on the outside & shaking their head in disagreement on the inside? Will this actually make a difference in their life? Some of the most encouraging moments for me in ministry happen when someone tells how a message I spoke a month or more before impacted something meaningful in their lives. When you see that they get it -- the light switch is on, they're processing the message in a substantial way in their lives. I'd say that's one of the most rewarding elements of ministry.

I'd imagine that it's rewarding for God. After observing his Word fall on deaf ears time after time after time, that light switch comes on & they finally GET IT! I'll bet it thrills the soul to see when His children listen and obey.

I've found myself teaching several lessons lately on forgiveness. In preparing to teach these lessons, I've come across some sayings that carry profound meaning for me. Forgiveness means no longer wishing future harm on the person who did you wrong. Forgiveness means making the relationship more important than the offense. Forgiveness means giving up forever on the idea of having what is fair. There's a lot that can be said for all of those ideas. I'll let you fill in the blanks.

But what's more powerful than all those statements is when you see them actually lived out. Easier to talk about forgiveness as an abstract. It's much harder to live it out when you talk about someone who unethically stole clients from your business, or someone who insensitively stomped all over your feelings with the mean-spirited words they spoke, or when you imagine someone taking the life of someone you loved dearly.

That last scenario actually happened here in Panama City. A preacher from Michigan came down to Panama City this past December to plead for leniency for a man on trial for killing his daughter while driving under the influence. Gregory Guice said of his gesture, "I showed him, 'What you took from me, I give to you. I'm going to stay on you. You are not going to be a lost soul.'" You can read more HERE and HERE.

God bless Gregory Guice. He gets it.