[Note from 2017: This is part of a series of posts I wrote after suddenly discovering that religion can be questioned. I felt like I had broken into uncharted territories of thought and needed to reveal the way to the sad unenlightened. Drunk on this conviction, and still emotionally underdeveloped following a very introverted childhood, I proceeded to become the most condescending kind of atheist and also blindly wreak emotional havoc among the Christian parts of my family. Thankfully this was a phase. My current thoughts on religion are quite different, and at some point if I see fit to blog about them, you’ll be able to find them in the “religion” category here. I’m leaving the posts up as a window into that ugly time.]
There’s no way I can imagine it completely. But I’ll try.
First, she’s dealing with a new isolation, the one entailed by sending off her firstborn son last August to an institute of higher learning. Though he’ll be coming back home for winters, summers, and holidays, she knows that this transfer is the beginning of the end of her parenthood. She knows that it has to happen, that she can’t hold onto him forever. But at the same time, she’s been with this boy since he was still inside of her. She knows his complete life story better than he does, and she’s been with him for all the defining moments of his childhood: his first steps; his first words; his little obsessions like Attack Packs, coins, plants, and fonts; the first time he rode a bike; the first time he fell off a bike; his elementary school graduation; the stresses of high school; and his high school graduation. She looks for every moment she can spend with him. Even though she knows he’s off at college and very busy, she chats online with him at any opportunity – but trying at the same time not to be a clingy old mom, and to let him do his own things. It’s hard to find a balance between letting him live his own life and keeping him in hers. She tries not to let her sadder side show through, and to present a happy face for him whenever they chat. She loves him more than anything else in life, except her other son, whom she loves equally. But she still has to let him go.
Against this background, he comes home for Christmas. At first, it’s just a simple, joyous having him back for an entire month. The family pulls off all the Christmas festivities. Then, completely without warning, he drops this suddenly irreligious blog post.
For his whole life, she’s been working to get him involved in the Christian community. Most of the time it’s been a losing fight. He goes to church, but he only ever does that, and doesn’t take any interest in further Christian things, like mission projects or retreat camps. She’s sent him to several church camps, but each time he’s come back from one he’s said that he hated it, because it’s just a bunch of singing about God, and praying, and he can’t relate to that. What, then, can she do? He says he’s receptive, but through his whole childhood, he hasn’t done much to demonstrate that. She feels helpless, as if any effort, any at all, that she could undertake to bring him closer to God would fall short. What can she do for someone who seems so stubbornly unmoving, so unresolvably without God? Instead of forcing him, she lets him make his own decision. She’d like it if he believed everything she said, but he also recognizes that that would prevent him from being himself. So, as he left for college, she encouraged him to join Christian groups on campus. That, she realized with a deep sense of despair, was perhaps all that she could do. She had to let him go and make his own life choices; the umbilical couldn’t connect them forever. But, now, she sees that her plan didn’t work. He’s been thinking about Christianity, but he hasn’t come out necessarily in favor of Christianity. These other ideas! She sent him away to college hoping he wouldn’t change – that he’d always, deep down, be the cute, credulous little boy that she used to take to kindergarten. Instead, he’s become someone who doesn’t seem to have so much of a basis in her raising, her love-filled and Godly raising, but rather has more of a basis in the worrying environment of thinking on his own and coming to conclusions that she can’t deal with. She feels as if her whole motherhood has come crashing down, and maybe she might as well have never parented him. Her heart is breaking.
At the same time, she also has to deal with the substance of what he’s asking. It’s not just that his attitude is changing, but that his attitude is changing and there are reasons for it. What about this blog post that disproves the coexistence of Heaven and Hell? What is she to make of that? She knows – I know that I know that I know that I know – that Christianity is the real, ultimate answer. She’s known it in her heart of hearts since she was fifteen years old. How can she get through to him? He seems like a brick wall. Or maybe like a sieve: only rational thoughts can get through to him, and anything that’s based purely on her unshakable, deep-down knowledge of God gets strained out and falls to the floor. What to do! What can she do! How can she help someone whose nature seems to refuse help! She prays to God for answers. Not only for how to bring him into the Christian flock, but for how to make sense of the new things he’s wondering – for the intellectual fulfillment of him and her. She believes! And that belief is the truth, but he doesn’t seem to be able to say the same! No matter how long she nestles with him on the couch, their two souls won’t melt together, and she won’t be able to transfer this feeling from the core of her being to the core of his. She can’t even express it in words. Her words seem to fail her, traitors running away. How do you express inexpressible truths? She knows that Heaven and Hell are both real. She doesn’t know how, she just knows. When she tries to tell him why, all she can say is that the peace of God tells her that it’s real. I don’t know right now whether she’s questioning the truth of some of her basic tenets, or whether she accepts them still as irrevocably true and is trying now to make them make sense in the context of her knowledge of logic and the world. Maybe even she doesn’t know. It’s the most unsettling thing in the world when someone points out a problem with something you know has to be true. She looks for answers to those who are more eloquent than she is. There are people who can explain it to him so that he’ll understand. She’ll bring him to those people.
So she’s trying desperately to remedy the situation. At the same time, a deep, all-pervading sadness has come over her, because she’s dedicated her life not just to raising this boy, but to raising him in Christianity and opening the way to eternal life for him. She feels as though all those efforts are starting to collapse. And her little boy doesn’t share this firm, unwavering, unshakable faith. That tears her to pieces inside. She cries all the time, for the Godly love that he seems to be tearing asunder. How can this happen? Is it because she wasn’t good enough at bringing God into his life? She can’t shake that feeling – the feeling that she didn’t get him into enough church activities, that she didn’t talk enough about God with him, that she should have made sure he knew God before she let him go. She’s plagued by doubt. Was she good enough, was she there when he needed him? It makes her sad all the time. She can’t escape the sadness.
On top of all that, she has to deal with the physical demands on her. The hot flashes she’s having are not helped in any way by this mental anguish; the two combine to give her a nervous breakdown. She relies on her Effexor to keep her from deteriorating completely. It takes its toll. She sleeps a lot to get away and to relax her nerves. But there’s always the time when she’s awake. She prays to God for guidance. She consoles herself with miracles she’s seen and heard of.
I’m writing this, Mom, not just to tell you that I know what you’re going through. It’s to tell you I understand it too. Right after I started thinking about all this stuff, I went through a time of unending emotional turmoil, with no end in sight. I tried to make everything just the way it used to be, to go back to where I was. It didn’t work. I wanted to sleep too. I slept to forget. It was terrifying. But I pulled through it. And I want to say that I love you. That will never change. As long as you’ve been my mom, you’ve always been the most loving person in my life, always telling me how much you love me and how much I mean to you. I don’t express it much, but I love you right back. I know that no matter what happens, we’ll always both love each other. That’s the most important thing I can imagine. You said yourself that you believe God will work everything out the right way in the end. I believe it will all work out just right as well. You have never, ever been a bad or an insufficient mother; even when you’ve been sleeping and I’ve wanted you to take me somewhere (remember those days?), you still always loved me. Don’t even dare put down your mothering. There are so many people who are worse off than me in the parents department: people who have never felt loved, who have been abused, who have never been told that they’re the best thing in someone’s world. Despite your weirdness sometimes, I’ve always loved you, even though I didn’t say it so much. You did great. No matter what else happens, know that too: you did great.
File under: religion