- Special Sections
- Public Notices
My experience of motherhood, and I do not mean to limit that reality to the physical process of giving birth, certainly revolves about and evolves from questioning and being questioned. Memories of my earliest parenting days resound with interrogations. “Where are you?” “What are you doing?” “Have you washed your hands?” “Did you say ‘thank you’?” “What did you say???” I am sure that my children thought of me as the Grand Inquisitor.
At the same time, I often felt that I was under someone else’s microscope with my parenting skills and style being questioned, and judged. “Why did you let him do that?” “Are you sure she should be going there?” “Whatever made you think dancing lessons would help?”
I recall one incident that stands out in my family’s memory bank and is brought out for inspection at each gathering of the clan. The story goes like this. I am out in the front yard of our new home in a middle-class neighborhood. Obviously, my children and I are trying to fit in, yet I am not dressed as the other mothers in the area. Because the ground is still wet from recent, unrelenting rains and I don’t want to damage my good footwear, I am wearing a pair of old shoes. In fact, they were my husband’s, and obviously too large. As I am toiling to get the lawn into somewhat decent shape, a neighbor walks past and asks, “Are you Paul Salone’s mother?”
Now, I have only the one son and he had not had an unblemished school career. Often his days were spent in the corridor outside the classroom. Distraction was his middle name. He also was the brunt of many a youngster’s teasing. His antics frequently kept the family under siege and on the alert.
With this background coloring my disposition, I responded to the questioner with another, quite defensive query, “Why do you want to know?” I needed to surface her motivation, to discover if anything devious lay beneath an apparently innocent inquiry, and perhaps to deflect her direct probing. Happily, the neighbor had nothing more than sincere interest in mind. Subsequently, she became a friend to the whole family and remains one to this very day.
In retrospect, I realize this was the moment when I began the long, slow, painful process of questioning how I was to shepherd my children with goodness. Her question triggered a new beginning to my own beleaguered parenthood. To say that I would lay down my life for them is both too easy and too difficult. The ways in which I would be called to do that kind of dying are more important. So many questions come to mind.
How will I recognize the wolf coming to snatch and scatter my children? Would I be alert and awake enough to act appropriately? What about the others, those who are not directly related to me, yet are part of my extended family? How do I attend to their needs, protect them, give them comfort and consolation? What happens when my children have children of their own? How will I have taught them to shepherd beyond their own flock?
Then I think about my church family and its extensions into the larger church community. I hear the call to lay down my life in that arena as well. And, I find myself enmeshed in more complex questions than ever before.
I know that Christ is not the kind of shepherd who simply herds flocks into a pasture to watch passively as they eat, frolic, and play. Christ is alert to their every need and danger...always calling their names...always looking out for their betterment. There is no relaxing of effort nor resting from the task at hand. I know also that each of us is to be that kind of shepherding leader, no matter where our lives take us, even if it kills us.
And I am frightened.
My fear is not that I’ll be unable or unworthy to respond or attend to the vocation of shepherding. I am afraid because, deep in my soul, I know that the call is also a command to be a cornerstone in the same way that Christ is cornerstone of his church. Unknowing builders could not, would not, see the value of that stone. They rejected the kind of foundation Christ offers, the compassionately challenging leadership Christ commands. If I choose to be a shepherd leader, a building block of committed love, I will be rejected as well. I can feel the pain of that isolation even as I type these words.
I am even more deeply frightened.
I do not want to be a prisoner of my own commitment. I do not want to be encircled by those who want only to pummel me with statements that intimidate, confuse, and diminish my spirit. I am uneasy with interrogations that question the good I try to do. I do not like hearing intimations of evil motivation. What I really want is to be a good shepherd with and for all people, and to be accepted and respected as such.
But shepherding, like parenting, is cornerstone living. It does not come with ease and guarantees. It arrives only with profound hope and faith. It involves Spirit-power and empowering spirits. Respect and acceptance is not given by outside forces but are a matter of one’s own integrity and authenticity as I lay down my life and take it up again, over and over.
What is true for me is true for each of us. We all have the power to lay down our lives and take them up again. We all have the potency to be strong cornerstones of faith communities. We all have received this command from God who is the ultimate Parent, Shepherd, and Cornerstone of our life.
All that remains is to be a shepherding mother who listens to God, hears the word of God, and dares to respond to divine questions. Can we celebrate this wonder on Mother’s Day? I surely hope so.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.