Once, when I was three or four, I came into the kitchen while my mother was washing dishes to tell her about my new toy car—how the steering wheel actually turned the front wheels, how the doors and even the hood and trunk opened. It was made of metal, with good heft. It was a lot bigger than my Hot Wheels cars. At least a few times bigger. It also had good balance and rolled quite evenly.
While I droned on and on as I’m still wont to do, my mother said, “Uh-huh” and “That’s neat” at all the right beats while she continued washing and drying dishes, believing she was doing a masterful job of acting interested. Then, probably in the middle of an extended discourse on the pros and cons of detachable rubber tires, I abruptly stopped talking and started exiting the kitchen. As I walked out, my sister Charity walked in, already talking. I stopped her at the door: “It’s no use, Charity. She’s not listening.”
This story sticks out to me especially because my mother usually did and still does listen to me.
As I’ve already written, my father and I had a toxic relationship while I was growing up. My mother became my refuge, my confidant, my champion, and my most trusted counselor. She spent herself for my sake and the sake of her other children every day. A gifted teacher, she also provided the formative building blocks for my education. She taught me to read in home school. And later, she taught me Logic, Speech, and Theater at a Christian high school.
Her sometimes frustrating Socratic consistency had a profound influence on my intellectual approach. I have countless memories of talking to my mother until the wee hours (she’s a night owl like me). She would ask probing question after probing question, an expert in devil’s advocacy. But her always calm and reassuring tone, even in the midst of my rising heat and vehemency, humbly directed our always invaluable conversations. To this day, talking through things with her always forces me to hone my positions and frame them more carefully. No one other than my wife assists me more in hashing things out.
But though my mother has listened to me, always full of grace and humility toward her upstart son never smaller than his britches, I rarely listened to her in my younger days. Until my adulthood, I didn’t even begin to learn from her example how to serve—how to submit one’s gifts to the benefit of others. How to consider others more important than yourself. In my youth, I received her service and grace, and I felt sure that I deserved every ounce of the energies I demanded from her.
The Golden Rule is a tricky thing if you actually follow it like my mother has. You want to be respected? Give respect. You want people to listen? Listen. You want to be loved? Love. And, in order to be genuinely Christ-like, you have to give good to others without expecting anything good in return, and without considering if someone is deserving.
But what happens in this selfish world to those who actually follow the Golden Rule? They often become hosts of service to the myriad parasites of selfishness. They speak and we don’t listen, waiting our turn to fill their gracious ears. They give and we don’t give back. They spend themselves and we say only, “Give, Give.”
I should have taken less time to talk to my mother and more time to listen. To really listen. Behind the words into her actions. This woman of incredible insight and richly nuanced emotion, eager to listen even to this whining and petulant boy. She has waited on God to correct me, always modeling for me what selfless humility looks like, but never manipulating or forcing me to reciprocate. She prayed with and for me. She blessed me unwaveringly. And she waited. And waited.
My mother embodies all the reasons the Bible figures Wisdom as a woman. Hers was not the natural wisdom we value in demagogues and men of violence, but the selfless heavenly wisdom we find so easy to dismiss and ignore. I owe so great a debt to my mother for her example and her constant love and support. She has always been more blessing than blessed in my life. I will never be able to tilt the scales.
All I can do at this point is rise up and bless my precious mother, and to bless others as best I can by following her example.
P. S. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!