In the libraries of information I've consumed in my life--books, magazines, internet--there are few moments of sheer discovery that distinguish themselves as fiercely in my memory as the moment when, years ago, I was reading Lewis Smedes's Mere Morality and came on a discussion he offers concerning how adult children of believing parents deal with really substantial differences in the way parents and children practice their faith.
"To honor parents, a child needs to let them be what they are, a mystery not yet fully revealed," he says, page 93, if you'd like to look it up. It is, he says, a condition of our keeping the fifth commandment that we "respect our parents' own mystery."
It's a line I've never, ever forgotten.
This morning I listened, all the way through, as I promised I would, to the Rev. Charles Stanley, a TV preacher my mother had just heard as we called her, last night, at the end of the day. She was so taken with the Reverend Stanley's passionate American jeremiad that it was all she could talk about for ten minutes or more. Rev. Stanley believes that the tide, in America, is moving toward socialism, that socialism and Christ are enemies, and that our present situation is such that, should the tide not be stemmed, America as a Christian nation will not long endure.
Along the way, he cites abortion, gay marriage, taxation, and the ban on prayer in public schools as both the signage and the cause of our national decline and potential demise. Behind him, as he spoke, a huge flag was unfurled across the stage. If you agree with the Reverend Mr. Stanley, all Christian believers are urged to pray for our nation for 140 days straight--and to tell the ministry that you will be a prayer warrior for America.
I listened, Mom--all the way through, as you asked, and I'll pray. But I'll probably not pray for the exact same things she or Rev. Stanley will.
I'm not sure what God does with the gadzillion contrary prayers he hears every day. Like votes, do they simply erase each other? I don't know.
But I don't share my mother's political passions, and as a result she finds it difficult to understand just exactly how her own child can be a real Christian. By her estimation--and that of Rev. Stanley, I suppose--I'm not. To both of them, I suppose, I'm well meaning but tragically, even demonically misguided.
And that's why I'm thankful this morning for a single passage from Mere Morality, a book I read decades ago, a passage that sets out how to live when differences between believing parent and believing adult child are almost intractable. What I have learned from Lew Smedes is to respect my mother's mystery.
It would be comforting to know that she respects mine.