by Lisa A. Smith
I’VE BEEN A MOTHER since the week of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I was on a work-related training trip out of state, my heart already full of emotion, when I first heard about the shooting.
My husband and I had been trying to start a family, and during the trip I’d been wondering: Will this be it? Will I finally be a mother? I was not the most focused participant at the training workshop.
Then the news reports came in from Newtown, Connecticut. The coverage was gruesome, terrifying and not the first (or last) school shooting I would see covered on national television. But it was the first time I would listen to horrific reports about the murder of children, while wondering if I held a child in my womb. In those moments, I didn’t know for sure if I was pregnant yet (yes, I learned two weeks later), but I wondered: What am I doing planning to bring a child into world like this? How can I send my child to school, or let them leave my sight? How do people live with this kind of love and fear?
Ten years, three children and countless moments of love and fear later, I still wonder.
Parenting involves a ridiculous blend of clinging and letting go, sometimes at the same time. That’s also true with relating to all whom we love deeply.
They are ours, and yet they are not.
For now, as older parents, my spouse and I are still changing diapers (maybe not much longer!).
Many of my peers and friends are beginning to see their children go off to college or an independent life beyond high school. Their Facebook posts share the “lasts” of senior year, visits to prospective universities, and nostalgic baby photos alongside current ones. Behind the scenes, two separate friends have told me about seeking individual or couples counseling to deal with empty-nest syndrome and relationship complications. It’s hard to let go when you’ve parented so hard for so long.
Although our two older children are in elementary school, the dance of clinging and letting go is choreographed here, too. When I volunteer to drive for a field trip or help at his school, my oldest son is now officially embarrassed, expressing this with eye rolling and sighs too deep for words. I’ve hustled to capture videos and photos of our youngest to preserve those sweet baby and toddler years, but it went by so fast this time. You miss things when the phone is between you and their chubby smile.
The most important thing no one ever told me about parenting? That I’d somehow have to slowly stop doing it, or at least let up on the gas in heartbreaking ways. Some things you just can’t fix or do for other people. That wasn’t really covered in classes I took at school.
The clinging and letting go of parenting have parallels with living lives of faith. During hard times, people cling to their faith in Jesus. Or they let go and let God. Which is it? Or is it the dance of both?
In Scripture, we hear the story of the woman with a bleeding disorder. The woman has been bleeding for 12 years (Matthew 9:20-22), and although she has been to many physicians, not one has been able to help her. She has found herself worse off than before (Mark 5:25-26). It’s easy to gloss over the shock of this. Here is a woman with more than a decade of vaginal bleeding—something unimaginable in contexts where people have access to medical advances and ideal hygiene conditions.
How did her condition arise? Does she have cervical or ovarian cancer, a hormonal disorder, an obstetric fistula with more than blood flowing, or another disorder? Is she a mother or longing to be? We don’t know. We don’t even learn her name.
She is truly an outcast, unclean according to the religious traditions of the day. She would not be allowed to visit the temple or to be in mixed company (lest she make a man unclean by her touch).
She would be unable to have sex due to purity laws.
She is likely in physical and emotional pain. To what can she cling? She has been made to let go of so much already.
But here’s what she does: She goes to where Jesus is. Quietly, she gets behind him and touches the hem of his garment. Is her heart beating in terror? Fear? Hope? She makes no request. She does not say a word. She has only this (irrational?) thought that this one act might bring her some relief.
In Mark’s version, Jesus feels the power go out of him. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus turns, sees her and says simply: “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (9:22). Instantly she is healed.
End of scene.
In my head, in artistic renderings about this story, I have seen the woman gently reaching out with a few fingers to brush the hem of Jesus’ cloak.
Maybe that’s how it happened, but the Greek word that is translated as “to touch,” hēpsato, can also mean “to fasten to,” “to adhere to” and, you guessed it, “to cling to.”
As this woman clings to Jesus, his love and healing cling to her too, meeting her hurt and fear.
We could do worse than to cling to Jesus like this.
Truth is, we’re all clinging to something to keep us from feeling adrift, whether that something is our politics, our religious beliefs, our pride, our morning coffee, our exercise routine or our hope and prayer that somehow, we’re not messing up this parenting thing too badly. I wonder what it might look like for me to cling a little more doggedly to Jesus, while letting go of the “shoulds” and “musts” of motherhood that don’t serve me or my children.
Ten years into parenting, I’m clinging and letting go, in different ways than I expected. I’ve let go of some rigidity around sugar and screen time (because of emotional wellness). I’ve clung more tightly to my spouse and the wisdom of parents who’ve been at this longer than me. Girlfriends are invaluable; grandparents are gold. Prayer is essential, but it’s rarely more formal than a whispered plea or a soft sigh of thanksgiving. Accepting help is a given: I don’t care how the dishwasher is loaded, as long as it’s done.
How do we live with this kind of love and fear?
Like the bleeding—no, the healed—woman, we know that fear and clinging to God’s love aren’t mutually exclusive. We cling to Christ who heals us, sees us and loves us, fears and all.
The Rev. Lisa A. Smith is an ELCA pastor who loves exploring the wilderness near her Northwest U.S. home. She blogs at pastorlisawrites.com.
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