“Mom, why does God let bad things happen to nice people?” my young son asked me one day.
I was not particularly bound, at the time, to any particular doctrine. Religion had been a contentious issue in our family: my Dad – an English protestant – had no use for what he perceived as the hypocrisy of so many of the church goers he had known in his lifetime: pious on Sunday; mean, gossipy, greedy and judgemental every other day of the week. When he began dating my Mom, my Dad didn’t care a bit that she was a French-Catholic whose family devoutly (and fearfully) went to church every Sunday and obeyed the local priest to the letter. When the blessed nuptials were announced, the priest swooped in and threatened my terrified French-Catholic grandparents – and their progeny (that would be me and my sister) to eternal damnation. We would – to a one – all burn in hell for eternity, he assured my grandparents, if they allowed this abomination of a marriage to take place. Luckily for me and my sister, his threats didn’t have their desired effect: Mom married Dad despite my grandparents’ pleas and she gratefully (and a little defiantly) left Catholicism behind her on her wedding day (my grandparents, to their credit, nonetheless attended the wedding of their beloved – albeit ‘wayward’ – daughter, although rumour has it that Grampy had to pay Grammy to show up).
As she had promised, Mom dutifully ensured that my sister and I went to a protestant Sunday school and she regularly attended church with us until we were old enough to decide for ourselves (Dad – no hypocrite – was not a participant).
Luckily, I did not know any of this until I was well into adulthood, and so, my introduction to God was only lovely and gentle, if not terribly theological. I loved Sunday School; I loved going to church; I loved the combined smell of old pews and dusty hymnals; I loved the beautiful wall-sized pipe organ. I happily sang in the children’s choir. Just like the rather forbidding old fairy tales I would have been reading at the time, I didn’t really connect God with any of the more terrible tales in the Old Testament. Our Sunday school stuck mostly with the loveliest stories of the New Testament and they didn’t get too dogmatic about it.
I had none of the fear my Mom was raised in and noticed none of the hypocrisy my dad so detested. God was an easy, gentle presence in my life.
So, my answer to my son that day – after a minute or two of thoughtful reflection – came very easily: “Well, you know how they say that God is our father, right?” My son nodded solemnly.
“Well then, He’s our parent just like I’m your Mom. Does that make sense?” Again, my son, deep in thought, agreed with a silent nod of his head.
“You know how I’m always pointing out to you and your sister what’s rude and what’s polite, and what’s hurtful to others?” Another nod.
“Well, I don’t think God has much control over what people do or don’t do. We can choose to be a good person or we can choose to do mean things. God shows us who he would like for us to be and then he let’s us choose. Just like I do with you and your sister.”
My son liked what he heard that day and just like his grandfather; just like his Mom; while he follows no particular religion, he has a sense that there is … something more: a gentle, benign Source that encircles all living things.
My daughter – like my sister – is an unapologetic atheist. She is also the kindest, most loving, most giving person I know.
I forayed, for a time, into organised religion but after a few years, my soul violently rejected it. Because I do not believe a gentle parent would ‘make’ or worse, ‘will’ bad things happen to us. I do not believe a gentle parent would bestow upon one child a lifetime of blessings and condemn the other to a lifetime of trials. I don’t believe a gentle parent would drown. every. one. of their children because they were being ‘bad’. And I sure do not believe that a gentle parent would throw us into a fiery pit (for all eternity) if we didn’t behave as they wanted us to.
That all sounds rather diabolical to me.
I believe that we always get to choose who we want to be. I believe that sometimes, we royally mess up but what defines us is not the mistake, but what we do with that mistake once we decide to do – and be – better.
My love for my children is unconditional. And I don’t believe that a parent who loves us unconditionally would reject us just because we reject them: I know I would love my children no matter what they did or what they thought of me (although my heart would be broken).
It’s taken me years to (kind of) get back to where I was before I let organised religion mess with my head. With many more questions than answers now, I am again standing in the doorway of the gentle God of my childhood.
And I feel God smiling – perhaps a little ironically – and beckoning me back home.
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com
I reside on the unceded and unsurrendered lands of the Wolastoqiyik, Mi’kmaq and Peskotomuhkati Yik
7 thoughts on “A Parent Is as a Parent Does”
Very nice, Patti. You are clearly a gentle soul, so it makes sense that the god who guides you is a gentle parent–one who has no probably with a daughter who’s an atheist.
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That is the perfect thing to have said, Annie 🙂 Thank you SO much 💕🙏🙂
I went away and gave this well written and deeply felt post a lot of thought before responding with a “like” or comment, and here’s what I offer as additional insight.
Just as one sometimes had to love the child while structuring consistent boundaries when they were little, one can be put in the position of doing the same as an adult.
My own child spent twenty years profiling me for elder imprisonment, and positioning herself to be able to take full sadistic advantage of the situation.
It happens, and it happens to good people as well as deserving ones.
I love my daughter. I also love every single other soul on this planet. I forgive my daughter, and I wish only happiness for her. But I’d be happiest never to see or speak to her again. Enough is enough.
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Thank you for sharing!!.. as for religion as the word knows I am not into religion but neither do I ridicule it, I think a person should be able to believe what he or she wishes to…just before my late wife’s passing, she was visited by a chaplain… he ask her if she had a religion and she said “no”, he then ask her if she believed in the hereafter and she said “yes”.. he then said “good, for it’s what is in the heart that matters, not a name above a door”… 🙂
All we can do is help our children grow and learn with a open mind and hopefully they will be able to follow their dreams…. 🙂
Until we meet again..
May love and laughter light your days,
and warm your heart and home.
May good and faithful friends be yours,
wherever you may roam.
May peace and plenty bless your world
with joy that long endures.
May all life’s passing seasons
bring the best to you and yours!
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Wow, Larry, that was one open-minded chaplain 🙂💕🥰 What a lovely – and loving – comment. I do appreciate your insights. Like, always… 🙏🙏🙏