My mother’s birthday would have been this week. When I realized the date of this reflection, I hoped there would be some meaningful synergy between the Scripture reading and my recollection of my mother. And in a strange sort of way, there is.
My mother, perhaps like so many of your mothers, grew up in the Depression. She was half Irish, her father could barely find work, and so she spent much of her youth and adulthood deconstructing, inwardly and outwardly, the prevailing attitude that she was somehow second class. How did she do it?
She worked. She and my father attained middle-class stature. She dug in to the 9-5 world and claimed her right to be there. She re-invented herself away from her Irish heritage. She and my father didn’t achieve the American dream in any grandiose way, but in their own modest way, they embraced and embodied its values. I love my mother for her toughness, her work ethic, her survival instinct.
But then we come to today’s readings and the centerpiece of our American cultural identity folds inward. God doesn’t ask us to pull ourselves up by our "spiritual bootstraps" and make something better of our meager lives. He asks us to surrender; to come like a child before Him, unassuming and fragile in our own humanity. He offers us the chance to rest, to breathe, to be unburdened. We don’t need to try to get ahead. We just need to be.
Then as now, it seems to me that the yoke which truly crushes us is the burden of the distance between ourself and God–a God of pure being, pure love, pure authenticity–"I am who am." I’m reminded of how many of my own burdens are self-imposed and needlessly borne. I think of how hard my parents worked, and I truly love them for their efforts, but I also can’t forget how fleeting are the trappings and promised successes of our culture, our society, our world.
My parents are now at rest, freed from all the pressures and "rules and regulations" that the world imposed. And I trust that they, in the gentlest possible way, are nudging me now to remember that true peace of mind and heart can be found only in simple love and true surrender to God.
Nancy Nickel is a former staff member at the Passionist Development Office.