- Morning at the Desert Retreat House -
The other day I had a wonderful conversation with a former parishioner - a young parent who came to me asking for some advice. Now that my wife and I have raised our own children and have moved into that next phase of becoming grandparents, I was asked to look back on our experiences and share the greatest challenge we faced as parents. The thing that surprised me most about this complicated question was how quickly I was able to answer it: “For me, the hardest part of parenting was not being able to fix my kids’ problems, my inability to take away their pain.”
As I reflected back upon those years when our now-adult children were growing up, I conjured up all the many times when the kids got sick or injured or when they were sad or had problems in school or problems with relationships. Many times they would come to my wife and I and in essence ask us to “make it all better,” take away the pain, make the problems go away.
The truth is I wanted to do that, and if I could have waved some magic wand I would have; but it doesn’t work that way. We could and did help them out by giving advice, taking them to a doctor, sometimes offering resources; but for the most part, all we could do most of the time was to “hold their hands” through it all and let them know that we were with them and they wouldn’t have to face the chaos of life alone – to this very day we still do that with our kids.
When I was asked that “parenting” question the other day, I thought about something I read a while ago by the theologian, Daniel Maguire, in his book Christianity without God;
It is an alluring and adolescent temptation for the likes of us to imagine
a divine superbeing with parental passions
who is both omnipotent and all merciful
who will make everything ‘right’ on earth as it is in heaven
From my very earliest days as a child I was taught that “God” was my “Heavenly Father” and that when I was in need or trouble I should come to “Him” with my needs and “He” would make it all better. As I have matured on my spiritual journey I no longer think that’s who God is or what God does.
If I think about “God” as a “parent,” I imagine “God” as an “Abiding Presence" - that energy of love flowing in us all and through us all, and it’s up to us to make our lives better and to make this world a better place.
Our oceans and our air are being poisoned and the climate is less and less hospitable for human life. The world is racked by poverty, war, hunger and injustice. People suffer from addictions and disease and rampant consumerism continues to eat away at the very fabric of our civilized society. There are lots of things about this world and within our own personal lives that are broken, in chaos and in need of fixing.
And so its not only comforting but also rather convenient to imagine “God” as a benevolent parent - come to “Him” and he will make it all better; but it not only doesn’t work like that, it’s actually a rather childish and even dangerous way to think about “God” in this way – it gets us “off the hook” prompting us to shirk our own responsibilities hoping that the “Heavenly Father’ will somehow be able to fix it all for us and make it all better.
I am sometimes amazed and always saddened when I hear the prayers of people who come to church or to a temple or a mosque asking God to end the drought, to bring peace or end terrorism in the world, and then they go home and ignore the environment, create chaos and make their own wars in their homes and offices and as they walk out the doors of the church they step over that hungry man living on the street.
The Buddha taught:
However many holy words you read,
however many you speak,
what good will they do if you do not act upon them?
God isn’t the Daddy in the sky who is going to make it all better- it’s our job to do that.
God abides - among us through it all.