During a period of agonizing worry over one of my offspring, and that no-longer-a-child's apparent abandonment of any ongoing conversation with any sort of God at all, a friend told me, "the faith of the child must die - actually die - before the faith of the adult can be born and grow." The part of me that could hear and agree with this true fact of life was nearly inaudible to the part of me that loves my children. But it was true. It is true. And in the end, we cannot hold any faith for our children. They have to hold their faith for themselves. They need new reasons for a grownup place in the thing which is infinitely older than they are, and not even a mom can provide that.
In such times, I feel a deep sympathy for the praying mother saints like the persistent and obsessive St. Monica who actually followed her wayward Augustine all over the globe. But ... I have to admit, I also want to tell her to stay home and pray. Leave him alone. Let God deal with the man.
It's pure hubris, of course. What God was doing with that mother and her impossibly brain-seized and stubborn son isn't any of my business, and it is quite possible that he needed her dogged persistence. But if she were a modern mother, I would be asking, how much does she need him?
See, one thing a mother has to come up with as she ages is A Good Enough Reason.
For the childish me, it was easy to obey my parents and not worry about what happened as a result. It wasn't my business. God would deal with that. And later, it was easy for me to understand that to make a marriage work, it would be necessary to know myself, and know what I'd need in a man, and then to be able to see the man for what he was, and decide that the "bad" parts that went with the "good" were ones I could live with for decades. This sort of prioritizing - that sort of reason for marriage - it makes dating and relationship decisions pretty simple. And after that, I knew what to do as the mom - the health and well-being of my children depended on my example in every way. They would not merely learn what I said to them. From me and from us and from our household, they would come to understand all the rest of the world, and that's not something I could be selfish or frivolous with.
But what about now? I do not owe my parents any fealty now - only honor. And I have been married for a quarter of a century to a man whose "bad" points are like grains of sand next to the boulders I can easily throw into the road when I get in a mood. We are a good pair. (He clears boulders, and I sweep sand. That seems fair, eh?) And now the example I set for my children - what I owe to them now, in their adulthood - is important, but no longer very formative. I already had my chance with that. So now what is the effort for? Who is it for? Where do I put my attention and focus and energy? How do I make my projects?
It's not just childhood's faith that has to fall into the ground and die. Like a grain of wheat, like a child turned grownup, and like a road no longer useful where it lies, the old must be broken up and fall useless before the new can take its place. That's just how life works. Next year's spring depends on this year's autumnal deaths, and the deep hibernation of the winter. That's the cycle. That's life.
It's not that the deepest reasons need themselves to change - not necessarily anyway. The best foundations of faith and life are not different in a new year's cycle, but this life's little buildings are all meant to wear away, and a lot of my building is gone. Hm. That's not an apt metaphor. Um ... it may be more like the old walnut tree at the top of our driveway. A different sort of thing needed to happen to it when it was younger, and the pruning it needs now is ... no. That's not it either.
Practicing the piano. That's what this is. This is the same as practicing the piano. To borrow another great saint's format,
When I was a child, I played as a child. I thought as a child. I performed as a child. But now I am a woman, I have put away childish things. And not because they were not good. Not because they were not beautiful. Not because I outgrew music itself.
Now I play precisely because the music itself is worth it. But that is not the only thing I want to do. I want to play with other people, while they play music of their own. And I want to play for other people so that they can sing. I know now how to read and play music I've never seen, and how to help others who cannot read the music for themselves.
And I'm not really talking about the piano, but now that I think about it, creeping ever so slowly up on my main point, hoping to surprise it before it can get away, writing and playing the piano have a lot in common. I think I may have acquired, during the course of a mostly obedient and cheerful childhood, followed by a mostly happy and relaxed motherhood, in the years of a mostly interesting and deeply satisfying marriage, enough experience as the student and teacher of music and writing that now I can put away childish things in both. Now I can, if I want to, find a new reason - a good enough reason to write.