Friday, January 06, 2006

The Very Good Mother

The Very Good Mother
By Julie Colwell

There’s a church I run by every morning called The Very Good Church of Silicon Valley. Each time I pass by, I wonder why any church would claim such a title, crediting themselves for their own goodness. What, exactly, do they mean? Are they recognizing that they are imperfect and affirming their need for God? Do they just give it their best shot and trust God to fill in the gaps? Or is it the kind of “very good” that means better than as many others as possible? It must be a fairly elite congregation because they share a small building with three other churches that meet at different times on Sundays. I can imagine the conversation, “I go to the Very Good Church. Which church do you go to?”

“Well, we’re still attending the Barely Mediocre Church up the street, but when we lived up north, we went to the Particularly Righteous Church downtown.”

I want to be very good, and I’d really appreciate it if someone noticed. I try pretty hard. But what does a very good mother do? What would a very good mother do if her child were pushed at a playgroup? Would she interfere or let the child cope? And do very good mothers call up their very good friends when their children aren’t invited to very good birthday parties? Do very good mothers spend the night in parking lots to get into very good preschools? Do very good mothers always have very good children? And what makes you very good anyway?

In theory, mothers are supposed to be very good. We’re should love our kids, our husbands, and our responsibility as primary homemaker (whether we bring home a paycheck or not). Additionally, we ought to be filled with a host of virtues because if we aren’t, our kids will turn into little monsters, and it will be our fault. However, unless we had our own very good mothers, there are few role models to follow. Ironically, most female archetypes in American culture don’t even have mothers. If they’re not virtuous little orphans, they are victims of evil step moms. Consequently, I’ve tried to impress upon my kids that having a mother is a privilege, but they just roll their eyes.

Not much is said about the goodness of Mary, the most famous mother in the Bible. Although, as a pregnant unwed teenager, I’m sure her reputation wasn’t stellar. Who knows if Mary was very good? All we really know is that she was available, attentive, and ultimately obedient to God. She was one of us, and by accepting God’s invitation to be the mother of Christ, she gives us a boundless hope that one day every child might enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Not once did she suggest God selected her based on her own merit.

What a relief that God never calls us to be very good. Mark 10:18 says, “No one is good – except God alone.” The Bible says not to grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9). But unlike the threats I levy on my kids, Jesus never says, “Be good or else!” He calls us to be perfect, (Matthew 5:48), which he knows is impossible, so he gives us his goodness. What angers Jesus the most are people who claim to be very good independent of him. He has infinite compassion on those who acknowledge their sin.

Several weeks ago I was chatting with another woman during swim lessons. She had recently enrolled her son in a local Christian preschool, but was horrified when she picked him up early and discovered him singing a song with the lyrics, “I’m a sinner.”
“Can you imagine?” she said aghast. “At home we’re teaching him to be a good person not a sinner.”

Well, yes, frankly, I can imagine. My kids had no trouble learning to be selfish, greedy, and rude by the time they were in preschool. Perhaps they were advanced in the sin department, but I’m quite certain that they are card-carrying members of fallen humanity, just like me.

Paul quotes the Old Testament when he writes in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one,” and later in verse 23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We, the creation, are only good because of the perfection and sovereignty of our Creator. Any other measurement is doomed to subjective comparison and ultimately, failure.

What a liberating miracle it is to acknowledge our sin, our inability to be “very good.” If we don’t, the results are frightening: a cursed lifetime chasing the delusion of self-sufficiency and passing that legacy on to our children. Or, daily, we can chose to be like Mary, recognizing our deficiencies, but available and receptive to God. Instead of being “very good,” we can be purveyors of goodness; collaborators in God’s creative and redemptive work.

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