Sunday, January 8, 2012

Grandma's Love, God's Love

I have my grandmother on the brain a lot these days.  I've been feeling the grief that one would expect, of course, when a loved one dies.  I've also been feeling gratitude.  I've been thinking a lot about the love that we experience, or don't experience, from our families, and what that love can teach us about God's love.

My grandmother was not always an easy woman to love.  She had some fairly traditional ideas about how we should behave.  Her pre-20th century ideas about blacks, women, and homosexuality could be tough for me.  I remember that we cousins would often try to influence her beliefs.  Now that I'm older, and from this side of time can see the futility of our attempts, I shake my head at our belief that we could change her attitudes.

I always tried to remind myself of the social changes that she had seen in her lifetime.  Here's just one example:  her farm family used horses as vehicles, and then during the following decades, she was one of the first women in the county to ride in a car, and she saw ships carrying humans launched into space.  How dizzying.

I often just ignored her attempts to change my behavior, and now that I'm older, I see my actions as petty and disrespectful.  She didn't want me to wash my car in her driveway on a Sunday afternoon, but I did it anyway.  Would it have killed me to have waited one day?  Of course not.  I was trying to prove a point.

Now that I'm older, the idea of Sabbath time becomes ever more precious to me.  But to be honest, my grandmother didn't want to to avoid washing the car because of Sabbath time.  No, she was worried about what the neighbors would think.

My grandmother continued to welcome me back to her house, even when I didn't behave in the ways that she wanted.  In many ways, this love reminds me of God's love. 

My grandmother wanted what was best for me, as God does.  Her ideas for what was best differed from what I may have thought, but she didn't cast me away.

And I was stubborn too.  I kept coming back, even when she occasionally said ugly things about my life's choices.  Keep in mind that I wasn't doing anything truly dreadful, like developing a heroin habit.  She was baffled about my continuing on in school.  She was even more baffled about my spouse's long trajectory towards a real job.  She didn't understand my problems with organized religion.  But I continued to come to see her.  As I worked on my B.A. degree and my graduate degrees, as I worked at my first grown up job at a community college, I visited every month or 6 weeks.  She cooked me dinner and often had a tin of cookies.  She continued to sew clothes for me.  She often gave me larger gifts that would have taken me months or years to afford.

We both continued to keep the lines of communications open, and so, she was able to enjoy the times she had scarcely dared hope for, like my return to the Lutheran church.  In much the same way, I imagine God, continuing to cook meals for us and to sew us clothes, continuing to give us help, in the hopes that we'll turn our lives around.

I realize that not every story of family love ends this way.  Too many people experience family estrangement to find the idea of God as a parent or grandparent to be a comfort.  Too few of us find an earthly incarnation of the kind of unconditional acceptance that God gives us.

My hope is that we can find partial examples of that love and extrapolate.  My grandmother's love of me was incomplete.  She spent too many years feeling more disappointment than love.  I like to think that God would be more full of love than disappointment.

The love of family and friends gives us a window into the magnitude of the ways that God loves us, forgives us, roots for us, and comforts us.  And as we think about that idea, we can also think about the ways that we can help others experience a fragment of the love that God has for humans; we can love others and be an example of the Divine love.  In this way, our lives full of love can become sacrament.

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