Listen to Your Mother
"Where have you been?"
"Do you know what time it is?"
"What were you thinking?"
"Does this look clean to you?"
"Do you think you're living in a hotel or something?
"Where do you think you're going?"
Like me, you may cringe at the memory of your mother's questions, since the setting for such dialogue was not always happy or pleasant. But I submit, though we dreaded the sound of her voice, these may be the best questions for us to ponder today at the turning of the year.
"Where have you been?" Usually the emphasis was on the first word, always spoken with hands on hips. Like most of us who grew up in a small town, I had freedom to roam the neighborhood and beyond, but if I strayed too far or stayed too long or went where I knew I shouldn't, I would be in trouble. Sometimes I gave a straight answer. Other times I was less than honest. Eventually, the truth came out.
Not a bad place for us to begin. To look back and consider where we have been, the road we have travelled, the paths we have chosen, the miles we have covered. Ditches and detours and dead ends. Wise moves and wrong turns. Look in the rear view mirror for a minute and answer the question. You might learn something.
"Do you know what time it is?" Always asked well after curfew and immediately before being grounded or pounded. Missing the appointed time, messing with the schedule, failing to pay attention. I have known how to tell time from a young age, but the question kept coming. Pokey. Distracted. Lazy. Irresponsible. Lots of reasons but never a good excuse. I always had a watch.
Do you know what time it is? Are we paying attention to the passing of time, the opportunities of the moment, the importance of right here, right now? Nobody's getting younger and there are no do-overs, no second time around. There is no rehearsal, just one time through, so when the moment comes, we would be wise to be ready. What are you waiting on? Seize the day.
"What were you thinking?" Of course, this question only served to highlight the times when I wasn't thinking at all. Total brain disconnect, sometimes only reconnected by a swift kick administered from behind in an upward motion. We all had our moments. Just being a dumb kid, leaving our parents baffled that their superior intelligence could skip a generation.
It's a more serious problem for us now. The bonehead play, the bad decision, the abject failure. When we do the unthinkable, losing what we can rarely recover, we may sit in the wreckage and echo our mother's words. What was I thinking? And there are never any good answers. It always sounds rhetorical. Who knows?
It does me good to remember that my most mindless moments were not fatal or final. Neither are yours. Whatever regrets you are carrying from your past, it's time to live and learn, to lay them down and leave then behind. Find some grace for yourself, grace to begin again.
"Does this look clean to you?" Picture my mother standing in the doorway of the basement bathroom used only be her four youngest sons, usually after our half-hearted efforts to complete our weekly chores. Pointing in every direction from sink to stool to shower, "Does this look clean to you?" Oddly enough, the honest answer we were afraid to utter was "Yes!" It looked plenty clean to us, good enough anyway, not too disgusting, better than it was before we started. It took Mom a few years to revise our definition of clean.
Funny how we can get confused. Dirty is not so dirty after all. Sort of clean is clean enough. We content ourselves with dingy gray, but after a while, the stains won't come off. Trouble is, some things in life are just black and white, right or wrong, clean or dirty. We may blur the lines as best we can to ease our conscience. After all, ethics are pretty fluid these days. Whatever works to our advantage, whatever gets us ahead, whatever satifies our desires, must be okay, right?
It's a humbling and scary thing to invite the searchlight of the Spirit to shine on the dark corners of our lives. "Does this look clean to you?" It may be time to take out the trash, to clean house, to do some soul-scrubbing in the basement of your heart.
"Do you think you're living in a hotel or something?" This question was actually the more refined version of exclamations including phrases like "ungrateful kids", "lazy bums", or "spoiled brats." This was Mom's gentle way of reminding her children that though they had been born into a fine family, it was not the royal family. We would have no little princes or princesses in our household. We were all peasants expected to pull our own weight and do our part to make the family function.
The bane of great blessings, which we have all received, is that we may feel a sense of entitlement, an expectation that this world owes us the advantages we take for granted. We must deserve a place of privilege, and blessings seem to come our way naturally. It's subtle, but deadly. As Clint Eastwood says in Unforgiven, "Deserving's got nothing to do with it."
It's not a bad idea to put yourself somewhere from time to time, where you can see the underside of life in this world and put names and stories with the faces of people who were not born already on third base. We need to be reminded this world is not our hotel. Our blessings and benefits come with inescapable obligations. It's not enough to pray, "Gee, thanks." It's our job to be the answer to someone else's prayers. Like old Abraham, we are blessed that we might be a blessing to others. To whom much is given, much shall be required.
"Where do you think you're going?" Mom would stop me on the way out the door, trying to get my attention, to make me think, to listen to her. It was a question usually asked of me when I was headed in the wrong direction or at the wrong time, and it retrospect, it probably saved me from a great deal of trouble. Hard to imagine I know, but sometimes as a child I would get too big for my britches and determine to go where I wanted without any thought or guidance or permission. I would come home muddied or bloodied, crying or complaining about the consequences of my own dumb choices.
That question took on new meaning later on, heading off to college, ministry, marriage, all along the way. "Where do you think you're going?" A great reminder that we dare not live on autopilot. We must make our choices and chart our own course. Don't fly blind, by the seat of your pants.
As the calendar's change, do you know where you are going? Are you headed in the right direction? Have you chosen a worthy destination?
So there you have it. If you would be wise, if you want to have a great 2019, just listen to your mother, will you? Listen and learn and live. Better days ahead.