The klaxon sound of the motion detector alarm rouses me unceremoniously. My adrenaline is immediately pumping. I narrowly miss stepping on the dog in her little bed as I rush to get to mom’s bedroom. I need to reach her before she takes too many steps on her own. One night I didn’t make it in time. She fell. For the few remaining days she has, she’ll carry a scar above her eye as testimony to her dependence on my assistance for even the most basic activities of her life.
I’m exhausted after months of waking several times each night to help mom. I return to bed. I should be able to sleep. Instead, my mind begins its wee-hours-of-the-night workout routine, rolling and turning, my thoughts running again and again through the same maze of unanswered questions, my circular conversation with God. “Why? When is it enough? Isn’t cancer enough? Why add dementia and being widowed unexpectedly? Why is her life ending this way, plus the added indignity of being completely dependent on the care of others?” Inevitably my questions become more personal. “Is this what depending on You is supposed to look like, needs going unmet, questions going unanswered? Do You want me feeling helpless, confused, unsure whether You’re even listening? What can I depend on You for?”
I have a lifelong discomfort with dependence. I don’t trust dependence. It doesn’t feel safe. It doesn’t feel good. I grew up in a fundamentalist denomination where my father was a pastor. My early spiritual formation focused on learning and following the rules that governed and defined our understanding of holiness and righteousness. We believed in a quid pro quo relationship with God. If we could just follow the rules closely enough, then we had every right to expect that God would take care of us, keeping the catastrophes of life at bay. We could depend on God. Which was fine, except when tragedies still occurred, when the rescue didn’t come. I was left with no other explanation than that I was somehow unacceptable to God regardless of all my efforts to be in right standing. Somehow I wasn’t depending on God enough, wasn’t trusting God enough, wasn’t good enough.
Psalm 56:3 “When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone.” [The Voice]
Mom’s circumstances have left her completely dependent on me, asking me for assurances that I won’t leave her. Yet her illness, her dependence, in no way diminishes her innate dignity. She continues to bear in her being the imprint of the image of God. I have understood dependence through a lens of domination, humiliation, and fear. God doesn’t seem to see it that way. I’m working to realign my understanding of what dependence means to a God who was willing to let go of all the privileges of being God (Philippians 2) to become a weak human being like me.
I am engaged in my own personal spiritual “re-formation.” I am exploring and creating the spiritual formation practices I need to reform my understanding of who God is. I wrote an embodied prayer to use in my daily morning routine (although in these days of full-time caregiving, I declare victory when I get to it at least every other day). A portion of the prayer says, “I release this day to You, trusting that You are good and kind and merciful. I release this day to You, trusting that Your love for me is unconditional and unending. I release this day to You, trusting that You will meet my need.” The words are accompanied by physical movements of release and letting go. I need the regular reminder to loosen my grip, the encouragement to trust that I can depend on God. Even though there’s a part of my soul that says “yeah, right,” I continue to pray my prayer.
And then, of course, comes the apocalypse. A global pandemic. I’m responsible for navigating the unknown risks and dangers not only for myself but also for mom. Add to which, I fear what happens to mom if I get sick. So here I am, trying to believe God is dependable even though my “why” questions have yet to be answered, hoping that there really is Someone listening to my wee-hours-of-the-night cries.
“I release this day to You…..”
From The Mudroom: Here is a link for personal prayer resources: Personal Prayer Life at Loyola Press.