The Hidden Gift
(From “The New American Digest.com”)
There are many secular metaphors for the Holy Spirit — still, small voice — conscience — virtue whispering — psyche — even “Jiminy Cricket” — but the experience is usually one of an inner conversation with an outer voice.
Gerard Van der Leun
“Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” – Ecclesiastes 1:2
My readers of long-standing know of my mother, Lois Van der Leun, who lived for 104 years (1914 – 2018). I have written about her Mansions of Memory, of her cookies, and a dozen or so other inspiring or heart-warming things about this exceptional woman. Readers of long-standing will also know that in the fall of 2014 I moved from Seattle to Paradise, California, in order to be of some assistance to her after she turned 100. Of my mother’s three sons I was the only one who could comfortably do this. One brother was far away in North Carolina while the other lived some 90 miles away and the 180-mile commute a few times a week was wearing on him after 10 years. I was unencumbered.
My mother lived a highly independent life in Chico, California. At 100 she was still in the apartment that had been her home for forty years. Her life was filled with church, tennis, friends of all ages, lunches, travel, and generally holding up the side. She did it well. She was vital and played tennis until she was 96 and both her knees were shot. And at age 100 it was clear that although she could live independently she did need some sort of assistance from time to time. She would remind all three sons of this for years after we took away her car when she was 98.
So into the breech, because I could, I stepped up to get the coveted “Good Son Award.”
And for my trouble, I got the “Good Son Award” good and hard.
For four years I did whatever I could to make my mother’s lot easier. I ran errands, did the shopping, took her to church, and squired her to a seemingly endless round of lunches, morning coffee time, holiday parties, and the kind of generalized hoopla elderly women get up to when bored. Because I did these things without complaint or demure, I said “What a good boy am I” over and over to myself. I said it because I thought I was giving her the gift of an extended and easier life. It was my good fortune that I could give this gift and I gave it over and over again with an open heart. I did so out of love and because I was convinced that this “service” to my aged mother was the reason that God spared my life in 2011; the reason that I was returned to life was so I could do my mother this service.
Pride. I was very proud of myself. I was stinking proud of myself in that quiet, secretly smug way many of us congratulate ourselves for a good deed. We do so forgetting that “Pride” is the first of the Seven Deadly Sins and it often stems from our internal spiritual attitudes that are known as “vainglory.” We become vainglorious to inflate ourselves and to forget to remember that all, all, is vanity. And in this, I have recently been corrected in no uncertain terms by the Holy Spirit.
Those that have been visited by the Holy Spirit will know what I mean as those of good will have always known. Those people will also know that all of mankind receives such visits but that many fail to perceive them or worse deny them. Mine not to reason why.
In my life, I have been visited less than a dozen times by the Spirit but I try to remain alert since the impact of such a visit can be vivid, and its message life-altering and in some cases life-saving. There are many secular metaphors for the Holy Spirit — still, small voice — conscience — virtue whispering — psyche — even “Jiminy Cricket” — but the experience is usually one of an inner conversation with an outer voice. Not, I hasten to add, a conversation with a voice inside my head, but with a voice from without that is heard within. This is not my description of the encounter but a mere recapitulation of what has been described by tens of thousands of sages, scientists, artists, and others from all walks of life. These visits seem to occur in all lives if one is alive enough to listen.
And so I went along for years after my mother’s passing congratulating myself for being a good son; gave myself a shiny spiritual merit badge for the four years I’d put into that project. This was an error of judgment in the first degree.
When the Spirit came to correct me I wasn’t thinking about any of this at all.
No. I was lying half-asleep in bed watching some droning police soap opera when the room faded and the light of the Spirit rose and I suddenly and vividly saw the truth about the years spent with my mother. My “good son” pride was a joke. And the joke was, as always, on me.
I’d been dining out on the lie that THE GIFT being given was my faithful and loving service to my mother in her decline. This was the lie that the light of the Spirit dispelled. Seen in the light my loving service was not THE GIFT at all.
Seen in the light of the Spirit, THE GIFT was four years in which I could share in her life and come to know my mother as an adult and a person, a friend, that I would otherwise never have known.
It turns out that I was not THE GIFT God gave to my mother. My mother was THE GIFT God gave to me.