Not Striving for Significance: A Mother’s Day Tribute

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When I look in the mirror, I see my Mom. Not because I’m having a vision of my dearly departed mother but because I look so much like her. I have so many physical traits like her side of the family that I’ve had people look at me and say, “You must be Eleanor’s son.” Yes, I must.

When I look down at my hands, working on some detailed project, I see my Mom’s hands. They tremble just like hers did. She became quite self-conscious of this as she got older. Likewise, I am becoming more self-conscious of my shaky hands. People think I’m nervous about something when they notice it. The only thing I’m nervous about, however, is that you’ll notice it make a comment like that. At those times I feel my Mom’s frustration.

When I consider the follicle challenges I have on my head yet see the copious amount of hair that happily grows everywhere else on my body, I think of my Mom; not because she was bald and hairy but because her brothers were bald and hairy. As I understand it, I got that genetic quirk through her side of the family. The scant hair gracing my head is quite grey now, too. Also a reason to think of Mom. She got grey very early on in life. In fact, as the baby of the family, the youngest of six kids, I have no memory of my Mom with anything but grey hair. My siblings like to say it was because of the youngest child that she went grey so young. Sorry, Mom.

When I hear someone make a joke about their “quasi-Alzheimer’s” I think of my Mom. I have said before that she lost her battle with Alzheimer’s disease but I really don’t like that phrase anymore. She had as much chance of “battling” that disease as the young Somalian pirates had of taking on the U.S. Navy at the end of the “Captain Phillips” movie. It was not a fair fight and the end was inevitable. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about ending my days in the fading confusion that comes with that horrible disease. It was difficult not to feel cheated by not having your Mom fully there for the last few years of her life. Yet even in the throes of Alzheimer’s, there were aspects of who she uniquely was that could not be extinguished. She still loved to laugh. She still brightened up when little children came around. She still remained deeply concerned about caring for people, being hospitable, having enough food for everyone.

My Mom was a compassionate and gracious person. She came from a quiet, kind-hearted family, humble to a fault. I have very few memories of Mom talking much about herself. She would elaborate on some things if you asked her but seemed genuinely uninterested in being the center of any conversation. Only very late in her life did I discover she had dreams of being a nurse when she was young. Her parents discouraged this notion, especially when it became clear she had the opportunity to marry a charismatic young man who was destined to become a pastor. To them this was by far the highest status she could achieve, being wife to someone of prominence and position. I never sensed that my Mom resented this or resented the role she played as wife and mother.

She never did much striving for significance. It didn’t seem to be in her DNA. But a funny thing happened: By not striving for significance but instead being faithful and committed to her life as it unfolded before her, she achieved a significance so far beyond the reach of so many who have given all for success, money, fame. By being the gentle person she was, by living out her values and beliefs in simple, day-by-day ways, she created a legacy that has had long lasting ripple effects.

When her kids all get together these days we laugh and sing so loudly that the mother responsible for all of that noise must’ve done something right. Sure, most of the noise comes from our Dad’s genes but the spirit of it all, the sheer joy of being joyful, comes directly from our Mom. Laughter, so strong it makes you cry – that’s my Mom. But more than that, by being who she truly was and living that out for us to see and emulate, she set our lives on a course of compassion and grace. Each of her children embrace a very practical and very human way of being like Jesus. This is no accident.

I realize now that the earthy spirituality I hold so dear – an internal value so important to me that it can’t be excised from my soul – I owe to my Mom. She lived that way absolutely unselfconsciously. She didn’t attend a seminar, read a book, hear a message and then decide to strive for being real, being joyful, being compassionate, being gracious, being loving – She simply lived the way God led her to live. And in the wake of that life there are children, grand-children and great-grand-children who also strive to live the same way. She unleashed on the world a small army of little Jesus’s cast in her mold. Was this her master plan all along? Unlikely. Mom was just being Mom and letting God work out his master plan.

All this has been very important for me to consider on this Mother’s Day. I have spent too much time fretting over my own significance. We all want our lives to matter, to leave something behind, to have a legacy. We strive and we strive for things that ultimately will make us look good, will make us come out as special, unique, gifted, significant. My Mom left behind a legacy that the world would deem insignificant. She didn’t write any books, make tons of cash, find a cure for some dreadful disease, star in movies, hit lots of home runs, grace the cover of magazines or serve in some political office. History will not remember my Mom’s name. But the effect of that one quiet life will resonate on and on beyond anything that the so-called Significant People could ever muster.

So in honor of my Mom, I want to renounce a striving for significance in favor of a goal to live the life God has given me, fully and abundantly, until he calls me home. I don’t expect to be remembered to history, either. But it is my prayer that I can continue the ripple effect of grace and compassion for many more generations to come.



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