It’s a story I know by heart, and goes back to our very identities. When my mother named us, her in-laws made fun of our names. ‘Cynthia’, ‘Kevin’, ‘Susan’, ‘Kerry’ & ‘Cheryl’ were simply not ‘Robert’, ‘Thomas’ or ‘James’. My mother’s response was issued in the same defiance she showed decades later as she related the story for the millionth time – “Well, at least when you talk about MY children, you KNOW who you are talking about!” And she would laugh – obviously that showed them!
It was a story that was usually followed by other tales of woundedness, stifled anger, dreams of revenge. This was not something my mother just ‘made up’; this was how she was raised to see the world. So these were the tales she repeated. I grew up on them; they seemed perfectly fine to me – until it hit me just the other day.
We were ‘Catholics’, weren’t we?
I mean, where were the tales of love? Kindness? Forgiveness? Grace? Any of the tales you would expect in an actual Christian home? I thought long and hard and realized – there were none. Those were not traits in our ‘mother’s milk’ – in the heritage handed down to us. We received something else.
To us, the fact that people are hateful and mean and ‘out to get you’, was simply 2nd nature – after all – isn’t that how everyone really was? Isn’t it a ‘dog eat dog’ world? Even those closest to you; the ones you are supposed to love – even THEY are out to get you. Even they will do all they can to put you down.
These were the lessons we were taught growing up; these were the qualities we came to expect in all people. These were the traits we learned you should never leave home without. Be suspicious; especially of any act of goodness. Seek out the bad. Once you find it - nurse grudges; be angry; let that anger turn to bitterness, maybe even hatred; and never forgive.
But weren’t we Catholics? Weren’t we followers of Christ?
I have now lived long enough to question the ingredients in my ‘mother’s milk’. I have walked with Jesus for many years now. Never have I heard him tell me to do any of these things. Never have I seen Him do them.
Aren’t we supposed to follow Him, act like Him, forgive like Him, and love like Him? Isn’t that why we call ourselves Christians? After all, regardless of how bad the ‘wrong’ may be, isn’t HE the one who ‘rights’ it? And if so, regardless of the loss – how can we not be excited to find out what God’s repayment plan is? Does it really matter if we have been slighted? Shouldn’t we rejoice that now GOD will be the one paying us in full?
Shouldn’t THAT be the lesson in a Christian home, in a Catholic one?
I think I have discovered why so few act like Christ anymore. It is because we don’t have any idea who He really is. We were all dragged to church as children, where we were taught that WE were ‘Christians’. And then, for the remaining hours each week, we were taught the heritage of our ‘mother’s milk’. And that was because it was the only heritage she knew. Raised in pain, that’s all she learned to recognize. Raised without Christ – she knew nothing else. Raised in a place and time devoid of real teaching of the faith, and hence bereft of Christian Healing - she had no way to find the freedom of living in Christ. And even though it was not her fault, that was the heritage that determined how we lived; how we assumed all ‘Christians’ lived. After all, we were baptized, we made our 1st communions, we were confirmed, and we went to church each Sunday. Didn’t that make us Christians? Isn’t that all it took?
Never once did we consider that perhaps, just perhaps, we were being taught nothing even remotely connected to Christ.
I have a dear friend named Anne. The ingredients in her ‘mother’s milk’ were completely different. She grew up hearing stories of love, kindness, consideration, sacrifice, and forgiveness. In other words, she grew up hearing about the real Jesus. As young Navy wives, when I looked for the bad, she looked for the good. Funny – but we both seemed to find what we were seeking. I expected the worst; she sought out the best. Regardless of how awful I may have been on any given day, she assumed that maybe I was just having a bad day, out of sorts, out of order. Why would she think otherwise – after all, her ‘mother’s milk’ taught her that people were, for the most part, good. And even if not – you loved them anyway through the grace given you by Jesus himself.
Anne married Tom, who had also received real Christian beliefs and values in his ‘mother’s milk’. It is a wonder, and a joy, to watch them go through life. They are usually happy; almost always joyful – even in the midst of difficult times. They assume the best. Their parents are there through thick and thin – always loving, always encouraging – yet speaking the truth, with love, if need be. They have repeated the process in their own children’s lives; children that are now a reflection of them. It is a gift to watch 3 generations in this family – in a real Christian family – generations full of people who seek goodness and love the Lord. They see with the eyes of Jesus – hence they always seek the spark of goodness in things, just waiting to come to life.
It makes me realize why God says that for those who follow Him, their blessings go down a thousand generations; yet for those who seek evil, curses follow 3-4 generations.
I began my life repeating the pattern, until Jesus reached in and showed me HIS way of looking at things. Even so, it has been a long hard road to overcome the effects of my ‘mother’s milk’. Seeing goodness is not my first reaction – it is the reaction I have had to train myself to develop. It is the reaction I must constantly remind myself to seek. And speaking the truth in love is even harder. How much easier to just give them what they want, and then talk trash about them behind their back?
It has taken me many years to get to the point where imitating Jesus comes more easily. Unfortunately, the first few decades of relearning were during the years I was dispensing my own ‘mother’s milk’ to a new generation of children. I told them many of the same stories. They were raised to seek the same things. It was not until they were a little older that I began to teach them the new ways of Christ that I was learning. They learned it much earlier than I; but still after their first ‘mother’s milk’ – and hence they still struggle to remain focused on Christ’s ways.
But their children have not yet been born – and by the time those children will, God willing, come into this world - then their mother’s milk will be much different from mine, and totally different from their grandmother’s.
And they will be Generation 4...
Generation 4 really will have a chance to live life from the start as a Christian, as a Catholic. In other words, as a follower of, and believer in, Christ. And once you are walking with Christ from birth – well THAT mother’s milk can continue for a long, long time –
maybe even a thousand generations?
for I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and on the fourth generation of those who hate me, and showing loving kindness to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
Ashley and Susan
Two women asking the world to not just hope, but to Hope in Love.