Note: When letter writers sign with their first names instead of a pseudonym or nickname, I randomly change their name for added anonymity.
A few years ago, I met my biological mother (and siblings, etc.) for the first time at the age of 30. I had been corresponding with her, and one of my sisters, for about a year before hand, during which I found out that she was had a strong xtian faith. I had figured as much, as I was adopted through Catholic Charities. They all know I am an atheist, which is something I don’t hide — no one talks to me about it, or brings up their faith to me.
The first birthday we shared, she got me Blue Like Jazz, a book described as “non-religious thoughts on xtian spirituality” (I gave it away). For Xmas, I got a small, fold up manger decoration. I also got a copy of the book, The Shack, but didn’t realize what it was about at the time. I figured that she was sharing things she enjoyed with me.
When I read The Shack, I started to understand her way of thinking: her faith is not about dogma, just god/jesus’s perfect love and a personal relationship with god. Choosing to “live apart” from god is empty, incomplete, without love or trust, even rebellious- independent in a bad way. All of the explanations/apologetics illustrated how flawed the whole theory of god is. But because she takes god as a fact, and has always been comforted by faith, being without it is truly incomprehensible. I began to feel offended (not the best word) for the first time.
Then, for Easter, I got a typical xtian card from her, but she had also written that she “hoped I would reconsider (god)”. It was only a one line note, but I was very bothered by it. I still can’t put my finger on WHY these things bothered me so much — but it did.
I discussed this with all my atheist friends, and a few that are not, but no one was sure what to do. I am outspoken, but mostly polite, and am baffled by what to do. I toyed with the idea of giving her an atheist philosophy book for every xtian one she gives me (what to give her?), but wasn’t sure if it was a good idea.
Ideally, I would like her to see that it is possible to be happy and complete without god/jesus. I would settle for never getting another xtian card. She is not closed minded or hateful in any way, and I know she is doing this out of love- but it doesn’t make it acceptable.
What would you do? Any ideas why did the card/book bother me so much????
I always hesitate to hypothesize on the thoughts and motives of people. Speculating about why someone thinks, feels or does something is a risky prospect. Such suppositions should be accompanied by broad and frequent qualifiers. “Maybe, possibly, perhaps, I suppose, I imagine, it could be” keep us humble while playing at being mind readers. We can only know our own minds, and often we’re strangers to parts of ourselves as well.
In the end, even if we are correct, all we have to our question of why we or someone else thinks feels or does something, is a “because.” Having that answer doesn’t automatically change anything. Changing things takes time and work.
However, having some understanding about another’s motives can sometimes help us to find more patience and compassion for them. If we get an accurate glimpse of the emotions behind their actions, we have the chance to empathize, and empathy tends to make any relationship better.
Understanding your own feelings about your mother’s gifts are linked to understanding what may be her motives. So I’ll begin with some highly conditional speculation about your mother first:
She gave you up for adoption under circumstances not stated here. Regardless, I imagine that it was very difficult and even painful for her. She may have a great deal of regret or guilt surrounding that. Then 30 years later you reappear in her life, having been raised by someone else, having had experiences and influences beyond her control. She learns that you are an atheist. She may think that this is one of the things that would have been different if she had been able to raise you. It might be a source of regret or guilt for her, as she wonders how you might have turned out differently. “Would have, could have, and should have, if only” can torment people like harpies. So possibly, she hopes to try to correct something that “went wrong” in her absence. Perhaps, trying to make up for lost time, she wants to give you what she sees as a gift, her faith.
In your description of your understanding of her beliefs, the statement “To live apart from God is empty, incomplete, without love” may hold some special insight into her experience. She had to live apart from you, and it might have felt terribly empty, incomplete, and without love. She knows what that is like, and she doesn’t want that for you.
Stephanie, since main question of your letter is why are you increasingly perturbed by your mother’s religious gifts and remarks, now I’ll do some highly conditional speculation about you. Please accept my apologies in advance if I’m way off, which is quite possible.
You described your feelings as, “offended, (not the best word)” and “very bothered.” I wonder if your feelings could be summed up as “hurt.” Perhaps you think she is making a statement about you by giving you these religious things, and you think it’s not a flattering statement, so your feelings are hurt. Maybe you think she’s saying that you are mistaken, or wrong, or foolish, or immature, or “rebellious-independent in a bad way,” or the worst thing she could possibly say: that now that she’s met you after 30 years, you are a disappointment.
Ouch. That hurts.
Remember, these are only my speculations about your speculations about a third person’s possible statement hidden in her giving you gifts and cards, a statement that may not be be there at all. As I said, guessing what’s in another’s mind this is a risky prospect. It’s probable that none of it is correct, and let’s hope so, because that’s a lot of unnecessary hurt.
Most likely, these gifts are statements about her, rather than you. I think that if your mother has gone through and may still be going through just some of the painful things I’ve postulated, then it’s not likely that her religious gifts mean that she’s judging you disapprovingly. Any disapproval or disappointment she is feeling is probably directed back onto herself.
I think you are on the right track when you say that you know she’s doing this out of love. I would only add that she’s doing it out of love, mixed with sadness, pain and regret, as well as hope for redemption.
I suggest that you receive these things graciously, accepting them as her gestures of love. The only statement about you in them is that clearly, she thinks that you are worthy of love. Enjoy them for that, then discard them, give them away, or put them in a box labeled “Bio Mom’s Love.”
I agree that it is not a good idea for you to give her an atheist philosophy book for every Christian one she gives you, or any tit-for-tat kind of response. It seems clear that you want the relationship to increase in acceptance, not decrease. Sending unwanted things to her would most likely only create a similar kind of upset that you have been experiencing, because she might assume similar unintended meanings of disapproval by you.
Her religion is a large part of her life. My guess is that your atheism is a much smaller part of yours. There is so much more to what you do with your life than not having a belief in gods.
Send her things that reflect your life and what is important to you. For instance, you said that ideally, you would like her to see that it is possible to be happy and complete without God or Jesus. Rather than sending her things to convince her of that, just demonstrate the happiness and completeness that is real for you. I’m guessing that you don’t go out to try to be happy and complete specifically without God or Jesus, you just try to be happy and complete, period. Share your successes in that way with her. Let her feel proud and happy for you. Leave the theism and the atheism out of it entirely; it isn’t that relevant in this relationship, because there’s so much more to you than that.
You have here the opportunity for a relationship with a person who loves you for a very primal reason. You seem to be able to accept her religiosity as simply a part of who and what she is. Reframe her religious gifts and gestures to you, seeing them as expressions of love instead of disapproval of you, and then you can enjoy and return that love unhindered.