Summary: My mother has Alzheimer’s, and is very hotile toward me for putting her in assisted living, so any Mother’s Day sermon I preach has got to be about forgiveness.
Mothers Day 2005
21 Then Peter came and said to him, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
This is mother’s day and I know you came to church this morning expecting a Mother’s Day sermon. People gathered in thousands of churches across the land today will listen to sermons about how wonderful mom was or is and there is nothing wrong with that, but as many of you know I have not been having, in the last few months, a very happy relationship with my mother.
My mother suffers from Alzheimers. Prior to April 9, she was living alone, or almost alone, we had a lady come in a couple of times a week to check on her, but basically she did everything for herself. My father died almost 30 years ago. For most of those years, mother lived alone, but in the last year of so she developed Alzheimers. She began to forget when she had taken her medicine. She forgot sometimes to eat. She got lost driving the car on simple errands. She began to have hallucinations—pictures on the wall started to talk to her. She saw people riding bicycles on the ceiling. She saw flowers moving through the air. It was obvious to everyone she needed to make a change. It was obvious to everyone but her that she needed a change. She strenuously, doggedly, emphatically opposed any change. She was not going anywhere. She was not going to do anything different. She even opposed having the lady come in to check on her.
But on April 9, we moved her anyway, against her violent objections. She threatened to shoot my brother and herself, but we moved her to an assisted living center. Now, in some ways, she adapted very quickly and very well to her new circumstances. The staff tells me that she is one of the nicest ladies they have. She makes friends easily. She is still easily confused, she still tells stories that you wonder about, but by every indication she is doing pretty well at Sterling House.
But though she forgets a lot, she has not forgotten where she is and who put her there, and she has not forgiven one iota. Since my brother and his wife live in Columbia, mother sees my wife and I most often, and she takes out her resentment on us. When she sees me, she does not say “Hello,” or “Good to see you,” she says, “When am I going home? I don’t need to be here, and you are an awful person for putting me here.” Strangely enough, my mother’s brother, my uncle, tells me that when they put their mother, my grandmother, in the nursing home, she said the same things to him. He said it made him feel terrible.
I can sympathize with him. I have some of the same feelings. In the last few weeks, my mother has said some ugly things to me. So you can see then why any mother’s day sermon I preach has to have a large part of forgiveness.
Understanding is usually part of forgiveness. Not always. Jesus did not say that we understand and then we forgive. He said forgive, just forgive—whether you understand what the other person is saying and doing or not.
But it certainly makes it easier to forgive if we can come to some sort of understanding of why they did what they did. If we know, for example, that a mother was up all night with a sick child, when she goes to work the next day and is sort of cranky, we understand where she is coming from.
In my mother’s case, she has Alzheimers. One of the characteristics of that awful disease is that the victim sometimes lashes out at those closest and dearest to them. So the problems I am having with my mother are not with her, but with her disease. When she says something insulting, she does not have to ask forgiveness, because it is not her. In any case, the next day she will have probably forgotten what she said. Given that situation then, it is dumb for me to be offended with her, and get on my high horse and say she said that I was not a Christian and not a man of God—which she did say recently—she said that and so I am hurt and she has got to ask my forgiveness. Nonsense. She does not have to ask anything at all. She is a sick woman.
If anyone should be asking forgiveness, it is me. I confess that I have resented some of the things she has said. And, when, for the one hundredth time, she wants to argue with me about why she is in assisted living and why she cannot go home, I respond with arguments of my own, and when she grows angry I sometimes respond in kind. I caught myself doing that the other day, and I said to myself, “What are you doing, you idiot, she will not even remember this argument tomorrow.”