All posts by Abby Smith

About Abby Smith

Abby is a person. She works at being an emotionally intelligent person whose main focus currently is being a happy and loving mother to four kids and wife to Malcolm. Born and raised in a General church minister's family, she has been exposed to the Bible and the Writings since childhood but is enjoying reading and understanding these books as an adult more and more. The amazing knowledge about love and wisdom and all of the emotions that follow have truly made her a happier and more self-assured person. Her husband serves as the head pastor of New Church Westville near Durban, South Africa. While leaving family behind is a challenge, she quite enjoys living in Africa.

Mothering Given in Faith

During this lockdown time I have been spending a lot of time with my kids.  A LOT.  Schools closed in South Africa in late March, and since then my kids have only left the house for walks and hikes and the rare drive.  Schools re-opened, but we decided to homeschool for the time being as the shuffling and juggling and necessary changing of plans and approaches by the school was too much for me.  But because of this I have been the main adult my kids have seen, and huge majority of their non-sibling interactions each day are with me.  

Since my oldest was born I’ve been a full time mom.  So in many ways this isn’t a new level of involvement.  But this time has opened my eyes to so many new things about what it means to be a mom, and what my role is in the lives of these developing humans.

Under normal circumstances there are many people they encounter and interact with who fill up their sense of self.  Excitement to share their ideas and experiences can normally be spread out to many and new people, rather than just recounted back to the people who were there when it happened.  Their ideas about what is fun to do, talk about, new inspiration for what to play with and how – all of that has been limited to our immediate family for 6 months.  And it has made me confront the ways that I speak to them, what I feedback to them about what they say to me, and the ways I respond particularly to their struggles and upset.  

I used to think that my role as a parent was to correct.  If they said something mean, if they made a mess on purpose (e.g. dumping a cup of water), if they whined non-stop when they were hungry – it was my job to tell them that wasn’t how they were “supposed” to behave. What ended up was a feeling for them of being constantly told what not to do.  Not a very cheerful atmosphere. Not enough loving interactions.

Practically I was also missing the appropriate mental boundaries. I felt that if they were upset because they were hungry, it was clearly my fault and failure, and I took their whining then as a personal attack, which needed defending against. I WISHED I could have managed every person’s every need and met them all perfectly, thus any comment on their part highlighting my failure drew up a defensive and hard response in me.

But through therapy, reading, learning, and conversations with other wise women my reactions and defences have shifted.  It’s been a process of years – I’m sure partially because what it looks like changes constantly as my kids get older.  It has become much clearer that my role as a warm, soft mother is not to discipline their whining out of them;  it is NOT to be the “perfect” mother who puts aside all my needs in order to perfectly meet everyone else’s every need first; and it isn’t to get defensive when my kids are having a hard time. My role CAN be to reach out and hold my kids, to love them and pour warmth and grace over them.  So often their behaviour, and realistically even all us adults’ behaviour, is not about intentionally making things hard for someone else, it’s about the fact that they cannot cope in that moment.  “My daughter is not giving me a hard time, she is having a hard time.” I came across this quote years ago, and it is such a centring mantra at times.  This article I think may be the source of the quote and expresses the ideas around it beautifully.

These wells of warmth and love can seem to run out.  I can be on my last bits of energy and care and self composure (especially given the isolation we’re dealing with now!) and lose it with my kids and again be stuck feeling like a failure.  I read an article a few weeks ago – and I feel like it deserves it’s own whole response article, but for today this part stands out:

“Think about the feeding of the five thousand when the disciples went out and rounded up the food that was available. It wasn’t much. Some loaves. Some fish. Think of some woman pulling her fish out and handing it to one of the disciples. That had to have felt like a small offering. But the important thing about those loaves and those fish was not how big they were when they were given; it was about whose hands they were given into. In the hands of the Lord, that offering was sufficient. It was more than sufficient. There were leftovers. Given in faith, even a small offering becomes great.” (Rachel Jankovic “Motherhood as a Mission Field”)

God can take the little everyday efforts to change how I respond to my kids in their meanest, most selfish and whiney moments, and make it sufficient to change the day and our family culture, little by little.  My small offerings can be made into enough.  I can turn to prayer, to Bible quotes that reassure me, to deep meaningful concepts about what a mother can be that I feel because of my religion, to the many times that Jesus took the high road and offered love and care in response to selfishness and ugliness.  And that can fill me up to be able to turn back to my kids warmly pouring out that same grace back to them.

They can hand (or throw at) me a big whiney pile of upset impatience, and I can say, here, let me help you hold that.  It’s looking too big and too hard for you right now.

But it doesn’t have to make me hard and defensive.  This article also well describes my similar experience and progression of understanding.

 I can keep my boundaries up in the right places as I help them figure out their own better, softer, more loving ways to respond when they are feeling terrible.

In this time of isolation and mostly online interactions I’ve been thinking a lot about community.  I’ve been pondering often about the role of the church community, and what it is to be “the mother” on a church level.  If we, the church, are supposed to mother the world around us, what are the ways we can reach out to the people we see and say, “It looks like you’re carrying a lot, how can I help you hold that?”

Family Bible Reading

My household has undergone many ups and downs since the lockdown started.  For us in South Africa, the country went into lockdown in early April, but life had been disrupted for several weeks even before that. School and normal family routines were all thrown into the air.  I’ve tried several versions of new routines: some where I just let the kids do whatever they wanted, some where I was scheduling and managing every hour.  I’ve continued to change and juggle the routine as life continues changing – sometimes on what feels like a daily basis! But one of the things that has come out of all this is a new routine of reading the Bible with my kids.

As a family reading the Bible has always been at least an occasional part of our routine.  But in the last few years with school taking up more time as the kids moved from pre-primary to primary and even now senior primary grades, our time at home to do additional study has fallen away.  And while I know they are reading the Bible at school I am not in that routine with them.  But since the lockdown and having the kids at home we began to read daily together, and I have been amazed again and again by the experience.  

My kids all enjoy reading, so I wasn’t really surprised to find them excited at the idea of reading together.  But what I have been surprised by is their ability to read even some of the stranger or more violent parts of the Bible and then follow up with insightful and useful discussions.  We spent June reading through Revelation as we led up to New Church Day on June 19th.  We have several picture books which helped to give a more concrete understandings of some of the stranger creatures and scenes described.  But each day my kids were eager to read more, to understand more, to find passages they recognized, and to discuss the strange beasts and the terrifying plagues.  I remember reading through Revelation as a child and feeling confused but enjoying it, but I don’t remember expressing the enthusiasm my kids regularly share with me.  

When I decided to make daily Bible reading a part of our routine I expected the kids to hesitate or whine.  But I have been thoroughly enjoying my time to connect with them and watch their enjoyment as they find new Bible stories to wonder over or light up as they read a verse or a story they’ve learned about before.  It is an experience that I’m already holding on to as a bright spot in these stormy times.

The Leaves of The Tree of Life

And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.And there shall be no more curse: but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him:And they shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. (Revelation 22:1-4)

As we approach New Church Day this Friday, my family and I have been reading through Revelation. We decided to make leaves out of sculpey and put them onto a bookmark as a reminder of the Tree of Life described in the passage above.

In this year full of many unexpected changes and concerns on a global scale it has been reassuring to spend time focusing on the Word and learning more and more about living a full, loving, and meaningful life through the teachings of the New Church.

Arcana Coelestia 9481 (included below) describes the representative connection between the stories in Revelation and the New Church.

‘”In accordance with all that I show you, the pattern of the dwelling-place’ means a representative of heaven where the Lord is. This is clear from the meaning of ‘the pattern of the dwelling-place’ as a representative of heaven; for ‘the pattern’ means a representative, and ‘the dwelling-place’ means heaven. The reason why ‘the pattern’ means a representative is that Divine realities in heaven are also manifested in visible shapes, which are representatives. For the meaning of ‘the dwelling-place’ as heaven where the Lord is, see 82698309. What the representatives that appear in heaven are like is clear in the prophets, for example in John’s Book of Revelation, in which he describes lampstands, Chapter 1:12ff; a throne with twenty-four thrones around it, and four living creatures before the throne, Chapter 4:2ff; a book sealed with seven seals, Chapter 5; horses going out when the seals were opened, Chapter 6; angels who are clothed in various ways and have bowls, Chapters 9101516; a white horse, Chapter 19; and at length a new Jerusalem, its walls, gates, foundations, height, breadth, and length, Chapters 2122. Similar sights are also described by other prophets.

[2] All those sights are representatives such as appear unceasingly in heaven before angels’ eyes, manifesting in visible shapes the Divine celestial realities that belong to the good of love and the Divine spiritual realities that belong to the good of faith. Such realities taken all together were represented by the tabernacle and its contents, that is, the ark itself, the table on which loaves were laid, the altar of incense, the lampstand, and everything else. Therefore when these objects, being outward forms of Divine celestial and spiritual realities, were beheld by the people while they were engaged in holy acts of worship, such realities as were represented by those objects were brought to notice in heaven. These, as stated above, were the Divine celestial realities that belong to the good of love to the Lord and the Divine spiritual realities that belong to the good of faith in the Lord. All the representatives of that Church had that kind of effect in heaven. It should be realized that a person always has spirits and angels present with him and that a person cannot live without them. It should likewise be realized that through them the person is linked to the Lord, and that in this way the human race, and heaven too, is kept in being. From this one can see what purpose was served by the representatives and also the ritual observances of the Church established among the Israelite nation. One can also see what purpose is served by the Word, in which all things mentioned in the sense of the letter correspond to Divine realities that exist in heaven, thus in which all the objects mentioned are representative and all the words used carry a spiritual meaning. This is what brings about the linking of a person to heaven, and through heaven to the Lord. Without that link the person would have no life whatever, for without being linked to the actual Essential Being (Esse) of life, from which the Coming-into-Being (Existere) of life emanates, no one has life.

[3] But these considerations are unintelligible to those who think that life exists essentially in a person himself and that a person lives without spirits or angels, thus without influx from the Divine by way of heaven. But in actual fact anything that is not linked to the Divine perishes and ceases to exist. Indeed nothing can ever come into being without that which is prior to itself, thus without the Divine, who is the First and is self-existent Being (Esse) or Jehovah; nor consequently can it remain in being, for remaining in being is constant coming-into-being. Because ‘the dwelling-place’ means heaven where the Lord is, it also means the good of love and faith, since these compose heaven; and because all good comes from the Lord, and heaven is called heaven by virtue of its love to and faith in the Lord, ‘the dwelling-place’ also means in the highest sense the Lord, as is evident in Isaiah 63:15Jeremiah 25:30Ezekiel 37:26-27Psalms 26:843:390:191:9Exodus 15:13Deuteronomy 12:511; and other places. From this it is clear that the tabernacle was called Jehovah’s sanctuary and dwelling-place for the reason that it represented the realities mentioned above.”

Holding Violence in the Bible

Growing up my family read the Bible regularly.  From a very young age I remember hearing the stories full of violence – and it’s not always violence done by the bad guys.  Some stories felt horrible and tragically heavy – like all the boy babies of the Children of Israel being killed when they were enslaved in Egypt.  But they kind of made sense to me because the actions are ordered or done by selfish, evil people.  But sometimes the violence is done by the “good” people.

There are many stories as the Children of Israel go out and conquer the lands that involve them being told to kill whole towns, cities, and even whole groups of people.  And it’s often quite specific that they not even leave one infant or woman alive.  As a kid a part of me loved hearing the stories of the Word, and I took pride in knowing the facts and the progression of many of these stories.  But along with that I also really hated the violence.  And I couldn’t make sense of why so many people were entirely wiped out.  It felt unsettling how cruel and angry it all seemed.

As an adult I have benefitted hugely from Bible studies, journey groups and sermons that dig into spiritual meanings of some of these more violent stories.  I remember one class in particular talking about one of those stories where the whole group of people was to be wiped out – not any tiny remnant left.  But how when you understand it from a spiritual level it is about the fact that to “conquer” an evil within our own individual selves we really have to stamp out every speck of that evil.  We can’t pick and choose and think that some parts of it are okay to leave alive.  In order to actually do the work of repentance the whole kit and caboodle needs to be wiped out.  

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