From an early age, we understand people by the roles they play. This can be a good way to learn. It can expand our imaginations, and help us aspire to virtues we might not otherwise think about.
Filling the role of father, for example, has motivated me to pursue gentleness. No other circumstance had made me consider whether or not I was gentle. But I believe a good father is both strong and gentle. So now that I’m trying to fill that role, my imagination supplies a goal I strive for.
But sometimes thinking in terms of roles is not helpful; if our imaginations are too weak to envision filling a role EXCEPT in the way we have seen others do it.
Certain vital qualities are common to all good mothers. Others to all good students, or doctors, or soldiers. But no one was created to be the embodiment of generic mother-ness, doctor-ness, or soldier-ness. There are as many ways to be a loving parent as there are children.
For some people, the perfect grandma means wide, soft, pillowy hugs, and the smell of chocolate cake baking. For others, she is a spry troop leader and twinkling instigator of field trips. For still others she is small and giggly, hostess of saltine-cracker-and-plastic-cup tea parties and hot summer feet soaking in a dish-pan on the back stoop.
I understand that popular actors sometimes have roles written specifically for them – characters and situations planned to take advantage of their specific strengths and quirks. If that’s true, surely we must give God credit for being the great Storyteller he is, and imagine that we can fill our roles without becoming copies of one another.
Do we relate lovingly and work joyfully? Do we value peace, and admonish with patience and kindness? Do we pursue goodness in gentle and self-controlled ways? Then I suggest that it matters little whether we are the parents who bustle children through sports activities, or the ones who point binoculars at every bird they see, or (perhaps most strangely) do both at once!
Pinterest is not a to-do list, and a foot cannot smell, nor a nose run. (You know what I mean.) Let’s remember St. Paul’s admonishment: the hand and the eye are equally parts of the body, and it would be foolish for either to doubt their place because of the differences between them.