The main things we get from our parents are good habits. To instill a new habit requires repetition, a deep appreciation for it and proof over a period of years that it works.
In paying a slightly late Mother's Day tribute to my own unusual mother, I see that some of the habits she instilled in me pass all three tests.
One thing she repeated so much that it seems I adopted it by osmosis was to greet each day with joy. I can still see her looking out the window on a new day in her bird-watching nook, clapping her hands and exclaiming, "This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!"
I remember saying to her one time, "Mother, you say that even on rainy days."
She answered, "Yes, son, the Lord makes rainy days, too."
I confess to a non-perfect celebration of this beautiful spiritual practice. It's not the rainy days that get me as often as it is seeing something I don't like on my schedule for that day. But I have found that Mother was right. I have found that a joyous approach to any day takes a lot of the irk out of the most irksome duties.
Another thing she instilled in me was the practice of walking prayer. She picked it up from her Cherokee grandfather when she was a tiny girl. He'd swing her up on his shoulders and go to the graves of two of his wives. Sometimes he didn't take her and, in her young mind, she realized there were very personal things he wanted to say to them. As he walked to and from the burial place, he would talk quite intimately with the Great Spirit.
We had an apple orchard with around 30 trees, and Mother would walk in the orchard and pray -- silently most of the time. It was her adaptation of the practice she learned from her grandfather.
Over the years, I have noticed in my own life that the deepest level of prayer I attain is during prayer walks. There is a rhythm you get and a quiet focus that is quite beautiful.
Some people called my mother "The Mama of the Watering Trough Community" because she always reached out to the bereaved and the orphans. People often requested her presence during the death of a family member, and she always went. Her habit instilled in me an awareness that we all have a social responsibility to our brothers and sisters.
For years I didn't go on such occasions, and I suspect it was from deep feelings of unworthiness that we all wrestle with as long as we live. Then one day a friend said, "I don't expect you to do anything, but it would mean a lot to me for you to just be here at this time." This helped me to see that people know we cannot heal them or speak magic words. But what they really need is simply -- our presence.
It's not what we say to our children that will instill beautiful ways of coping; it's the quiet, simple ways we live out our ways of being in their presence.