My son Ben’s brain works in an unconventional way. Keeping up with him exhausts me. I often feel like Alice trying to pin down that elusive white rabbit who had her hopelessly lost in Wonderland. While I don’t always follow Ben's logic, I do admire his creativity. And I know beyond a doubt that he can think for himself.
When I hear people these days lamenting the lack of critical thinking skills being taught in our schools, I think of Ben. No one had to teach him to be a critical thinker; he questioned everything from the moment he emerged from my womb. Challenging me at every turn, he accepted nothing at face value. Not even the rigidity of the American educational system could break him, and believe me, they tried.
Of course, there is a fine line between critical thinking and stubborn defiance and sometimes it’s hard for me to be around Ben. My daughter Gretchen would be quick to point out how Ben and I are alike in that way. Sometimes when the two of us get into an argument I feel like I’m driving my car down a one way street and he’s coming at me going the wrong direction. Despite all my warnings, he refuses to turn around and go the way he’s supposed to. Instead, he insists that I’m the one in the wrong. What’s a mother to do?
Given all that I’ve written above, it will probably come as no surprise to you that Ben has no time whatsoever for organized religion. Once when he was visiting me at Christmastime we were taking a morning walk in the park on December 24 and I asked him if he would come to the Christmas Eve service that night at my church. (For several years he had shared this time of year with Gretchen and me and he never attended church with us. Never.)
“Mom, you know I don’t believe in that stuff,” he told me.
I came back with, “I’m not asking you to believe in it. I’m just asking you to come because I’m the pastor and I'm your mother and it would mean a lot to me to have you there with me.”
I’ll never forget his reply. “Mom, if you were a leader in the Nazi party and they were having a rally tonight and you were making a speech, I wouldn’t go to that either.”
Now, how can you argue with logic like that?
So, we returned home and I stewed over his comment for about an hour before I decided that this year I couldn't let it go. I went to him and said, “Ben, do you think of yourself as an open-minded person?”
So I asked, “Do you have any friends who are Muslim?” I knew that he did, and he affirmed that. “Well,” I said, “if one of your Muslim friends invited you to go to worship at their mosque with them, would you go?”
“Okay,” I said, “So how open minded is this… You’re here to be with your mother and your sister at Christmas. And tonight, there will come a time when Gretchen and I are going to get in the car and go to the Christmas Eve service. And you’re going to sit home by yourself… because you’re so open minded.” I actually managed to say this quite calmly and left it hanging there as I walked out of the room.
I didn’t hear anything from him for a good long while and decided that I said what I needed to say and that would be the end of it. But that’s not what happened.
Ben came to me and said that he would be going to church with us that night.
I’m not big on miracles, but if I were into that sort of thing, I’d have to say that this felt like one to me. Ben was growing up. He was able to do something that I have rarely witnessed in this world; he changed his mind. And in the process, he demonstrated to me that his mind truly was open after all. No, he didn’t agree with my beliefs, but that wasn’t really the point. My son, the critical thinker par excellence, was able to bend for the sake of love. I have never been prouder of him.