Then she told this story:
My mother came to visit me recently. As we stood chatting in my kitchen, I picked up a peach off the counter and started to eat it. My mother stopped me short.
"Diane!" (I don't actually remember her name, let's go with Diane) "Diane! You get a bowl this minute, cut that peach up and eat it proper, with a fork".
There I stood, a grown woman in my own house, and my mother was telling me how to eat a peach...
This is the story of my life.
I didn't choose my mother, and she didn't choose me. We're stuck with each other. And we love one another, in our own dysfunctional ways. But I still get to choose.
In this particular moment, I could see before me two equally free, loving responses. Granted, there were a lot of not-free, not-loving responses available to me, as well. But in that moment I was fully aware of two clear options - neither one better than the other. Both free. And both loving.
I could look at my mother and say, "Mother, I am a grown woman - a mother myself. I appreciate your concern, but please do not come into my home and tell me what to do. That is no longer your burden - it hasn't been for quite some time now. When you do that, it hurts our relationship. Please, just be here with me, your daughter, a grown woman who is completely capable of deciding how to eat this peach." Then I could open my mouth and take a big, juicy bite.
Or, I could look into my mother's eyes and recognize that, while I have found freedom, she has not. Recognize that she does not begin to know how to have an adult relationship with me. That love, to her, is telling me what to do. That it meets some need she has, not unlike the many unhealthy ways I've gone about meeting my own needs over the years. I could try to understand this, in her. And, should I find that I can do so freely - with no resentment or coercion - I could choose to give my mother a gift. Freely. I could choose to say, "Okay, mother... " as I pulled out a bowl and a knife and a fork. I could do this for her, because I wanted to.
Now, if you think the second choice is more noble than the first, then you've already missed the point. One is not better than the other. There is no better. The question in both instances is, where does the action come from? Does it come from a free heart? And is it motivated by a desire to love my mother, to enhance our relationship with one another? Those are the questions I must ask myself.
Neither is a free option if it's motivated by an attempt to control my mother's response. Her response is her own. I would be just as guilty of manipulation and control if I chose my reaction based on how I might cause her to respond. Her response lies within her realm of control - that's her free choice, not mine... I can consider her feelings, but I must not attempt to control her reaction.
"What did you do?" I asked. "Did you bite the peach, or get a bowl?"
She smiled, and only said,
"There is always a choice. We choose to manipulate and be manipulated, or we choose to be free. We choose to meet our own selfish needs through the equally ugly paths of angry defiance or resentful martyrdom. Or we choose to meet the needs of others, through love. There is always a choice."