the map of faith

November 14th, 2011

When my daughter was born prematurely, they said she might not breathe. Then they said she might be in a hospital for two months. They said she might need a year to catch up. Soon enough, she was at the top of the charts. Then they said she might be delayed. Then they said she was ahead. Then just last week someone said she might be slow, and need an extra year to catch up.

I no longer have faith in these pronouncements. My daughter has never been anything but completely herself, no matter what they called it.

All parents struggle with fear, hope, and expectations for their children, so I wanted to respond publicly to a mother who contacted me some time ago.

I’m totally unqualified to give guidance in her circumstance, so I’m only going on faith. That’s all any of us has to go on.

First of all, thank you for taking the time to read my mail. I feel a bit silly for writing to you, but I decided to get over that because my need for relief is so great.

The willingness to feel foolish is the first step on the path. It’s also the last step on the path. To be honest, it’s every step on the path.

I am mother to two children: a less ordinary boy of just 5 years with a mild disability; and a girl of 2 1/2.  I have noticed that having a non-average child complicates matters in a way I never saw coming.

Give yourself credit for what you didn’t see coming. Most of us think we see much farther ahead than we really can. We anticipate outcomes and draw foregone conclusions. Then we leap to either a false sense of security or a false sense of insecurity. Anything we conclude about the future is false. All that we can ever see is what is right in front of our eyes, and so I encourage you to keep that focus. Then you can be sure that you are always seeing clearly, because you are seeing things as they are.

It takes strength to see things as they are without interpreting it to mean one thing or another.

I’m not one of those mothers who always knew that there was something wrong. It is rather the opposite. My son feels OK to me. I see his delayed development and the stress he experiences because of that, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. I see a solid foundation in him and know that he will grow.

You’ve said two things here that are profound. First “my son feels OK to me.” This is the peace we seek: to be OK even when it is not OK. What makes it OK is the second thing you said, “it’s nothing we can’t handle.” This is the ground of faith. Not faith in a certain set of outcomes — the ones we want, wish, like, push, and prod for — but faith rooted in the reality of the present moment. The present is where we stand, and to stand upright where we are is the embodiment of strength. This is the strength we use to handle things as they occur, staying steady and aware without getting caught in the mind-spinning panic and paranoia of a future we cannot predict.

And let’s be clear: the future is unpredictable for everyone, no matter what.

But then there are professionals: doctors, teachers and any random stranger who feels free to express an opinion. We have met a lot over the past few years. When they talk to us there is concern. While we are glowing with joy when our son boldly goes where he has never gone before, they smile and turn our attention to the fact that it is still not average.

The Zen teacher Suzuki Roshi was famously quoted, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” Expertise is a form of blindness. Furthermore, your joy in your son never needs to be validated by an expert.

To their credit, I think that professionals respond to what we as parents want above all: To know. To know what things mean, what to expect, and what to do. To know how things will turn out. They use their diagnostic and deductive powers to fashion a story. Sometimes, this story is helpful. We can get guidance and support. We can try new things. We can open our minds.  But no one really knows how things will go, and so the story keeps changing.

Don’t put your faith in a story. Don’t put your faith in what anyone tells you, not even me.

My mind seems to want one true story, as if it will end the heartache and suffering. I can’t find it, and I also can’t seem to stop searching for it. People expect my daughter to be perfect and successful because she is witty, playful and her body and brain are functioning as expected. And on the other hand, they expect a bleak future for my caring, brave, smart but not-so-average son. And my mind is unable to wrap itself around it all.

When we realize that the mind cannot “wrap itself around” anything, then we are seeing clearly. We can stop relying on flimsy notions, and put an end to the torment and blame we produce by our mental activity.

To be sure, you will always worry about your children. You will worry forever. But you can practice seeing them clearly and without fearful prejudice. Few of us ever see our children as they are; our vision is clouded by hope, despair, expectation and disappointment. We are nearly always evaluating them against some false standard of future performance. Our judging mind takes us out of the reality of the present moment, which is the only moment our children occupy. No matter what the predictions, no one ever has or ever will live in the future. There is only one place we live. There is only one place we can be together.

My personal practice doesn’t seem to bring relief. I feel stuck and need to know where faith and strength are hiding out. Do you know where to look?

I can’t take away your pain or give you anything you don’t already have.

Look — really look! — in the only place you can see. It is the place where faith, strength and truth abide.

Have faith in yourself and your life as it is. This faith is never hidden, this faith is always present, this faith is always where you are, in your hands, which is where and how you handle everything. Always practice with your eyes open, and then you’ll see it for yourself.

Your baby will be OK. You will be too.

That’s not saying anything. That’s saying everything.

Love, Maezen

Artwork by Erika Montyvdas 


  1. And this is why my love for you grows and grows. xo

    Comment by Christine @ Coffees & Commutes — November 14, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

  2. Beautiful!

    Comment by Jane — November 14, 2011 @ 1:37 pm

  3. THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart.

    Comment by kathleen — November 14, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

  4. Wow. I need to post that up on my mirror in my bathroom, to remind me, again and again, to see clearly, live with faith, in my strength and truth for me and my children. Thank you so very much.

    Comment by Jen — November 14, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

  5. Solid sanity: thanks again for all you do.

    Comment by Ray Watkins — November 15, 2011 @ 7:49 am

  6. Beautiful words to remember! Thank you for helping another mother, and me, while doing it.

    Comment by Sharon — November 15, 2011 @ 8:14 am

  7. Many thanks to you and the mother who wrote to you. I will print this out to read before and after my son’s many appointments with the “experts”.

    Comment by Susan — November 15, 2011 @ 10:22 am

  8. This wisdom can be so applied to every aspect of life. Thank you for that gentle reminder. I am now half-way through “Hand Wash Cold” and the light bulbs continue to shine a little brighter. What a simple and beautiful book. I’m enjoying the practice of not asking so many questions and just…”accept.” xo

    Comment by shannon — November 15, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

  9. I like this format-letter from a reader and your responses.

    Comment by Laura — November 15, 2011 @ 2:16 pm

  10. Yes Karen. Simply yes. I used to be consulted for my expert medical predictions about the future for children and I was loathe to give them. I always just wanted to see them in the moment that they came to me. But many parents needed to ‘know’ and were angry when I wouldn’t commit to telling them exactly how it would be. Sure, could I a make a better than average guess based on all my ‘knowledge’? Yes. But how worthless that seemed to me. I thought it better to just watch what happened and plan as we went along.

    There is a song by Natalie Merchant called Wonder and I’ve always interpreted it as something akin to what you are saying here today. “This child will be gifted. She’ll make her way.” As will this child. As will every child.

    I always appreciate your perspective on children. Thank you.

    Comment by Bobbi — November 16, 2011 @ 2:30 am

  11. This speaks loudly to me. My circumstance of infertility is quite different, and yet the same. Expectations, experts, and the lure of future-telling. I am working every day to sustain the strength to stay in the present moment and have faith in my life as it is. Thanks for the gentle nudge today.

    Comment by kelly — November 16, 2011 @ 7:45 am

  12. Thank you so much.
    I haven’t stopped by for a while, but right now I felt like doing so and now this is exactly what i needed now.
    (my girl transforms from child to teen and is having major school decisions ahead, which trouble me so much, that now she feels worried too. And that just made me so sad today – after a tough meeting with her and her teachers. I try to avoid my fearful feelings for weeks and yet she can still feel it. All this fear keeps me away from being there for her. because…really … in the end I know she’ll go her way and she’ll be wonderful going her way..and I can already see the strong miraculous woman inside of her..but being the mother will be and is painful too.)

    Comment by Dunski — November 16, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  13. This is yet another statement by Karen Maezen Miller that is way beyond good writing: it seems calmly, deeply, nourishingly alive. She wants to alert minds to what is real and she certainly does that. In spades, hearts, diamonds and without clubs.

    Comment by Bill — November 17, 2011 @ 6:39 am

  14. Thank you. I will print and frame in my bedroom. I needed to hear that especially today. May God bless you

    Comment by Tosha — November 17, 2011 @ 12:41 pm

  15. Thanks 🙂

    Comment by Paul Brennan — November 18, 2011 @ 2:48 am

  16. I agree with the “way beyond good writing” comment above. What you do here is share your practice — in a way that helps and guides the rest of us as we struggle along trying to remember what we already know. Sometimes we just need the light of a good teacher to shine into those places that we’re not quite able to see. That’s you. Shine on. I’m another grateful student.

    Comment by Katrina Kenison — November 18, 2011 @ 3:47 am

  17. Thank you – your writing brings me much peace, and once again, faith in faith.

    Comment by Cindy Black — November 22, 2011 @ 3:24 pm

  18. Thank you for the gift of your sharing. Connections, Peace, and opening spaces. Always ~ Love.

    Comment by heather — November 25, 2011 @ 6:50 am

  19. Karen, like your first book, I read this a while ago, when I needed it. I still need it, and still think about it, but didn’t stop by to remember to thank you until now. So thank you. And thank you to the mother who wrote; you were saying so much about what is in my soul and I’m so glad you were brave enough to say it out loud, and ask your questions, so that I and others like me, could also benefit when we didn’t even know we could write it down and get some solace just from the response.

    Comment by Anonymous in Mpls — March 19, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

  20. thank you ,you reminded me that your fears were mine 38 years ago,, and my son ,isnt anything the dr said….because he now has a PHD..more importantly he is is the most compassionate husband ,father son and man i know,,he talks the talk, and walks the walk ,,every day ,every hour and every moment. ..every thing any parent could want,,,and you ….will have the same

    Comment by charles nappi — March 17, 2013 @ 1:49 pm

  21. Thank you SO much for this. The one sentence that really struck me was this: “We are nearly always evaluating them against some false standard of future performance.” Yes, yes yes! Thank you for reminding me to stay in the moment with them and stop being so fixated on what a particular action means for the future. I am printing this for the fridge!

    Comment by Meredith — November 15, 2017 @ 7:57 am

  22. I haven’t finished reading this post, the first part resonated with me as I’m sure the rest will too. Thank you both for sharing. Love to you both.

    Comment by Fiona — November 15, 2017 @ 11:46 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month