Confessions: A Mother's Dream
In this dream, she saw herself standing on a sort of wooden ruler, while there approached a luminous young man, smiling at her in joy, though she was in mourning, and actually exhausted from it. The young man asked her the reasons for her sadness and her daily tears; in the customary way, the inquiry was meant not to learn but to teach. She answered that she was beating her breast over my ruin. Then, to free her from any worry, he ordered her urgently to look and see: where she was, I was, too. When she looked, she saw me standing beside her on the same ruler. How could this happen, unless it was because you lent your ears to her heart, you, the good and the all-powerful, who care for each one of us as if your cared for him alone, and who care for all of us the same way you care for us one by one?—Saint Augustine, Confessions 3.19
Saint Monica was a praying woman. She was a committed Christian who modeled persistent prayer. Her main object of prayer was her son Augustine who was an adherent of Manichaeism. While it is likely that Augustine hyperbolizes her weeping when she prayed for him, God “gave ear to her pleas” and “listened to her and didn’t look down on her tears.” God consoled her with the vision above.
Augustine states that when his mother shared with him the dream he tried to force meaning onto it. He argued that she should not worry about where he was on the ruler if, in fact, she was where he was. Maybe, he thought, she would soon be joining him. But she quickly corrected him by saying, “No, no—what was said to me wasn’t ‘Where he is, you are, too,’ but ‘Where you are, he is, too.” God consoled her in promising her that he soon would be where she was.
Eight years would pass before Augustine would convert. Although she “was already more lighthearted with hope… she didn’t slack in weeping and groaning; she didn’t cease, in all the hours of her prayers.” She even asked a bishop to “teach the bad things out of me and the good things into me.” The Bishop, who had been previously a learned Manichean, was convinced that if Augustine was left alone to study he would leave the cult on his own. But Monica was still unwilling to give the matter rest, but instead assailed him even more with begging and her tears, to try to make him meet with Augustine to have a discussion. Finally, the priest became annoyed and exclaimed “Get out of here… Just go on living this way. It’s impossible that the son of these tears of yours will perish.” Monica often recollected that she had experienced the same response from heaven like thunder.
Monica reminds us of the persistent widow of Luke 18:1–8 (ironically, Monica was also a widow). Despite having the assurance from heaven, she continued to be persistent in her prayers to God and looking for people to minister to her son. As I read Augustine’s recollection of his mother I find her both impressive and annoying. Impressive in her persistence, but also annoying in her persistence. Heaven has answered her, yet she continued to persist. So annoying was her persistence that even heaven thundered at her to stop!
The priest's response to Monica stands out to me, “It’s impossible that the son of these tears of yours will perish.” In other words, how could Augustine possibly perish when his mother is so persistent in her prayers? Although Monica might have been somewhat annoying, there is something true about persistent prayer and intercession. What if we were persistent about the things we pray about the way Monica was? What if we were so persistent that someone would say to us, “It’s impossible that the object of these tears of yours will perish.”
Then the Lord said, “Learn a lesson from this unjust judge. Even he rendered a just decision in the end. So don’t you think God will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will grant justice to them quickly! But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?”—Luke 18:6-8 (NLT)
Lord, make me persistent in my prayers.
Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.