I’ve been thinking about motherhood a lot this week. Maybe that’s because we are approaching the Sunday in our wider culture where we set aside some time to say thanks, to buy a card and leave a few thoughts scrawled in it about how much our mothers mean to us.
That may be it, but whatever the reason is I have been confronted with conversation after conversation about the joys and struggles of motherhood this week: conversations with mothers who have seen their children grow into adults themselves, conversations with parents who are watching and waiting for their children to take flight, conversations with mothers who are pouring themselves out day-after-day as a baby grows and tests limits (and writes on the walls).
I talked to my sister today on the phone. She is about to return to work after spending three months with her newborn daughter. She does not want to go back to work, and – yet – she is overwhelmingly aware of how difficult motherhood is … how much it demands of her. Motherhood is give and take … with a lot more give than take.
So, all of this plus the fact that Sunday is indeed “Mother’s Day” has gotten me asking, “What exactly in motherhood is godly?” What in our mothering (and our fathering) is good and right and true?
Well, there is much of course. There is – to begin with – the goodness of true love. We call this “agape”: the unconditional love that is necessitated by children rising over and over again in the night to nurse and soothe. We learn through parenthood a new type of selflessness and care beyond ourselves.
There is also the goodness of learning to see God as parent through our own experience. As we care for our own children, we become more consciously aware of how God cares for us. We learn about the delight God has in providing for us, sheltering us, watching us come alive as we grow more into who He has made us to be.
And, we learn the infinite grace God has with us. We learn it as we fail as parents. And we learn it as we – ourselves – grow frustrated and forlorn and frenzied by our own children. Truth be told, we are not patient with our children all of the time. But, oh, the patience of God! And we pray: Lord, help us when we do not know how to parent our own children.
But, besides these other lessons we learn from motherhood and parenthood, I was struck by another possibility this week. And it comes from the words of Jesus that we will encounter this Sunday.
Jesus said, “I am the Vine,” and, “you are the branches, … abide in me as I abide in you.” This is incredible language: abiding, dwelling in, staying with. And Jesus goes on to say, “If you abide with me, you will bear much fruit.”
What mothers (and fathers) long for is this: that their children would be nourished and would grow to bear much fruit, that their children’s lives would be burdened with abundant life! This does not mean that mothers long to stunt a child’s growth by protecting their children from any challenge or struggle. No, there is – as Jesus said – good “pruning” to be done for the sake of good growth.
What it means is that we can be Christ-like in the way that we nurture and develop life, including the life of our children.
But, it does not have to be our own children. In fact, our Christian faith encourages us to go beyond celebrating our own families and to see a wider family: God’s. And, in this family, it is God who cares and nurtures us. God is the “Vinegrower.”
And, God encourages us to see ourselves and one another as care-providers. We are all called to nurture life, not just mothers. We are all called to care for one another, and whenever we baptize a child we commit as a community to raising the child as a member of our own family.
Certainly: thanks be to God for our mothers. But this too: thanks be to God for parenting us and giving us new life in Jesus Christ.