Mothers, Mothering and the Household of God

When my daughters were young, one of the many books my wife and I read to them at bedtime was P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother?  The book tells the story of a hatchling bird.

His mother, thinking her egg will stay in her nest where she left it, leaves her egg alone and flies off to find food. The baby bird hatches. He does not understand where his mother is so he goes to look for her. As he cannot fly, he walks, and in his search, he asks a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a cow if they are his mother. They each say “No”. Refusing to give up, he sees an old car, which cannot be his mother for sure. In desperation, the hatchling calls out to a boat and a plane (they both do not respond), and at last, convinced he has found his mother, he climbs onto the teeth of an enormous power shovel. A loud “SNORT” belches from its exhaust stack, prompting the bird to utter the immortal line, “You are not my mother! You are a SNORT!” But as it shudders and grinds into motion he cannot escape. “I want my mother!” he shouts.  But at this climactic moment, his fate is suddenly reversed. The power shovel drops him back in his nest and then his mother returns. The two are united, much to their delight, and the baby bird tells his mother about the adventure he had looking for her.

The hatchling, of course, has only one biological mother.  In the story, however, his “mothering” includes the power shovel.  It is the power shovel that kindly scoops up the hatchling from the precarious below and returns him to the nest.

This Sunday is, of course, celebrated in western society as “Mother’s Day”.  In many churches there will be a public recognition of mothers through prayers, blessings and the presentation of gifts.  In my own congregation, I was planning to invite the children present to bless their mothers.  Upon further reflection, and having received some excellent counsel from others, I have decided to take another direction.  I want to not only affirm those who are biological and adoptive mothers.  I want us, as the people of God, to affirm all women for the part they play in “mothering” our children in the name of Christ.

The Bible clearly calls us to respect and appreciate our mothers – for instance, see Exodus 20:12, Leviticus 19:3, Ephesians 6:2, Proverbs 31:25-30, Proverbs 6:20, Proverbs 23:22-25.  But it also calls all adults in the household of faith, male and female alike, to share together in providing care and nurture to the young.  The Law and the Prophets call God’s people to adopt widows and orphans so that none of lacks a mother a sister or a child.  Jesus relativised family in light of the kingdom of God, giving all believers to one another as brothers and sisters and mothers (Matthew 12:48-50).  In the words of Beth Barnett, “One of the gifts of discipleship community is that all of our children are all of our children, and all of our grown-ups are all of our elders.”  In the household of God, every Christian adult is a Christian parent, and every child and youth is gifted to every adult for mutual blessing.  All women are God’s blessed instruments for the physical, emotional, social, mental and spiritual care of the young ones in our communities … not only biological and adoptive mothers of the children amongst us, but also women without children, and those who do not have children in their homes.  They (akin to the power shovel in P.D. Eastman’s book), share in the restorative and uplifting “mothering” which God works through his gathered and sent people.

So, this Sunday, I will be inviting the children to bless their mothers … but not only their mothers.  With these words, I wish to affirm all women who are present as gifts, blessings and instruments of God in the lives of the young.

Woman of God,

May the Lord bless you and watch over you.

As you love God’s little ones, may you know God’s love for you.

When you are tired, may God be your strength.

When you are confused, may God be your wisdom.

When you are sad or worried, may God give you peace.

As you care for God’s little ones, may you always remember that you yourself are a child of God, very precious to him. 

Amen.

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