Kelly, apparently knowing full well that I was unprepared to preach for mother’s day—being a man who understands almost nothing about the subject, graciously offered me the opportunity to deepen my understanding while she went to the beach this week. That’s right—for nearly a week I’ve been flying solo with the girls, which is of course a joke you can understand only if you know both me and the girls in question. Indeed, today’s short sermon is mostly due to the fact that I have to get home and clean up before she gets back later tonight.
Mothers are amazing. It is well and good that today is a day marked off to say thank you to all those mothers out there, the stay at home moms, the working moms, the single moms, the struggling and victorious moms who give so much of themselves to their families, fulfilling the sacrifice of Christ in the most humble and incredible ways. To you all we say, “Thank you. We could not be who we are without your love and sacrifice.”
The Bible has much to say about motherhood. The story of redemption is full of many stories of women, women who took down and raised up kings, who preserved the people of God and who opened the way for exodus, conquest, and redemption. Along the way, many of these stories (though not all!) are stories of women who worked, wept, and waited for children—women who saw their place in the story of God as being related to their calling as mothers. That’s not at all to suggest that this was a single, homogenous sort of work. Indeed, stories such as Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, Bathsheba, Ruth, Jochebed and Zipporah testify to the diversity of paths that may all be called, faithfully, “motherhood”. “Motherhood” mysteriously takes many forms, as each person who finds that role to be part of her story works out what it means in her own context, in the face of her own challenges and amidst her own blessings. We do motherhood a disservice when we try to make it take one form. Indeed, no two moms are any more alike than any two sons or daughters. Mothers, be free, not to become just like the other moms you see, but what has called you to be in the life of your family. Learn from the example and wisdom of other women as well as you can, but do not try to become them. God did not give your children to them, but placed them in your care, entrusted them to you. You honor that trust not by simply imitating others, but by seeking out the gifts and blessings that you can uniquely offer your children. That freedom is not license to be irresponsible (this is just my way!) but is an immense challenge, that by struggling, collecting wisdom, and discerning what is right and faithful you can become exactly the mother God created you to be rather than a copy of someone else.
God gives us different mothers because we all have different needs and challenges. Some of us struggle to understand boundaries and responsibility, some of us struggle to find our independence. Some children need to be coaxed into hitting the books, some need to be coaxed out of them from time to time. Some of us need more help making friendships, some of us need more help understanding what it means to have boundaries in our relationships. Different mothers do things differently, and part of the challenge in this role—like in many of the things God calls us to— is figuring out what it means to do it as you. what does it mean to take all the things that make you unique and fit them to the unique challenges posed by your situation. Motherhood, as a calling, is intensely personal. But that doesn’t mean it’s all about you. Rather, if I have one challenge to give you today, it’s to learn the mystery that as personal as your calling is, it is not all about you. In fact, in the call to motherhood we can clearly see the challenge of what it means to be called by God to do anything, namely that we must learn to live as though the world does not revolve around us. In accepting any call of God we lay down any claim to our own self-interests, and place ourselves at God’s disposal. Hear that well: when I say that motherhood is not about you, I do not mean that it is all about your children, either. Rather, it is all about God. What you want or desire, as well as what your children want or desire, is not as important as participating in God’s story and mission.
Mothers do well when they teach their kids that the world revolves around neither the mother or the child, but for the sake of God’s glory and honor. In motherhood, you participate with God in his work to redeem the world, by teaching your children to hear and follow God. By providing for their needs you can become for them both the means and a symbol of his gracious provision in their life. By your speaking and living what you see in the scriptures, God’s word can again become incarnate before your children’s eyes, so that faith can take on flesh and become a part of the world made up of car pools and summer walks, the world of crazy schedules and bedtime stories, the world of soccer practice and lost shin guards. Your participation with God makes you a missionary to a world of crayons and swim meets, to the foreign lands of sidewalk chalk and middle school cafeterias.
Becoming a mother may not be the only expression of your role in God’s mission, but it can be a powerful one, filled with the miracles of supper and found shoes, the hard tasks of homework and the perils of prom. Paul in his shipwrecks was in no place as strange as those corners of the world a mother’s minivan takes her on her missionary journeys, and his heartbreak over the Corinthians scarcely matches the tears any mother sheds over the sorrows of the children God places in their hands.
Mothers, may God bless your work, not because it is easy or rewarding, but because it is His work, because it is part of His mission, for the sake of His glory. For your calling to be a mother is not about you, or even your children. It is one place where, mysteriously, we become co-workers with God, his ambassadors of reconciliation. Motherhood is about God, and God’s work in the world. You may say about your work as mothers what Paul mysteriously says about his own ministry (2 Cor. 6:1), “As we work together with him…”. This is the mystery of life, the mystery of ministry, the mystery of motherhood. It is a partnership with God, something that he gives us to do, but something that he also does with you and through you. In motherhood, you participate in God’s work. May we all listen to the call of God, so that wherever he bids us to join him, we may joyfully and faithfully follow, for the sake of his glory.