May 13, 2012
Listen, an uproar from the city! A voice from the temple! The voice of the Lord, dealing retribution to his enemies! Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children. Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to her like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:6-13)
Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days. (John 2:1-12)
In the early part of this century, a man by the name of James M. Beck wrote a short essay entitled “The Laurels of a Mother.” I’d like to share part of that essay with you:
…The future of any country is entirely dependent upon the mothers of the children who are to be its future custodians. The mother’s trust is even greater than that of our statesmen. When we praise one of our great statesmen, he is only reaping the reward of the everlasting care of his mother. As one of our presidents has said, “All that I am, and all that I expect to be, I owe to my saintly mother.” In times of adversity we may be deserted by everyone else, but we may still be sure of the love of the woman whom we call “Mother.” The most hardened of criminals, hated by all men, no matter how wild he is or has been, can find a resting place for his head in his mother’s lap.
The world knows nothing of its greatest personages. They are around about us in cottage and in hovel. Among the humblest homes and among the humblest women there is a more divine heroism than that of Joan of Arc. These women, unconscious of their heroism, walk with courage and fortitude through the “valley of the shadow of death” in order that they may add their treasures to the world’s greatest riches. Indeed it is not the kings who are crowned and praised. It is not the statesman with his midnight lamp. It is not the warrior stained with blood; it is the queen of the home who under God rules the destinies of mankind. I say to you that the sweetest wisdom in the world is a mother’s counsel, and the purest altar from which a human prayer ever went to heaven is a mother’s knee.
This is typical of the writing of the day, filled with flowery prose and reflecting many of the cultural standards of turn-of-the-century America (they obviously held their politicians in very high regard). Even so, these words convey a deep sense of admiration for mothers—apparently trapped in their hovels and slaving away for the good of the household.
There is no doubt in my mind that these words were written in sincerity, but still they are not quite adequate to describe the opportunity that Mother’s Day affords us. It’s one thing to set aside some time to acknowledge our mothers and to commend them out of the very special place they have in our hearts—as Beck has done—yet we can take this formal recognition a step further by making an effort to really appreciate motherhood. We can try to understand, as much as we are able, what those who have been blessed with motherhood go through on a daily basis. We can find out how we can be of service to them out of the same degree of love they have shown for us.
There is a myth in our society concerning motherhood, one held by children and adults alike. Jane Swigart, in a wonderful book subtitled The Emotional Realities of Mothering, calls it “the myth of the Good Mother/Bad Mother.” On the one hand, we have the Good Mother, “a woman who wants only the best for her children, whose needs she intuits effortlessly, who adores her children and finds them fascinating, who is so attuned to her children and is so resourceful that she is immune to boredom. To the Good Mother, nurturing comes as naturally as breathing, and child-rearing is a source of pleasure that does not require discipline or self-sacrifice.” On the other hand, there is the Bad Mother, “who is essentially bored by her children, indifferent to their well-being, who is so narcissistic and self-absorbed [that] she cannot discern what is in the best interests of her children. She is insensitive to their needs, unable to empathize with them, and often uses them for her own gratification. She damages her children without knowing it. Unable to learn from the suffering she causes, she is incapable of change.”
Now, these are obviously two extremes. In reality, there is no such thing as either the perfect mother who will never make mistakes or the perfectly rotten mother who is the bane of all goodness and decency. But these extremes do express the standards and expectations we tend to place on motherhood. If a person is a success in life, then he or she was likely raised by a Good Mother, but if that person carries any emotional scars that can be connected to their maternal upbringing, then he or she has a Bad Mother. Mothers in general are placed under a great deal of pressure to become and remain Good Mothers. Our mothers may have had their moments, but in reality, the myth is impossible to sustain.
The first step any one of us can take to fully appreciate the mothers among us is to realize that they are human beings and must be permitted to have shortcomings, like all human beings do, without being unfairly labeled by the rest of us. No mother can be expected to be perfect all the time. It is unfair to them to demand such rigorous standards of performance. We need to grant our mothers freedom of expression without undue recrimination. Please remember that parenthood is not the easiest job in the world, and it doesn’t come naturally. Just like the rest of us, mothers are allowed to be less than perfect and still receive our respect.
I often look back on my own childhood, and it really astounds me all the things my mother has done for me (and those are just the things that I’m aware of!). My mother is human. There have been times when she has been the most loving and capable nurturer in the world, and times when she has seemed like the Wicked Witch of the West. But I also know that she has accepted perhaps the most difficult calling in the world, and has done a marvelous job. Both she and I have been changed by her efforts. When that inevitable time came when I had to let go of her hand and find my own place in the world—when I needed to say, “Madam, you have your responsibilities and I have mine”—I had the strength and self-reliance to do so. That is a gift that not everyone in this world can give a person.
We all know that there are all kinds of mothers out there: mothers and stepmothers; working mothers, grandmothers and mothers-in-law; mothers who may have left us too early and mothers who may never let us go; mothers who fill every square centimeter of gray between the two extremes. They all have at least one thing in common (it turns out that Beck was right in this): there has never been a mother who has not known love for her children.
How do we honor our mothers this day? Thank her for what she has given you. Try to see things from her point of view from time to time. Help her out when she is too tired to go on. Give her an opportunity to express what she is thinking and feeling, and listen to her. Tell her what is in your heart. Love the one who helped to teach you what love is. And if you are still at a loss for a tribute, take the advice of the poet Suzan L. Wiener:
Mother’s Day is special,
I hope they stop and think,
And give me that best gift of all:
No dishes in the sink!
Let nothing disturb you, nothing alarm you:
While all things fade away, God is unchanging.
And you will gain everything:
For with God in your heart nothing is lacking.
God meets your every need.
- St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)
Rev. Eric Hoffman