Motherhood

Rev Sue gave this sermon on Mother Sunday. Here it is for you again:

I must have been around 11 or 12. I remember my mother coming back from a parent’s evening at the grammar school. She was wearing a suit she had had made and was in absolute agony from the shoes she had been wearing, as her normal footwear was very much chosen for comfort over style. I found it all a bit perplexing, as I couldn’t see why she needed to dress up.

Looking back, I can understand now how difficult those parents’ evenings were for her. Both my parents were naturally reclusive, and she literally never went out except for shopping or to visit one particular neighbour. She had left school at 14 to go to Trade School to learn domestic duties to prepare her for life as a servant. She was a Londoner, now living in Somerset. She must have felt extremely nervous going into the Grammar School to meet both parents and teachers, none of whom she had ever met, and with whom she felt she had very little in common. The least she could do was dress properly and not show me up. Now, looking back, I salute her courage and her determination to do the best for me. Did I see that at the time? Not in the least.

I remember someone once saying to me that you don’t understand your parents until you have children of your own. That’s a bit sweeping, but I certainly think that you have to mature as an adult yourself, and becoming a parent is one way that that happens. I was very touched when my daughter, whose past record on Mother’s Day cards had been somewhat erratic, said that having had a baby of her own she knew just how much all those sleepless nights had cost me.

Today is Mothering Sunday, and here we are not celebrating Mother’s Day, with its cards and flowers and meals out, but the quality of mothering, which can be present in anyone, male or female, parent or not. Many fathers know what it is to pace up and down with a baby who screams the second you sit down and many people who have never had children have lavished love and care on others. Take a moment and remember someone who has mothered you when you needed it, and your Mum wasn’t available.

Even Jesus understood his mother better as he matured. At 12 years old he was baffled by her anxiety when he had stayed in the temple in Jerusalem and failed to let her know where he was. At 12 he was a man now. Shouldn’t she have expected to find him in his father’s house, debating with the rabbis? Poor Mary had travelled a whole day’s journey out of Jerusalem, and then failing to find him when they were getting ready for the night, had to trail all the way back. But at the end of his life, in agony on the cross, he saw her standing there and asked her to be a mother to the disciple John, and he a son to her. He saw her now as an independent human being, not just as his mother, and he could see her needs and responded to them.

The only way we know what God is like is through other human beings. If we ourselves had never been loved then to say that God loves us would be meaningless, because we would simply not understand the word. All parents love imperfectly, in a few love is either absent or corrupted to the point that parenting becomes either physically or psychologically damaging. Many children are saved by the compassion and kindness of a teacher or grandparent or other adult who takes the parent’s place in giving the child the feelings of self-worth and security that can only come through love. Without that there can never be healthy adult relationships based on respect and generosity.

At the age of 12, I saw my mother wholly in her relationship with me and was quick to recognise when her love didn’t entirely meet my needs, but rarely understood how her own life had been shaped by her own past relationships, and the courageous ways she had striven to do her best. And similarly I viewed God as existing to meet my needs, to provide healing and guidance, to make my life, if not easy, then at least purposeful. When things went wrong and I suffered in one way or another, I expected God to write me a script. What was the purpose of my suffering? Why me? Would I become a better person, and refined by my experiences serve God in new ways? How was God’s plan for my life, which I confidently believed he had mapped out for me in some detail, work out so that everything that happened to me was part of the plot, which would be a hiccup on the way to the happy ending once I read a bit further on in the script. And I carried on with that way of thinking long past my adolescence.

Now, I would put it differently. Stuff happens. Sometimes we can see the hand of God at the time, and those are the rare but exciting and precious moments that can sustain our faith for years to come. But most of the time all we can do is make the best of the hand we are dealt, reusing to cry “Why me” because the answer is “Why not you?”. Bad things happen, and why should we be exempt? One of the great paradoxes of faith is that mature answer to the suffering in our lives is to put our hand in the hand of our loving Father, who doesn’t explain or justify or accuse, but who tenderly takes us in his arms and lets us be the child who needs his Mum to kiss it better.

Mother Julian lived in Norwich in the fourteenth century. She was only in her early thirties when she felt called to the life of an anchoress, a woman who lived in a single cell by herself and devoted her life to prayer, and to advising those who came to see her. She wrote a book “The revelations of divine Love” the first book in English to have been written by a woman. She writes a lot about God as our mother.

“… when a child is hurt or frightened it runs to its mother for help as fast as it can; and God wants us to do the same, like a humble child, saying, ‘My kind Mother, my gracious Mother, my dearest Mother, take pity on me.’” She knew that God, who has no human body, cannot be male or female. He is our loving Mother, as well as our loving Father, and if we think of the best mothering we have ever known, that is but a shadow compared with the infinite love of God.

So remember today, not just the woman who gave birth to you, but all the men and women who have shown that same nurturing love we expect from our mothers, and give thanks that they have touched our lives. Let us try to be mature and see our parents as people with lives of their own and forgive them the imperfections of their love. And above all, let those human loves point us to the One who will never fail us, but who tenderly cares for us like a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wings.


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