Mother’s Day for the Rest of Us

It was Mother’s Day during my senior year of college, and the church was giving packets of flower seeds to the moms in the congregation, ones with a little verse attached: “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:28.

Proverbs

One of the high school students at the door handed me a packet of zinnia seeds. “Here, Amy, you’ll be a good mom someday. That’s close enough.”

And I smiled and gave her a hug, because at twenty-one, no one expected me to actually be a mom yet. Oh, sure, my grandma was a little impatient for me to get married, but I was content in my singleness, happy to have a youth group full of girls I called “my kids,” and glad that someone thought I’d be a good mom…and maybe I would be someday. I took the packet, ready to plant those flower seeds in a styrofoam cup and set it on my dorm room window, waiting for something to take root and bloom in its own good time.

Then I looked around the sanctuary, and saw the faces of other women, some holding seed packets, some trying to dart out the doors before someone realized this was not meant for them.

And I realized: on this day celebrating motherhood, some women are hurting.

I love Proverbs 31, often preached on Mother’s Day. Nothing against it. Really. But sometimes, it takes a long time for your children to rise up and call you blessed.

Sometimes it never happens at all.

That, I think, is the unspoken tragedy of Mother’s Day. For every woman with a pew-full of neatly-dressed, smiling children lined up in order of height, there are so many more who still harbor bitterness toward their own mothers, who have suffered from infertility or miscarriages or the death of a child, who struggle to know how to love the little terrors they gave birth to, who wait patiently for the prodigal son to trudge back home…but he doesn’t.

And even for the mom who looks like she has it all together, there are days where the kids are not all right, when it feels like no one is listening and no one cares, when the laundry seems endless and so does the general monotony of life. And she has to wonder, “Is it worth it? Should I have chosen something different? Do I matter?”

Please believe me when I say this: you matter. Whether you’re married or single, whether you have children or not, whether your home could grace the cover of a magazine or resembles a tornado touch-down site…you matter.

Your worth is not dependent on checkmarks on your To-Do list, As on your kids’ report cards, or compliments on your outfit, home décor, pot roast dinner, or smoothly-run household. Your worth is, and always should be, found in Christ and in what he says about you.

That’s why my favorite Mother’s Day passage isn’t Proverbs 31. It’s the story of Hagar.

Ah, Hagar, the ancient equivalent of a soap opera star, where the other lead roles are played by Abraham, Sarah, and a complete misunderstanding of what it means to trust God. Quick recap: when God promised Abraham that he would have a son, he took a look at his senior citizen wife, figured that wasn’t going to happen, and had a son with Sarah’s Egyptian servant, Hagar.

For some reason, this famous Dust Bowl photograph is how I always picture Hagar.

For some reason, this famous Dust Bowl photograph is how I always picture Hagar.

It was a bit of a dysfunctional family, to say the least. Hagar, pregnant and proud, mocked Sarah, who wasn’t about to put up with any of that and “treated her harshly.” Which clearly meant drama of the highest order. Things got so bad that Hagar fled into the desert.

Eventually, probably around the time she had collapsed in a tired heap and wondered when she thought this was a good idea, an angel “found her” (tip: never try to beat God in a game of hide-and-seek…if he wants to get your attention, he will). And he asked her this insightful question: “Where have you come from and where are you going?”

Oh, don’t we all wish we had a good answer to that one? Hagar included. Her answer was pretty much just, “Running away,” which doesn’t address either part, really.

So the angel told her to go back home and gave her promises from God about her son, Ishmael, soon to be born. Then Hagar did something interesting: she called God “El-Roi,” meaning “God who sees me,” because, as she put it, “I have seen the one who sees me.”

That makes her the first person recorded in the Bible to name God. Think about that for a second. Names, in the Bible, are a big deal, more than they are in our hey-maybe-I’ll-check-babynames.com-to-see-what-my-kid’s-name-means kind of culture. Your name and its meaning said something important about you. With God, it was a way of defining the undefinable, of assigning attributes of the creator of the universe and describing the way he interacted with his creation.

God had revealed his name to people. And some people asked for God’s name. But no one had ever had the audacity to say, “I know this truth about God, and so that is what I will call him.” Except Hagar, a sassy, jealous, good-for-nothing servant woman who came from a long line of violent, idolatrous pagans. Except a woman who knew what it meant to be totally exhausted and empty, to be too tired to cry and too broken to hope…and who saw what happens when God shows up in spite of us.

From what we know of Ishmael—firstborn but second best, and not a bit happy about that—I’m guessing if Hagar waited for his admiration and approval to validate her as a woman and a mother (or for that matter, if she waited for Abraham’s acceptance as a woman and a wife) she’d be waiting a very long time. But that didn’t matter because God found her, God spoke to her, and God saw her.

Her words remind me of Exodus 2, one book and four hundred years later, where God intervened in another seemingly hopeless desert situation: Isaac’s great-great grandchildren, suffering as slaves in Hagar’s home country of Egypt. “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”

This is not a passage that usually goes on Mother’s Day seed packets. But I love it.

God heard. God remembered his promises. God saw. God knew. Four ways of saying basically the same thing. Why bother?

Because we needed to know that the deliverance of the Exodus was not just a coincidence. God didn’t say, “Oh, hey, wow, has it really been four hundred years? My bad. I’m a little late, but I’ll get to work now.” Moses wasn’t a convenient rising star that God hitched onto with his last-minute plan B for the redemption of his people. That was the plan all along. That was the timing all along. And God was listening all along, even during the four hundred years when he was silent, and his heart was breaking.

The Israelites needed to be reassured of that, to have it repeated to them until they believed it. It’s similar to what’s going on in Psalm 136—if we tell the story again, if we sing it all together, if we speak the sometimes-distant refrain that “His love endures forever” a dozen times…maybe then we can believe it. Yes, maybe then.

Have you told yourself the story lately? Have you reminded yourself, once again, that your worth is not in what you do or what your roles are, but in the glorious truth that God hears you, God is faithful to keep his promises, God knows what you’re going through, and God’s timing is always right?

Do you believe that God sees you?

2 comments

  1. This is excellent. I’m a pastor and a mom and I hate Mother’s Day for all the reasons you mentioned. I’m preaching on Eve on Sunday. She’s my favorite misunderstood woman in scripture along with Jezebel. But this week, I turn to Eve who was called “mother” before she ever had a child. So, under that umbrella all women can stand proud. There are hundreds of ways to be a mother besides the biological one…

    1. “There are hundreds of ways to be a mother besides the biological one” – so true! That’s actually why I really like the tradition of child dedications on Mother’s Day, because, at least at all the churches I’ve been to, an important part of that is the church joining with the parents in commitment to help raise the child. It’s a way of honoring moms while still affirming that being a mom is not the only way of being a part of a child’s life.

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