With every step I took to the Principal’s office I knew I was going to be in trouble, but I still believed the girl I had just punched in the nose in the middle of English class had it coming. Afterall, she was talking smack about my Mama.
And ain’t nobody talking bad about my Mama.
There is something about the relationship we have with our mama’s, we want them to be good. We want them to love us, we want to love them, we want peace and connection and to be wanted and needed, mutually. In the same way the lack of a healthy father figure in our lives can lead us to damaging choices, so too can the rejection, abandonment, or abuse of a mother figure lead women to disfunctional relationships, binding shame and unresolved heartache. But even when our earthly mama’s grieve us, neglect us or even abuse us as I’ve seen with so many women, we seem built for loyalty and long for that relationship to be healthy. Women (and men) will even expose themselves to toxic treatment for the sake of having some semblance of a connection with their earthly mama’s.
A wiser, more mature friend shared her view of motherhood with me this summer, stating simply that to mother, is to nurture. Merriam-Webster and Google searches offer similar descriptions for “to mother” such as, “to bring up, to bear up, to give rise to, to care for, protect with affection…”. God created us to long for this relationship, for this unique nurturing. We want it because we need it, we will be nurtured one way or the other, in healthy or unhealthy ways.
There is hope for those who long for a mother’s nurturing, and though we don’t have to look far to find it, praying for God’s answer for our longing draws us into the richest journey of healing.
Often we recount the ways God reveals himself in Scripture through his created image of father, but He expresses his motherly love as well:
God is like a mother eagle covering her young
God comforts his own like a mother comforts her child
Like a woman would never forget her nursing child, God will not forget his own
A reference we use here at A Mother of Thousands, “God experiences the fury of a mother bear robbed of her cubs”
And, in the New Testament we see Jesus described as having a similar motherly love for us, “Jesus longed for the people of Jerusalem, like a mother hen longs to gather her chicks under her wings”.
If you have a broken relationship with your earthly mama, the journey of knowing God as the perfect mother is not without hiccups. Coming to know God as the perfect father and mother is a life-long unfolding. We just aren’t aware of how deeply we need this nurture, and how deeply we meet this need in ways that don’t involve God’s love. Receiving God’s love in the ways we most need it, then, comes slow to us.
But in Paul’s letter to Timothy about how to instruct Christ’s followers to treat fellow church members, he insists that we, “…not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters…”
We see God setting us up for restoration in this life through Jesus and his church, and hope for all things made right in the forever life coming. We see fathers and mothers in faith raised up for us, to help lead and nurture us in our faith journeys. We see an equipping of the local church that empowers us to grow into full maturity by looking to the faith journey of others who are older and wiser than us, living life with us.
Even for those of us who have been raised up by loving Gospel-centered mothers, all people are impaired, and so all parents are impaired. We know this. None of us will grow under a perfect mother, nor will we be perfect mothers – physically or spiritually. Perhaps this is the grace of God then for us in having spiritual fathers and mothers in plural, because we each of us fill one another’s gaps with Christ as our bond. None of us are spiritual superheroes.
In the local church, we are no longer limited by our earthly families, or even our own impairments as human beings. We have resources for hope and encouragement beyond our small stories, and can work together to strengthen one another, each sharing out of his or her testimony and gifts by the power of God’s Spirit.
In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, in chapter 12, verses 48-50, Matthew shares how Jesus responded when asked about his mother and brothers. He said, “’Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’…He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” He meant no disrespect for his kin, he loved them deeply and later provided for his mother’s grief as he suffered the violence of the cross. But we see Jesus pointing us to a new reality, a new relationship with one another, and it was meant to be intimate, familial, life on life, local.
While we are spiritually related to mothers and fathers globally because of the stretch of God’s Kingdom, there are some risks involved with seeking spiritual motherhood from a visible but connected-only-online Christian woman influencer, at least solely.
Bible teacher, author, speaker Jen Wilkin, tweeted last October, “Pastor, if you had to ask, ‘Who’s Jen Hatmaker?’ it’s time to be more directly invested in the spiritual nurture of half your church.” She clarified later in comments that pastors simply need to be aware of what voices influence women in local churches. This is a helpful awareness, for the accessibility of social media and the blogosphere has allowed for a rise in writers, teachers and influencers with really no ecclesiastical ties to formal institutional authority. I say this pointing at myself! I have no seminary degree (I’m a lawyer ya’ll), but I take it very seriously when I share any discussion of Scripture because I know I’m held by God to a higher standard when I share God’s Word with anyone.
I have served on the staff of my local church, and have a deep love and commitment for the local church’s spotlight, health and promotion. God designed the local church, she was not born by human creativity. She is filled with us, flawed humanity, but the local church will survive all the threats of societies, and has even proven to thrive all the more in the midst of persecution. We are foolish to think we can do any ministry worth doing for the long-term outside of her function. I love her, Jesus loves her, and he is coming for her – us – his bride.
Jen Wilkin later said in an interview that,
When [local women leaders] are missing, the voices of women with national platforms can become too loud in the ears of younger women, in particular…[N]ational women leaders should be a reference point, but not a replacement for female leadership at the local church level.
That local women leaders would be missing is a sad reality. Where could they be? I think shame plays a role for some women, they believe they have nothing to offer. I’m writing for these women, and praying they rise up out of shame’s shadows, and do it now.
But I know local women leaders, I see them, I hear them, I feel them grip my arm and strengthen me in my own journey. But they aren’t on the stage, they don’t have thousands of followers on social media, they don’t tour the country with fancy marketing. I see them watching our children in nurseries, sitting at sign-in tables for mom’s groups, teaching Bible studies in their homes on week nights, taking meals to neighbors who are sick, going to doctor’s appointments with women dying, meeting with younger women one-on-one in coffee houses, encouraging their co-workers around the office, texting us asking how we are doing since they hadn’t seen us in a while. They are quietly doing the work of nurturing, they are mothering, and there is no real headline for it most of the time.
Maybe it isn’t that they are missing, maybe we just aren’t looking for them.
It bears stating that before I launched this little writing space I submitted to the dear woman who serves as our current women’s ministry leader. I have sat in her seat and am so grateful for her ‘yes’ to our fellowship with her gifts. In the presence of other women I live life with, in my basement, I offered this woman my gifts and commitment first. I want to serve under her leadership by doing whatever I am able to do to bless her and the women I live in community with here, in my tiny corner of God’s big yard. By doing this, I submit to the greater pastoral leadership of my local church. This has been no burden, hardly in fact. In a Gospel-centered local church community growing in the knowledge of God’s Word, we can experience the father and the mother of God, receive guidance, accountability, support and even cheerleading by brothers and sisters we desperately need. These are the women who will call me out when I stray, who will do the awkward work of confronting and correcting and will do it in love wanting the best for me.
Whatever I do here, I pray it is used for my community first. I pray my words are used to nudge women into relationship with God and one another to likewise plant small and root deep in your local communities.
Planting small by meditating on God’s Word then applying it in our lives in simple ways. Planting small by reaching into fellowship with other women, in the local church and then reaching outside to serve. Planting small by serving in whatever simple way fits you and your season.
No grand gestures are needed, our grand God does the heavy lifting, we can keep it simple and honest.
And when we plant, we let it go, we don’t micromanage the seed, we release it to God’s plan as we root deep ourselves, this is what we do have control over. We root deep in the Word of God, the local community he has set us in, and refuse to be drug away by every whim of doctrine or impressive speaker that breezes by our lovely ears. My words included.
I believe this is how God intended for us to bear life, to be sisters who grow up to become mothers, even mothers of thousands.
Before I tell you how it went in the Principal’s office and sign off, there is a way you can plant small as a mother of thousands now, even with one click. Rise Up! is a local mentoring ministry I partner with to inspire kids to be relationally successful and prepared for their future. The obstacles these kids have had to overcome are more than I can even mention here. Unfortunately Rise Up! experienced an unexpected drop in grant funding this year when a $195,000 state grant they received for the past 12 years just didn’t renew. With 40% of their budget gone, they have made all cuts possible just short of programming, but kids are going to lose out without the help of brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers. By financially partnering with Rise Up! monthly or donating any amount, you can help ensure they get the nurture they need. And if you don’t live in this community, perhaps there is a need in your area that is just a click away! We cannot do everything, but we can do our thing.
So, I made it to the Principal’s office and waited for days, but the clock said minutes. My mom had been called, which was protocol. Back then the paddle was customary too, but Mom had told him to hold off because she would handle it.
Ya’ll. I wanted the paddle.
Grizz teases me for my fine memory, the details I recall seem so meaningless but my brain retains them anyway. But in this particular story, the remarkable part is what I don’t remember. I don’t remember getting in any trouble. At all. I remember a little silence in the car at first, but then tenderness from my Mama. Life just went on from there. I wore Wonder Woman underwear and raced through the house pretending to be her, but when it came down to it, I didn’t punch a girl over Wonder Woman smack. I drew blood because of the disrespect shown to the one who invested her own blood, sweat and tears into my becoming. No celebrity can replace what the love of a mother can do for us, so let’s look for them instead. Let’s look for God’s mother love for us, in our local women. Let’s plant small, root deep and become them too.
 Deuteronomy 32:11
 Isaiah 66:13
 Isaiah 49:15
 Hosea 13:8
 Luke 13:34
 1 Timothy 5:1-2