"Like a weaned child with its mother"

May 11, 1997 message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland  USA
based upon Psalm 131

Everybody has a mother. That’s something we all share in common, at least until that day when, heaven forbid, scientists move from cloning sheep to cloning human beings. Not all our mothers are still alive. For some of us, it is not the woman who gave us birth that we think of first as our mother. Furthermore, we may differ in how we have related to this woman. Gratitude may be uppermost for many. Other emotions, some not so positive, may intrude for others. Regardless, it’s hard for most of us not to have strong feelings about this person, one way or another. You might recall it was a nasty remark made about Roberto Alomar‘s mother by the umpire that sent him into a spit-filled argument which added controversy to the Oriole’s failed quest for the American League pennant last year.

Earlier, I asked you to think about what you might write in a letter to your mother, a note that would express what you need to say to her. If you were adopted, you may need to choose to whom your words are addressed. It doesn’t matter if this woman has died, for the letter is more for your benefit - unless, of course, you feel so moved to send it. That’s up to you. No one else will see your words. You actually don’t have to put them all down on paper. Just write a few thoughts. What would you write to your mother, honestly? Let me give you a few more minutes while Eva plays an appropriate tune.

[writing time]

Mother's Day originally was not the kind of day it has become. It was not invented by Hallmark cards or the association of retail florists. It was not originally conceived of as a day to give presents to Mother and bring her breakfast in bed. Not that there's anything wrong with those activities, but that was not the original purpose of Mother's Day.

Mothers' Day [note that the apostrophe was after the s, instead of before it - not a singular mother’s day, but a day for all mothers] in North America goes back to at least 1858 when Anna Reeves Jarvis organized a Mothers' Day in Grafton, West Virginia to urge the authorities to improve sanitation for the people who lived in the Appalachians. Out of that initial effort came a group of women that provided medical services for soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict. When the Civil War broke out this woman called together four of her clubs and asked them to make a pledge that friendship and goodwill would not be a casualty of the war.

After the war she became a genuine peacemaker. The wounds and animosity between families who fought on either side were deep and harsh. Anna Reeves Jarvis organized "Mothers’ Friendship Days" to bring together families and sympathizers from both sides for reconciliation.

It was poet/philanthropist Julia Ward Howe who proposed that there be an annual Mothers' Day for Peace. She was horrified at the slaughter caused by the battles of the Civil War, and at the violence taking place in the Franco-Prussian war in Europe. In calling for the observance of a Mothers' Day, it was her intent that women everywhere should show their opposition to military conflict.

"Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters," she said, "to prevent the waste of that human life of which they alone bear and know the cost?" The Mothers' Day movement that she organized continued to have an annual celebration in the Northeastern United States until the turn of the century. It seems quite ironic that one of her poems, "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord," was turned into a "Battle Hymn of the Republic," a war song.

The daughter of Anna Reeves Jarvis went to work after her mother’s death in 1907 to establish this day in our national conscience. In 1914 the Congress of the United States formally adopted an annual Mother's Day celebration, but not surprisingly they established it as a festival of home and family life rather than as a protest against the horror and senseless slaughter of military conflict. Now, as Paul Harvey often said, you know "the rest of the story," a true tale about some very gutsy women.

Let’s return to your letter to this woman you call "mother." Hopefully your words are able to move past the sentimental stage and address the real person she was or is. No doubt there is a sense of gratitude in what you’ve written. Maybe you’ve also been able to get some things off your chest, so to speak. After all, a mother is a real person, not someone who lives on a pedestal. Looking at what you’ve written - if you were to make just a few changes, like (for instance) starting it out "Dear God," instead of "Dear Mother," would these words express for you what you need to say in prayer? Think about it.

At our most elementary level, we learn about our God from our most primary human relationships. The bond between mother and child is about as fundamental as one can get. Jesus taught us to pray in an uncomplicated way, addressing God as our heavenly "abba," - not a formal "father," but an intimate "Daddy," as simple in the language he spoke with those people by the sea of Galilee as "Imma" or "Mommy." The words fall so easily from the lips of a child, whether in moments of sheer ecstasy or in times of need. They go back before there is even the ability to speak, when a cry is all that is needed. The one who first provided for us in life was our mother.

Mothers teach us about God. It was at our mother’s breast that most of us began to pray. And we didn’t even know we were doing it. The Psalmist speaks of an elemental, simple trust in God that is like a weaned child with its mother, a little one who has been provided for in the most basic ways, who is growing but still held close. That is one picture of God that scripture paints for us. It is an image, again: one of many, which is found elsewhere in the Bible.

When Moses was fed up with the children of Israel and their constant complaints, as well as (to be honest) the anger of God at this wayward people, he himself complained to the Lord. "Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,' to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?" (Numbers 11:11-12) No, by implication, it was God who conceived of these children, who gave them birth. God responded to Moses’ complaint by lightening his load. There is time and place to get things off our chest.

Much later, when the children of Israel expressed to the Lord how they felt forsaken and forgotten by this one who gave them birth, God answered, "Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (Isaiah 49:15). God is like a mother, as surely as the one who created us is like a father. Now, I can’t quite bring myself to pray to a "heavenly mother." Those words are just a bit too foreign to me. However, the basic bond between a mother and child is a part of our relationship with God. There is more to the picture, of course.

Some of us have struggled with this maternal relationship more than others. The child who was given up for adoption or whose mother died at an early age has much to work through - even in their approach to God. It’s not unlike an adult child of an abusive father who cannot pray to her or his "father in heaven," for all the pain it brings forth. God wants us to come as we are. When we pray "Dear God," we do need to express our gratitude. We also need to lay before our "Abba" in heaven the other stuff. God wants that, too.

Perhaps the most maternal image the Bible gives us is found in our evangelical faith. Jesus spoke of being "born again," or "born from above," or "born of the Spirit." It is a different kind of womb, indeed, but it is God who gives us birth as we trust in this One who (as Isaiah said long ago) will not forget us. Even amid wars and rumors of wars.

It’s up to you what you do with your "Dear Mom" letter. Perhaps it can become the basis for a note your mother might really appreciate, if she hasn’t gone on to glory. On the other hand, maybe these words are a help in resolving some inner struggles you may have in relating to your mother. Hopefully, you may find in this exercise a new (or maybe renewed) dimension of your relationship with God. May your soul be "like a weaned child with its mother."

1997Peter L. Haynes

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