Gospel Truth For a Mother’s Pain

No holiday pulls quite as many heart strings as Mother’s Day. A day given to honoring and remembering the mothers in our lives – with food, flowers, gifts, and sentimental declarations of thanks for all they’ve done for us. God commands us to honor our father and mother. I’ve been in churches before that fulfilled this command with special sermons and public recognitions of motherhood. I still remember the pride on the faces of older women who would stand to be applauded for being the “oldest” mother or the mother with the most children and grandchildren.

Thankfully, that type of public recognition in the Sunday morning service has become a relic of the past in most churches, as we’ve become more sensitive to those for whom motherhood is a dream never realized, or those for whom the word “mother” brings painful memories. Motherhood is not a contest, in either quantity or quality.

Being a mother (and now, grandmother) has been and continues to be the greatest blessing God has given me on this earth. But it certainly hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. There have been storms aplenty and countless times when I cried out to God in fear and frustration.

It’s reassuring to me to note that in Scripture, motherhood is not portrayed as easy. In fact, the examples we find almost always show just the opposite. Once sin entered the world, Eve, the first mother, dealt with the devastating death of her son Abel at the hand of his brother Cain and with Cain’s subsequent banishment. Moses’s mother felt such desperation to save her son from certain death that she put him in a floating basket in the Nile River, hoping he would be rescued. Certainly for Mary, the mother of Jesus, motherhood brought tremendous pain and grief. From the first visit of the angel to that horrifying day where she watched, helpless, as her innocent son was brutally executed, Mary carried the heavy burden of knowing that while her boy would grow to become the man who would save people from their sins, he would do so in a world that largely hated and rejected him.

One of my favorite mothers in all of Scripture is Hannah. In chapters one and two of 1 Samuel we find a woman of extraordinary faith who wasn’t afraid to appear foolish to others in her prayers for a son. God granted her impassioned request, and Hannah, grateful and obedient to her Lord, willingly gave her precious toddler boy to God for service in the temple – just as she had promised. But how it must have hurt!

 As I was rereading the story recently, a detail I’d never noticed before stopped me in my tracks and made me weep. Hannah and her husband Elkanah traveled to Shiloh every year to make the required sacrifices at the temple, and Hannah was able to see her son Samuel then. In preparation for this joyous time, 1 Samuel 2:19 says “each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice.”  My heart ached for Hannah as I imagined the eager anticipation she must have felt every single day for the next trip to Shiloh, the intense love she poured into every tiny stitch, and the tears that blurred her vision as she reflected on the fact that each year the robe had to be made a little bit bigger than the one before.

All these mothers shared a common experience: they were forced to release their hold on their beloved children and trust God with the results. In a similar way, our role as mothers reflects this aspect of the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a story of continually letting go of those things we instinctively want to cling to the most and trusting God in the dark. The good news is that when we do those things, the Holy Spirit works to transform in ways that would be impossible through our own efforts.

Because of the faith of Moses’s mother, her son led God’s chosen people out of slavery and into the Promised Land. Because of Hannah’s passionate trust in God, her son became a wise priest and judge who anointed the first king of Israel. Because of Mary’s faithful obedience, her son became the savior of the world. It’s easy to imagine that each of these mothers would have personally preferred never to let go of their children. Their trust in God’s goodness and provision gave them the strength to overcome their fierce mother’s instinct to protect and control.

Where are we being called to release our tight grip on our kids? Maybe it’s letting them drive themselves to school. Perhaps it’s giving a blessing to attend college two thousand miles away. Maybe we are simply being called to release them from the dreams we had for them – dreams they don’t share and don’t want. What about our child who, despite our untiring efforts and prayers, continues to rebel or walk away from their faith? Are we being called to continue in our prayers, let them go,  and follow God into a plan and purpose we don’t yet understand? That we may never understand?

Whatever it is, it’s likely to hurt in some way. There aren’t enough flowers and sappy cards in the world to ease the pain we mothers feel when our grip on our kids’ lives is loosened or broken. Thankfully, in his word God gives us honest and unsentimental examples of faithful mothers whose trust in him gives them the courage to release when they desperately want to hold on. We, too, serve that same God who loves our kids more than we do and whose ways, unfathomable as they may be to us, are always ultimately for his glory.

Tracey Rector is a freelance writer in Birmingham, Alabama. She and her husband Al are the parents of three adult children who are reasonably well-adjusted. She is a member of Brookwood Baptist Church where she taught youth Sunday School and plays in the handbell choir. She loves reading mysteries, cooking for her family and friends, and singing silly songs to her grandchildren Joshua and Evelyn.

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