MOTHERHOOD: A CRISIS OF FAITH – SERMON FOR MOTHER’S DAY, MAY 10, 2015
Genesis 17 – 18
When God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, meaning “Father of many nations” and changed
Sarai’s name to Sarah, He told them that Sarah would bear Abraham a son. Abraham was at that
time ninety nine years old and Sarah was ninety. At the prospect of becoming parents at this
age, Abraham “fell on his face and laughed.” And, when Sarah heard the news that she was to
become a mother - - at ninety? She laughed too, though she denied that to the angel.
But the angel let Sarah know that motherhood is no laughing matter. //
I suspect that for both Abraham and Sarah, the idea of rearing a child at this stage of life would have been received with great trepidation. I also suspect that their faith in God would have been tested as they looked forward to a future with a child of their own. //
God was doing something completely new, something that had never been done before by making Abraham and Sarah parents at their advanced age. //
When Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, found out that she was going to give birth to a son, with both she and her husband, Zechariah at an advanced age, she hid herself away for five months.
Again, WHAT IS GOD THINKING? //
What kind of craziness is this?//
But as we know, with God all things are possible, even when we think they aren’t. God knows what He is
doing, even when we think this is some kind of crazy joke.
When I discovered that I was going to become a mother, and not only that, but a mother of twins, I can
definitely say, I thought it was some kind of crazy joke, but I was not laughing.
For me and for many women, facing the prospect of motherhood, as with any major life transition,
can bring us to a crisis of faith. So my talk today doesn’t just relate to motherhood, but is also about
all of those times in our lives when we are struggling with a major life transition. //
I call my entrance into motherhood “a crisis of faith” because I found it involved four aspects of re-evaluation that I have continued to revisit every time I encounter a new life transition. These four aspects of re-evaluation can also be found in the teachings of the early 2nd and 3rd century Christians who were called the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They used the term “renunciation,” but whatever you call it, the experience is one of re-evaluation. These four aspects are the re-evaluation of one’s former life, of re-evaluating one’s thoughts, of one’s images of God, and of one’s images of self. //
The first thing I found myself re-evaluating was my former way of life. When I found that I was pregnant, I realized there were many things in my life that I was going to have to give up, and many other things I was going to have to start doing that I had never done before. There were the easy things, like no more late night forays to the all night pizza shop. Now, I would have to send Marvin to get pizza at two in the morning when I couldn’t sleep. But there were also the hard things, like having to stay in bed for weeks at a time, or finally surrendering to the reality that there was never again going to be any such thing as a decent night’s sleep. But for others going through a major life transition, it might be a far more difficult sacrifice, like giving up a beloved sport, or being confined to a wheelchair or dealing with a chronic condition. //
Paul speaks to these issues in his second letter to the church in Corinth when having three times implored the Lord to deliver him from his ‘thorn in the flesh,’ he writes:
“but He said to me ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made
perfect in weakness. I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses,
that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then,
I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12: 9 – 10.
The second re-evaluation was that of my mode of thinking. As a new mother, I found myself
constantly harassed by thoughts of fear about the safety of my children, my husband and our little
family. These kinds of thoughts are normal and appropriate if a mother is to help protect her family.
But if those thoughts are allowed to dominate and control the life of the family they become neurotic
and eventually toxic to the welfare of the family and eventually to the entire community. In his letter
to the church in Rome, Paul warns us,
“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the
renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
It is crucial that we maintain, especially through times of life transition and crisis, a living
and consistent practice of going to God in prayer to “ be transformed by the renewal of our minds ” and not to allow ourselves to be held hostage by unreasoned fear and free floating anxiety. I believe this includes avoiding exposing oneself to persons or channels of communication that habitually incite fear or mistrust toward others. //
The third re-evaluation that I found myself practicing was a re-evaluation of my image of God.
Because my father died when I was ten years old, my need for a father figure in my life has always
been very strong. But when I found myself approaching motherhood, I deeply needed images of God
that expressed more of those qualities that we would humanly identify as intimate, nurturing and
motherly. From Psalm 139 we read:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my
mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret
place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me
were written in your book before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
were I to come to the end, I am still with you.” Verses 13 – 18.
Sometimes, especially when we are going through a major life transition, we find that our accustomed
ways of relating to God just aren’t working the way they used to. We might be tempted to believe
that God has abandoned us because our prayer life doesn’t seem to give us the satisfaction that it
once did, or reading scripture isn’t as powerful as it used to be. These times can be very
disconcerting. I spoke with my mother on one occasion when we were both going through such a
time. The wisdom that emerged from that conversation was that perhaps God had gone deeper and
is inviting us to dig deeper to find Him. It is important to remember that there are “seasons of the
Spirit,” times when our spiritual life is vibrant and filled with passion, and other times when the fields
of our soul seem to lie fallow, and are resting, waiting for a new seeding before there can be another
harvest. God hasn’t really “gone anywhere” where could God possibly go? But the tilling of our soul
may be necessary for such a new planting, and a kind of deep listening may be what is called for. And,
it’s important to remember that no matter what image of God we carry in our mind’s eye, it will
always fall short of the Living God who is Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. //
The fourth re-evaluation was a re-evaluation of images of myself. There is likely no
other experience in a healthy woman’s life that is as transforming to her self-image as that of carrying
her first child. First, of course, there is the body image. Our culture and society are radically fixated on
perfect female body images that are impossible for real human women to live up to. As I slowly
watched my body take on the unmistakable shape of a pear, I found myself less and less identifying
with what my body looked like and more and more identifying with what my body was doing.
Pregnancy isn’t something that we do; it is something that DOES US! I thought a lot during those
months about mother Mary carrying Jesus, and about my own mother carrying me and the miracle
that they and I were being called to participate in. Mary’s words from the first chapter of Luke speak
of her special blessing but also of great humility and gratitude:
Beginning with verse 46, Mary said:
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
The next image to let go of was that of being the young maiden. This person, the young maiden that I
had been, or thought I had been, no longer existed. It was as if she had died somewhere along the
way and I had to go through a grieving period to adjust to her loss. Major life transitions often force
us to come to terms with some kind of death of a self-image. The athlete, the high-powered business
executive, the hard-working provider, the super-mom, the beauty queen, the Diva; all will be kissed
goodbye at one time or another. We read in Ecclesiastes “a time to be born, a time to die.” There are many births and deaths that we pass through in this life. At times of major transition, I find comfort in Isaiah, Chapter 43,
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Verses 18 and 19.
For this many staged life-journey, we are given this promise from Paul written to the church in Corinth: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 – 19.
Motherhood, at its best, is the human practice of living out one’s love for another. As I watch my own
daughter patiently return again and again to her own daughter’s relentless needs, and act toward her
with the perspective, intention and tirelessness of motherly love, and I am reminded of the endless
hours that I delighted in caring for our own children, I recall again the words of John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
A good mother’s love wants every good thing for her beloved child, as does God’s
love for us. // A good mother’s love wants her child to grow and fulfill their own destiny, as does God’s
love for us. // A good mother’s love will give even when it hurts to give, as God’s love does for us.
This motherly love is not confined only to women who have children, as this kind of love was
demonstrated by the living example of Jesus in his ministry to people of all descriptions through his
healing, through resurrecting from the dead, through washing feet, through crying over Jerusalem as
he saw his beloved community close the door on the love he was offering. Jesus calls us to this
kind of radical love, a love that is demonstrated to our families, our neighbors, our community, our
“God so loved the world . . .” this love is meant to be spent. It is meant to be delivered, it is
meant to be given away and offered again and again even as Jesus offered salvation to the thief on
the cross during his last dying breath. In Jesus we do indeed find the Alpha; the beginning of
our life in God’s grace, the Omega; in resurrection and eternal life, and the way; the journey through
time and eternity in His presence.
We are a people who need definition to understand how our lives are to fit into God’s plan. But our
God who is holy, righteous and just is also true, beautiful and good, and these qualities like Creator,
Eternal Son and Holy Spirit don’t always fit into our small definitions, for the heart of God is bigger
than any definition we can ever articulate. So before we count ourselves or others out of God’s
love, that God who “so loved the world” let us remember that we were first counted in by the one who
delights in each of us as a good mother delights in her beloved child. From Isaiah, 49:15 "Can a
mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she
may forget, I will not forget you!
Please join me in prayer: Holy God we are so thankful that you come to us through Christ in the Holy Spirit to accompany us, to touch us with your motherly love, give us hope to bring us home to you. Amen.