May 7, 2016

thoughts on mothers

Today is Mother's Day.

In recent years the internet has been peppered each May with articles disparaging the insensitivity of Mother's Day and its conventional celebrations.  It's a day fraught, for some, with strong feelings of loss for what they did not get, and sometimes, resentment toward those who did.  I have stood on both sides of this fence:  although today I love and feel loved by my mother, for many years our relationship was characterized by conflict and misunderstanding.

Just yesterday, I read for the first time a story about two orphans who discover a temporary escape from their unloved life of hard labor:  a red bird leads them to a magical land of eternal spring, called Sunnymead, to which they daily steal visits during the brief weeks in the winter when they are permitted to leave their work in order to attend school.

Watch as the orphans discover Sunnymead:

Then Matthew and Anna followed the other children across the meadow to a little cottage, and there was Mother. 
You could see that it was Mother: she had a mother's eyes and a mother's hands, and her eyes and hands were enough for all the children who crowded around her.

She had cooked pancakes for them and she had baked bread, she had churned butter and she had made cheese. The children could eat as much as they liked of everything, and they sat in the grass to eat. 
"This is the best food I've eaten in my whole life," said Anna. 
.... They said thank you for the food they had eaten and Mother stroked their cheeks and said, "Come again soon!"

Although this is not their own mother (she died when they were young), this Mother represents all that is good in Sunnymead.  She feeds them food made with her own hands (the farmer for whom they work gives them cold potatoes dipped in herring brine, and they are always hungry).  She speaks kindly to them, her hands are gentle.  In Sunnymead there is love, abundance, welcome, color - the opposite of everything in Myra, where they live in grey poverty and want of all kinds.

Before winter ends, Matthew and Anna make permanent their escape from the hardships of life:

.... And Matthew took her hand and led her through the door, into the everlasting spring of Sunnymead, where the tender birch leaves smelled so sweet, where a thousand small birds sang joyfully in the trees, where the children sailed their bark-boats in the spring brooks and ditches, and where Mother stood in the meadow calling, "Come, all my children!"

You may be suspecting that Sunnymead serves as a metaphor for Heaven, and you're right.  (If you know the story, you'll remember that the orphans' eventual "escape" comes through death from starvation and cold, but we'll leave that for a different post.)

Do you see what, for them, constitutes Heaven?  Warmth, sunlight, color, nature, play, food, and love.  

Love personified by a Mother.  

"She had a mother's eyes and a mother's hands, and her eyes and hands were enough for all the children", writes the author, and regardless of our own experiences of motherhood (received or given), we don't have to be told that "a mother's eyes" are kind and accepting, and "a mother's hands" are gentle and giving.

No, this is not always the case with biological mothers, but the very fact that we grieve the lack of gentle hands and accepting eyes tells us that we know the way it should be, the way it's meant to be.

And isn't that what Mother's Day really celebrates - the way a Mother should be?  Not one among us had a perfect Mother - or is a perfect Mother.  

No one deserves the cards.

Not one, of the many mothers I know, even comes close to our aspirations for motherhood.  We feel our failings on a daily basis.  And yet, the love we have for our children makes us yearn - strive - to be more than we are - more accepting, more gentle, more loving, more kind.  

Surely we all - no matter what kind of mother we've had, or been, or been unable to be - can relate to that desire to love well, to love better than we have it in us to love?

If, this Mother's Day, you mourn the loss of your dream of motherhood (whether the giving or the receiving), can you lay aside your lack, and join the ranks of those who are cheering on the mothers who are trying, with whatever they've been given, to be a Mother, in the richest sense of the word, in that way that we all long to mother, and be mothered.

Let's make Mother's Day a time for us to encourage each other, however and whoever we mother, to have "a mother's eyes" and "a mother's hands", and above all ...

... let's give thanks to the only One who can lead us closer to that goal, and who alone is "enough for all the children."

And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide, and long, and deep, and high, is the love of Christ, that you may know this love that surpasses knowledge, and that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.  {Ephesians 3:18-19}

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