On Palm Sunday, we invited 4 mothers in the congregation to share how mothering and their faith are connected. We did this inspired by Mary, the mother of Jesus. We know from the biblical texts that she accompanied him all the way to his death, and thought her relationship as his mother is often overlooked in our Protestant tradition.
The text and audio file of each woman’s sharing is posted her separately.
Claire Bjork (Audio Version)
Since becoming a mother, something about time, and the connections across it, has started to be revealed to me. I have wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember, and before Kaari’s birth, I would have said this desire had to do with carrying on something from the past, grounding my family’s life in the present, and giving something to the future. But I thought about becoming a mother as something I would do, and I didn’t know how much the experience would so quickly connect me – not just to other mothers and other children, but to all sorts of different people and experiences.
While our society isn’t as kind to pregnant people and young people as we should be, I have been humbled and at times even mystified by the care and attention that I get while carrying Kaari – first in my belly and then in my arms. People that I hardly know, or with whom I have very little visibly in common, offer words of support, or gestures that seem to say, “I see you and your child.” Or maybe even more specifically, to say “I see myself in you.” Because raising children is one of the most unifying experiences there is. Whether we have our own children or not, we all grow older, we all see the older generations leave us – leaving us with the mantle of adult or elder – and we all have the responsibility of preparing a way for those that will go on after us.
Regardless of our personal decisions about or experiences with parenting, we all witness and participate in the advent of new generations – and whether we understand time to be cyclical or linear, a child is a ripple whose unforeseen future carries the hopes and fears of her parents, her village, and her ancestors. And we do the work of parenting without ever knowing the answers to the big questions, like what the purpose of life is. Children, with their great needs and mysterious ways, make us step outside of self-centered approaches to such questions, and instead act with great faith, knowing that we must give of ourselves in order to care for them, not needing a why.
I think this faith in the future, faith that the future is worth our efforts, is behind many of the knowing smiles and encouraging words that are shared between mothers – and that now, as a mother, I can notice and appreciate in new ways. From the little moments of bewildered exasperation, like having a small person bite your breast with innocent glee, to the bigger truths, like having a heart that has been made irreparably vulnerable, mothering is an especially powerful way of witnessing faith in our past and future.
I’m so new to mothering, and while it feels as I’ve already lost a lot of sleep, I know there are many greater challenges and more difficult questions that will come with time – in Kaari’s own life or in our larger world, with its ability for bleakness and pain. And when I ask “why,” in the midst of wonder, frustration, or even despair, I know I will look to other mothers to teach and reteach me the shared wisdom of mothers through the ages: we don’t know what will be, but we love these children and we give our best selves to them. And I believe that is what makes mothering my great gift, my great challenge, and my great act of faith.
Barbara Stretchberry (Audio Version)
When I think about letting go of something, it tends to have a negative context. These worries, these feelings, these regrets I hold on to are usually negative, and I would be best served to let them go. My heart would be lighter and my mind would be quieter. But still, I resist. It’s not easy for me to relinquish control and live freely in the moment.
My good friend Deb shared with me many years ago—before I even became a mother—that she believed that our children are not ours to hold. They are children of God, she said, and we must live into that as mothers when every instinct is to hold on. When I was not a mother, this seemed reasonable. Of course God will guide and protect children. Of course I could live that level of faith—it wouldn’t be that hard.
And then I became a mother. And it was crystal clear: We are often told to let go of what bothers us, what keeps us from being our best selves, or what hurts us. It’s easy to understand why it would benefit our minds to do so. But no one has ever suggested to me to let go of what I hold most precious—a joyous memory or the feeling of loving and being loved. Why would I do that? And yet, as a mother, that’s my most important task. It turns out, this is really hard.
From the minute Sam was born, I was forced to let go. His immediate medical concerns meant that he was taken from me as soon as he was born—just across the room, but immediately—and from that moment on, it has been a continual process of letting go.
There have been minor, daily moments of letting go:
Leaving him at a friend’s house for a play date.
Letting him go to the bathroom alone when we were visiting the library.
Watching him cut up his own food.
And then there have been momentous let-go moments:
Returning to work after maternity leave and dropping Sam off at day care. Let go.
Watching him go under anesthesia for another medical procedure or surgery. Let go.
Dropping him off for his first mission trip last year. Let go.
This is faith lived out, for both me and Sam. I have to release him, and I have to trust that my son, this child of God, will be safe and loved. If I hold on, he cannot grow and be the person God has created him to be. He cannot live fully into his own life. He is not mine—and he’s never been mine—to hold.
I wonder about Mary, mother of Jesus, and her willingness, or unwillingness to let go. She knew that Jesus was divine and special, someone who would change the world. But he is still her son, and every mother’s first instinct is to hold on. Because if you hold on, you can protect. If you hold on, you can cherish. If you hold on, you can love.
Mary must have known that even if she didn’t want to let go, she must. She got to watch her son perform miracles, heal the sick, and teach a radical new way of living and loving. And the only way she was able to do that was to let Jesus go and be the person God made him to be, not the person she wanted or hoped he would be. I aspire to be that humble and brave. I want to have that deep faith, too.
And yet, Mary endured the agony of the cross. In that moment, there was no reward for her in letting Jesus go. Absolutely none. She had to let go in the most literal way possible. In her grief, I wonder if she regretted letting go. I might have.
But then three days later, when Jesus arose from the dead, God’s truest gift to her—and to all of us—was realized. We are God’s, and God loves with a love that will not let us go. I hope this promise, known deep within her, soothed her broken heart.
Clearly Mary was much wiser than I am, and she knew this: Love liberates. To enter more deeply into motherhood, and into my faith, I know I must release—that I must set free—what is most precious to me. And in that letting go, I find a promise of love. What I know for sure is that God’s love for me—for us—will never let go. And for that we can give thanks and rejoice.
Tammy Boyd (Audio Version)
It is a privilege to be sitting among these women whom I regard as beautiful and have admired as mothers. Likewise, it is a privilege to share my story of faith and mothering with you~among whom are many more beautiful women and amazing mothers in all the largest possible sense of the word. I am honored.
Many, many years ago, I made a conscious choice to be a follower of Jesus and with that choice, I knew I was making a decision to live a life of faith—of course, I had very little idea of what that might all entail—but I was choosing to live into a spiritual journey—living into a mystery that would require me to live beyond myself. My faith informed my worldview and a significant part of this was the importance of caring for others in the giving of myself—my calling. As a young adult, I followed this caring/calling into work with young people and children through various summer jobs and eventually into my career as an educator. In those early years, I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to be a mother in the traditional sense of the word—having my own children. My faith’s call seemed to be taking me on a path of advocacy for other children and their families. However, like journeys do, including faith journeys, they take us in lots of different directions. And eventually the understandings of my faith call took me into the realities of being a mother—having three of my own children.
Our oldest, Tallis, was born just days after Christmas. It wasn’t lost on me that I was pregnant and waiting and growing increasingly uncomfortable during Advent—sharing this season with Mary, the mother of Jesus. It wasn’t difficult to understand her feelings as they were described in the birth narrative of Luke 2—‘pondering all these things in her heart’. My very pregnant self was influenced by the stories of my faith and my faith was alive and moving within my very being.
In having Kythie and Rein, our 2nd & 3rd children—I found myself often wondering how Mary’s experience of having other children impacted how she mothered any of them or how she had to change her expectations as a mother because of her children’s needs. When Kythie, at 10 months old, decided she no longer wanted to be a nursing, bottle-fed baby. For a few moments, I was sure ‘she’ did not know what she was doing—I was certain she should be nursing longer. When her intentions became very clear over the next day or so, I distinctly remember saying on that night as I was rocking her to sleep…”Here we go, Lord—help me be the best possible mother.”
I often wondered how Mary or other women of the Scriptures handled what seemed to be the faith side of mothering—
-the doubts about how well I was doing or if it was enough or right;
-how to manage so many varied emotions;
-wondering if what I was doing or how I was being would be positive and long lasting;
-wondering whether God heard my pleas in the middle of the night when the baby/child in my arms would not stop crying (and I didn’t know what to do).
And I also wondered about and often laughed out loud when the physical events of mothering would happen at the most inopportune times (like a blow-out diaper at the…)—you know these also happened in Mary’s life as a mother.
My faith journey and mothering, through the years has had beautiful, treasured moments, times of fear, feelings of inadequacy and failure, and wonder. My faith journey has led me to struggle with friends who couldn’t become mothers, to struggle with family and friends at the loss of a child, and to recognize there are joys and agonies in relationships between mothers and children.
I have come to learn and believe these are universals for humanity/women/and those who ‘mother’. Regardless of where I am on my journey, I wonder, is someone listening, guiding, supporting and have my back? I love the baptism words that Wint/Tammy/Ken use as they begin the anointing… “I baptize you in the name of your Creator, who loves you with a love that will not let you go”. As I held Tallis-Kythie-Rein, from their birth days and the many other times over these 30 years; as I sang lullabies, read books, reprimanded, and looked into their eyes (lovingly or with the stink eye)—this is what I hope they see and know about their mom…that they are loved with a love that will not let them go.
I love these words from Maya Angelou’s autobiographical work, “Mom & Me & Mom.” She describes what it means to be a mother—when she realized for the first time why a mother was important.
“This is the role of the mother…why a mother is really important. Not just because she feeds and also loves and cuddles and even mollycoddles a child, but because in an interesting and maybe an eerie and unworldly way, she stands in the gap. She stands between the unknown and the known…”
Long before I become a mother, my faith communicated that I would always have someone at my back, someone who would be willing to stand in the gap, someone who would be between the known and the unknown, someone who would never let me go. Influenced by this understanding of faith, I pursued being a mother with Tallis, Kythie, & Rein…and, with a few others who have sometimes needed a ‘mother’. Amen.
Elizabeth Strasma (Audio Version)
There is no written version of Elizabeth’s sharing.