If I asked what qualities you look for in a mother, then I wonder what you would come up with. I looked on-line and one website listed the top 100 qualities, which kind of says it all really!
None of them exactly agreed with each other about what makes a good mum. I don’t suppose that you would all agree either. But here’s one, which I picked because it was the most concise: patient, respectful, strong, humble, empathetic, authoritative, supportive and loving.
The Bible’s stories of mothering are never sugary or sentimental. If you look at today’s Bible reading sheet there are lots of options for what we could have read. In amongst the 2 OT readings, 2 Psalms, 2 NT readings and 2 Gospel readings we have:
- In Exodus, 3 women who mothered one baby. There’s Moses’ birth mother and 2 very different girls who also look after him in their own way. One was his big sister. One was a princess from a different nationality who adopted him. If you were to describe their qualities you might come up with: determined and protective, nurturing and even cunning.
- The reading from 1 Samuel has Hannah waiting a very long time to have a baby. We see someone who is passionate and generous, patient and sacrificial, brave, joyful and trusting.
- In the verses from Luke, Mary is faithful and responsible. She’s also made aware of the double-edged sword of caring. That pain might be involved too.
- And in John’s Gospel, Mary is there in sorrow. She is still faithful and still caring, but now she’s also grieving and being cared-for.
The people who selected these particular Bible readings for today had plenty of others to choose from. From the OT, we might have had some of the stories of Hagar. Her story was one of survival, of hanging on with her fingertips. From the NT, we might have had the story of Sarah who very late in life became the mother of John. Or maybe the Syrophoenician woman and her refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer on behalf of her sick child.
We might have had Jesus’s own tears over Jerusalem, which are compared with a mother weeping for her children, longing to gather them like a hen gathers her chicks. The list of qualities linked with mothering grows ever longer.
Mothering is all those things, and more. Without someone to do those things for us – without someone to look out for our interests and to protect us; without someone to show us trust and joy; or without someone to take the risk of loving us, even knowing that that love may bring them pain; without someone to stand with us in our times of greatest suffering – without someone to do those things for us, we miss receiving something crucial. And if we ourselves have nobody for whom we can do these things for, we miss giving out something crucial too.
Who does all this for people who would otherwise never experience this kind of mothering? Charities like The Children’s Society, that we support at Christingle, protect children in danger and enable children who are struggling to reach their God-given potential. They take a risk and invest in the future of children in the knowledge that they must have their own integrity, and yet at the same time walk with them on their journey of self-discovery.
New and life-giving ways
Sometimes charities that work with vulnerable children, are involved in finding – out of situations of extreme suffering – new and life-giving ways of creating family and community. Jesus did the same from the cross when he asked his mother and his good friend to care for each other when he had gone. And just as Moses’ mum did when she risked everything to give her son a chance at life.
We might think about our own lives – our experiences of mothering or of being mothered, remembering with thanks all the various people who have done those things for us. That might have been earlier today. Or it might have been years ago. And we might also think of times when we have been failed by those who were supposed to care for us, or those times when we ourselves have failed.
If mothering were only done by mothers, it would be very hard indeed to ensure that everyone received the nurturing, the protection, the love, the sacrifice, the guidance that we need to become the people we are meant to be. As a church community, we are all of us called into a role of mothering that sometimes might need to be just as fierce and trusting, loyal and tearful as the mothers that we’ve heard about in our Bible readings.
On a wider scale, if we, as a church, truly love the community in which we are placed, and if we are to be God’s holy people for God’s needy world, then we will feel the pain of the world’s suffering. And we will be willing to sacrifice something of ourselves to bring to birth God’s purposes for the world.
Are we that passionate about nurturing the world into becoming the place that God created it to be? A truly parental love is one that would give anything and everything for the child. This is the love of God that we see on the cross. But this is also the love that we are called to have for one another, for our community and for all of God’s creation. When we love like that, you and me, we make our Mothering-God visible to the world. Amen
‘Qualities of a mother’ was delivered by Ian Banks at St John with St Mark, Bury on Mothering Sunday 19 March 2023. It was based on Exodus 2:1-10, 1 Samuel 1:20-end, Luke 2:33-35 and John 19:25b-27.