In 1914, when Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as a national holiday to celebrate mothers, there’s no way he could have predicted the century of retail hoopla and family angst that would ride on the coattails of his intention to simply honor mothers and their role in the family. Maybe you, the mother in your home, are already feeling the crush of your generational sandwich: the desire to make time for your own mother on that special day while entering into the plans your husband and kids have made for you. And while you’re pondering that, maybe there’s the question of how to best show love to the mother of your precious grandchildren! Then, there’s your mother-in-law . . .
The recipe for this Mother’s Day brew doesn’t even begin to account for ingredients like the heartache of infertility or the disappointment of generational dysfunction. Maybe the path to a grace-filled Mother’s Day lies in the way we approach mothering as a way of life. What if we made a practice of celebrating year-round the women who have poured themselves into our lives? What if you began to value your own role in the body-and-soul nourishment of fussy newborns and fractious toddlers? How would your life be different if you embraced the high value of those hours spent in a mini-van and your prowess at getting the grass stains out of white baseball pants?
Rejoicing in the Spiritual Practice of Mothering
Catherine McNiel wrote Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline out of the experience of her own turbulence in the line of mothering duty. Well aware of the creaturely weakness that plagues her own journey, she offers life-giving practices and perspective-altering insights. She invites busy mums to attend to the work God wants to do in their souls and to join C.S. Lewis in realizing that “the world is crowded with Him. . . The real labour is to remember, to attend.” (xiii)
Sometimes we need the reminder that motherhood is a window to a deeper understanding of theological truth about the incarnation; that pregnancy is a miracle in which “the unbelievable becomes tangible” in our own flesh and bone, and that we make it through the years of mothering “one hour, one day at a time.” (149)
In a life that seems to yield not one minute for observing spiritual disciplines, McNiel urges mums to sink deeply into the practice of motherhood with its slow minutes and fast years and the multitude of mindlessly repetitive and yet very necessary tasks. Offered up to God with a heart of worship, the daily duties become a very spiritual practice, crashing through the artificial wall between the secular and the sacred.
When my four sons were all very young, I knew that my role consisted of the intensely physical routines of helping: trimming 40 finger and toe nails, pulling shirts on over tousled heads, tying shoe laces, and making sandwiches. Now that all my boys are taller than I am (and in many ways more competent!), my role is different, but my offering to them is still the same. Mothering is the pouring out of a life, one drop at a time, in an often unseen sacrifice and surrender that captivates soul, spirit, and body.
The relationships that were forged in those early mothering days are the gift that helps me to pray with knowledge as I fold towels for the son who is going to carry them off to college in a laundry basket. The heart connection is what makes family gatherings and frequent phone calls so precious as I hear firsthand fresh stories about the lives they are building in other places.
Mothering is the pouring out of a life, one drop at a time, in an often unseen sacrifice and surrender that captivates soul, spirit, and body.
The life-giving practice of motherhood is carried out over a lifetime as we present ourselves to God and to our children, over and over again, in a multitude of offerings that bind us to our families and strengthen our connection with God.
More Books for a Grace-Filled Mother’s Day
Christina Morley likens the process of writing Happy Moms, Happy Homes: Empowering Moms to Live in Victory to the preparation of a 25-course meal. In bite-sized portions, she serves up twenty-five aspects of the mothering life, beginning with the need for empowerment by a God who pours His own love into our hearts. Morley lays a theological foundation for mothering that discourages perfectionism, sets a course that listens for the voice of God, and focuses on relationship rather than rigid routines in the pursuit of God.
Because mums are “quick to take care of our kids and slow to take care of ourselves,” Christina shares her own journey of embracing self care and balanced living, and declares that Super-moms actually cheat their families out of the opportunity to learn and become well-rounded by performing routine tasks for themselves. (Amen!)
Gratitude and joy are the lubricant that keep the gears of motherhood from grinding and sticking. Happy Moms, Happy Homes takes readers on a whirlwind journey with the grumbling Old Testament people of God to demonstrate the wisdom of receiving God’s gifts without lamenting the things He withholds in His wisdom.
Mothers need a vibrant spiritual life based in “prayer without ceasing,” so they can do battle for their families in the spiritual realm where “the weapons of our warfare are mighty through God.” The investment of all our resources for the benefit of our family demonstrates faith in God to provide.
Healthy relationships within the family depend upon forgiveness and a working partnership between husband and wife. Parents who are “relationship builders” tend to pass that trait on to their children by example, and the Kingdom of God is advanced!
I’m still in the process of taking grace for this mothering gig, and one huge encouragement along the way is the shared experiences of others. Jamie Sumner is also a mother who walks on the tightly-wound side, and Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood is a memoir of her mothering journey in which she allows her own story to tell itself, while weaving in fresh re-tellings of the familiar life stories of biblical women. Read my full review here!
Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves to Be Noticed is the product of Sara Hagerty’s collision course with the beautiful “waste” of a poured out life that hides behind hardship, disappointment, challenging circumstances, or the simple routine of an obedient following. We will never know the comfort of God as our “refuge and strength” until we come to a place in our lives in which we need to take refuge. It’s clear that “our hidden places aren’t signs of God’s displeasure or punishment,” but rather places in which God intends to teach our hearts to sing. (33) I reviewed Sara’s book here.
Courtney Reissig’s personal illustrations and the vignettes shared from the lives of her friends encourage me to lift my eyes from the all-consuming “what” of my daily list and from the pervasive “how” (as in “how am I going to get all this done?”), and to fix my eyes on the one beautiful question: “Why?” Glory in the Ordinary: Why Your Work in the Home Matters to God (Gospel Coalition) serves up the truth that the work of home is the work of spreading God’s glory throughout the world. By entering into the reality of that today, we leave a mark on those we serve and prepare our hearts for a future of greater work and greater joy when we will see that there has never been a mundane task without purpose in God’s incredible universe in which nothing goes to waste. You can read more thoughts on Glory in the Ordinary here.
In First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship, Shelly Hunt Wildman turns a laser focus onto the subject of parenting, inviting her readers into an intentional practice of envisioning the kind of family we want and then, by God’s grace, doing what needs to be done to make that vision become a reality. Fortunately, Shelly is writing from a place of self-awareness that prevents her from sounding off as a “parenting expert.” With honesty about her own shortcomings and failures, she shares her own goal of greater mindfulness with the voice of a fellow-traveler on this bumpy road of parenting. I happily served on the Launch Team for First Ask Why, so you can read my review here.
Gloria Furman celebrates both mothers and mothering in Missional Motherhood: The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God, and she immediately grabs her readers’ attention with the truth that there is so much more to this nurturing life than the quest for the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe and the indoctrination of perfectly-behaved children. The heart of the matter for all mothers is . . . our hearts. Our brokenness, our mixed motives, and our innate selfishness get in the way of our ability to realize all that we dream of when we envision our call to mothering. Missional motherhood is a term that embodies this “glad-hearted, life-giving” work of pouring ourselves into the life of another. I shared a full-length review here.
Somehow, Seth Haines knew the gift his wife needed for the Christmas following the birth of their third child—so he put out the word. Friends, favorite authors, and bloggers were asked for a contribution of hope, a letter from the heart of a mother. The response far exceeded Seth’s expectations, and he was able to present to his wife, Amber C. Haines, a collection of stories: joyful accounts of tiny people and huge love; tales of grief and estrangement; recollections of disappointment and of celebration. Now the gift is being multiplied in The Mother Letters: Sharing the Laughter, Joy, Struggles, and Hope, an exquisitely bound and illustrated gift book that fosters community while it celebrates the beauty of borrowed strength. Here’s a link to more information about the book.
It’s a privilege to begin the Mother’s Day party with you here today! Thanks for reading, and may you find that a heart full of gratitude for the joy of mothering and the recognition that you have been mothered according to God’s plan for you fill your celebration with joy!