If you look around our churches, the images of motherhood you will find are really quite beautiful. The most common ones you will see are of Mary and Jesus. Typically, Jesus is either peacefully sleeping in his little manager or calmly sitting on Mary’s knee gently smiling and both of them with beautiful halos around their heads. It’s such a peaceful scene…
...It makes me wonder where I’m going wrong.
Because one thing I can tell you for certain is that peace, gently holy smiles and halos definitely don’t figure in our house.
In fact, if I’m completely honest with you, there are some days when I could quite cheerfully strangle my little cherub. Days when he’s pushed every single button I’ve got…and then found a few more that I didn’t even know I had. There are days when I finally lose my temper and shout at him. And then as his little face crumples, tears pour down his cheeks and he bursts into heartbroken wails because mummy is angry….my heart just melts and I feel so guilty. I crouch down, sweep him into my arms and sign and say, “Adam, I’m sorry, Mummy was wrong. Mummy loves you.”
Many of you will know that my son is disabled. Hearing impaired, visually impaired, autistic, asthmatic, developmentally delayed and with severe behavioural issues. Some of you will know that my first ever mother’s day was spent in neonatal intensive care, sitting beside my son’s incubator, still not knowing whether he would live or die. To say that motherhood hasn’t been straightforward for me would be an understatement.
For me, motherhood is defined by two key words: Promise and Potential. You see, no matter how difficult some of our days together may be, I Promise to extend absolutely unconditional love to my son. It doesn’t matter how much extra care he may need, how many mistakes he may make or how long he will depend on me, my promise to love him is written in my heart and wrapped around every fibre of my being.
Then there is the other word – Potential. Having a child with additional needs means that my language and expectations have changed. I don’t necessarily dream of my son going to university or getting a fabulous job, I dream about my son being able to hold a conversation with me, or being able to cope with life without screaming, thrashing meltdowns. No one really knows what potential my son may have, but one psychologist recently told me that he will only ever reach one quarter of his expected developmental age. If he's right, then that means that when my son is 40, he will have a developmental age of 10.
Promise: I will love my son, no matter what.
Potential: Who will my son become? How will he develop?
In our Old Testament reading today, we hear about another story about Promise: “I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Covenant is another word for promise but it is one that is greater, stronger, and goes deeper. A covenant lasts forever. This passage is talking about King David, the man whom Jewish history has long since regarded as one of the greatest kings ever to reign in ancient Israel. History looks back at the story of David’s life and sees his success, his legacy. But there were many times along the way when it seemed as though David would never really amount to anything. From humble beginnings, he made many mistakes. But for this reason, the story of David’s life is also bound up with potential. If you had seen where David’s life began, you could never have imagined where it would end.
You see, David wasn’t born in a palace, far from it. David was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse and they lived in the humble town of Bethlehem. It was his job to tend the family sheep and tending sheep was reserved for the LEAST esteemed member of the family or the servant with the LOWEST status. Sheep are smelly; they’re not particularly bright and there is absolutely nothing glamorous about taking care of them.
But, just as a mother who sees her child and loves them unconditionally, God looked at David and saw Potential. The mothering side of God said, “it doesn’t matter where you are now son, what matters is where you will be.” So one day, God speaks to the prophet Samuel and tells him to follow his directions to find and anoint the new king of Israel…and God leads Samuel directly to David…the least likely king in history.
Throughout his life, David experienced some incredible highs – he fought the giant Goliath and singlehandedly saved the Israelite army, he reconquered Jerusalem and he led the Ark of the Covenant into the city. But David also experienced some incredible lows, he spent years hiding and running for his life. He was determined to have Bathsheba as his wife, no matter what the cost – so he murdered her husband.
If God really can be described as a mother, then there must have been times she put her head in her hands and sighed, “OH David! WHAT have you gone and done NOW?” But, God loved her son and God had made a promise – an everlasting covenant of sure and certain love for David. And, like any good mother confronted with a child who has gotten themselves into a monumental scrape, God still saw the potential in David. In the end, David remained king over Israel until his death at the age of seventy and he ruled for forty years. Out of the 150 Psalms in the Bible, 77 are either written by him or dedicated to him. And through it all, God stayed by his side, as committed as a mother is to her child.
So, you’ve heard part of my story. You’ve also heard part of David’s story. I wonder – what is your story? What do you bring with you this morning? For you, is Mothering Sunday a straightforward celebration of being a mother, of having a good mother? If so, I wonder if you can see the echoes of a mother’s unconditional love in the way God cared for her son, David. Perhaps, your story, like mine, may be a touch more complex – perhaps your experiences with the idea and reality of motherhood are joined together with pain. Perhaps your story may include the pain of a human mother whose love was flawed and left you with scars. Perhaps your story may include the desire to mother, but this remains an unrealised dream and so today, brings the pain of disappointment. Perhaps you have held a child in your arms…and perhaps you’ve also said goodbye and so today awakens grief. Perhaps your own mother is now held in God’s arms and so you are here to remember and pay tribute.
No matter what your story is today, I hope you can see in David’s story a description of love, and of promise. I hope you can see a God who loves all of her children…including you and a God who cares about the joys as much as the hurts and seeks to hold them in her loving arms. Mothering Sunday can be a very complex one for many people but no matter what your story holds, I pray you may be able to consider another element of our bible reading this morning:
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and you that have no money, come buy and eat. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price.” This verse describes an incredible love and an incredible promise that is extended to all of. You cannot buy God’s love, because it is available free of charge. You cannot overuse God’s love because it has no limit. God the mother sees the potential in every single one of you. God the mother holds your story in her arms. And God the mother promises an everlasting love…to you.
So today, whether you are here to give thanks for human mothering, or whether you need to cling to God’s mothering, let us join together in and offer a prayer for mothers everywhere. Amen.