My very first ‘proper job’ was working as a nursery assistant in a nursery school that my mother owned. It was my earliest experience of looking after children that were not related to me and very early on I adopted a little girl called Onyi. She was the youngest in her class and at just over two years old, wasn’t really old enough to be in the 3-5 years’ old facility, but her parents needed to work so my Mum did them a favour. I talk a little bit in more detail about what I learned from Onyi in my new book, Breakout – Finding significance and purpose in your every day living. My protégé, if I could call her that, awakened a desire go nurture and protect like I had never felt before. The older kids didn’t have much time for her and she followed me around like Mary’s little lamb and I honestly believe I would have protected her with my life if the need had arisen. And she wasn’t even mine!
Fast forward more than a decade later when my two children arrived and I became a bona fide mother, I was somewhat surprised at the depth of love I felt for them. The whole Mama Bear thing was no longer a concept I had heard people joke about, I had become Mama Bear herself and anyone that tried to harm my children whether inadvertently or on purpose would have to get me first. This protective, nurturing part of me began to get a better understanding of God’s maternal nature (after all our parenting instincts have their origin in the first Father). Funny thing was, I didn’t just feel this about my biological children, but also for people I was privileged to mentor, support, or help bring to faith.
Is it possible for a mother, however disappointed, however hurt, to forget her nursing child? Can she feel nothing for the baby she carried and birthed? Even if she could, I, God, will never forget you. (Isaiah 49:15, The Voice).
The prophet echoes the heart of a God who is jealous for His own, and when I read this verse for the first time, suddenly the fierce protection and desire in my flawed human heart began to make sense. If I could feel this strongly despite my imperfections, how deep and enduring must this maternal love of the Father be. It is absolutely impossible for Him to ever forget His own. Never ever. And in case you were wondering, the word ‘forget’ there doesn’t just mean to not have on His mind, but also implies ‘cease to care for’ or ‘not give attention to’. God is not an absent parent.
I also realise that spiritual birth is no less significant than physical birth, that I don’t have to have conceived a child in my womb to feel this love that is at the same time proud of my offspring, yet not content to let them be anything less than their very best. It’s a love that often causes my heart to bleed when the object of that love either disappoints or hurts me, or when they themselves are battered by the tempests and storms of life. Whether it is a biological or spiritual child, the desire to see them succeed is the same, the prayers that are sometimes wordless because of their intensity are the same, and the incredible joy when they experience victory is also the same.
God is the ultimate Father and Mother, and in allowing us the privilege of parenting, we catch a dim glimpse of His extravagant and far reaching love. Like waves that crash endlessly onto the beach, this love washes over us, removing the stains that diminish us while at the same time enveloping us in a protective cushion that no enemy can penetrate without His or our permission. This same love, however, not content to leave us in the state it found us, nudges (sometimes even shoves) us into new horizons requiring courage and trust on our part, until He sees the finished product – Christ fully formed in us.
Mothering, and indeed any form of parenting, requires the same commitment. It is not enough to provide a nurturing and loving environment; there must also be the resolve to demand the best of our children, to encourage them never to settle for anything less than God’s best regardless of the circumstances. It requires us to hold onto and keep loving them even when, like Mary the mother of Jesus, a sword pierces ours heart as we watch them go through pain necessary for their growth or when they are the cause of our pain. When it seems like we are being abandoned, just like it may have seemed to Mary when Jesus asked John to take her into his home, and when it feels like your love is being shoved back in your face, love must be unchanging. It means trusting the parenting of God that is available to us when He allows loss or grief we never imagined would happen, secure in the knowledge that He hasn’t stopped loving us nor are we being punished for any past actions or mistakes.
Today as we celebrate Mother’s Day, I would like to pay tribute to all you women out there who have chosen to be extensions of God’s heart, gathering and nurturing the children (both spiritual and physical) He has entrusted to your care. Know that the Father, Son and Spirit are watching and cheering, and that the seeds you have sown in these lives will someday bear fruit beyond your wildest expectations. In the end it will all be worth it.
Thank you for your service.
Happy Mother’s Day!