Mothers and Not-Mothers

Odd title, I admit, but just keep reading, and I’m hoping you’ll “get it”.

Mother’s Day is almost here. It is a wonderful time to celebrate our mothers and if we are really blessed, to have someone celebrate us as “mom”.

But for some, Mother’s Day can be painful. Okay, I hate to be negative about holidays. I dump on Valentine’s Day and now Mother’s Day.

Woman, what is wrong with you?

Well here goes. I personally know how hard Mother’s Day can be. My husband and I lost a child in December of 1892 —just kidding, we’re not that old, but on December 4, 1979 (still a long time ago for some of you) our first son was born prematurely. He lived for only for fifteen days. That did not make for a pleasant Christmas. Did not make for a pleasant Mother’s Day the following May. And you know when you go to church, how they make such a big deal over Mom’s Day. “If you’re a mother, would you please stand?” kinda thing. Well, okay, I was a mom, but what’s a mother without a child? What do you call that person?

Whew! This is hard to write, but for some, you know what I am talking about.

The next Mother’s Day was tough as well, and the next, and a couple more…because now, guess what! My husband and I struggled with infertility. Fortunately it was not one of those “forever” struggles, and about five years after we lost Michael, our daughter was born. Can I just begin to tell you how much she meant to us? I mean, I could actually hold this baby! Wow. And I got to take her home! And I got to tuck her in at night. And…well, some of you know the sweetness of a newborn baby.

But…sometimes our dreams die and they are never revived. Can I just say how I hurt for those of you going through this? Not just for the ones who have lost a child, but for many who want a child and the months go by, each one bringing hope, and every month that hope fades a little more. It can be a harsh cycle of hope, hope dying, grief (yes, grief), then hope again and so on. And there are those well-intentioned folks who will tell you, “You can always adopt,” or any number of things that I won’t get into right now. And by the way, we can’t “always adopt”. That is another huge discussion that I may let a friend of mine weigh in on.

And I know there are some who choose not to have children for whatever reason, and I will respect that. You may be freer to minister to others. Perhaps you may carry a genetic disorder for a disease that could be fatal, and you don’t want to risk passing that on. (For the argument about Paul’s letter in which he says: “Women shall be saved in childbirth”, please don’t take that out of context because believe me it can have a whole other meaning than a surface reading can give you. Maybe we’ll take a look at that some other time.)

Then there are those who have lost their mother. Some at a very young age, and some of us when we were older. My mom passed away over fifteen years ago and I still think about what I need to get her for Mother’s Day, then the realization….oh, wait. Never mind.

I think that all women should be honored at Mother’s Day. No, really. Whether or not you ever have children or adopt children, you should be honored. My pastor’s wife feels the same way, and every year she makes something for each of the ladies who attend church on Mother’s Day. Her reason?  She puts it something like this: All women have an ability to nurture. All of us can influence the next generation.

And there are countless ways to do this whether it’s working with kids in church, loving on your nieces and nephews, taking a younger woman under your wing as a mentor or caring for a neighbor (maybe even an elderly neighbor setting an example for your own as well as other generations).

For those of you struggling with issues of infertility,  or a lost child, let me leave you with these verses:

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11

“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 (NIV)

So what about you moms who are struggling to get things done, struggling with children who do things you “never would have done” and so on? (Because I know what that’s like too.) Perhaps you feel like you “should be thankful” for your kids, or you “should be better” at this or I “should be like other moms whose kids always look nice” or whatever “should’s” you tell yourself, I’d like to let you in on a secret. If you are seeking the Lord, praying for your children, and asking God for guidance, I believe you are a good mom! Yup, you heard me. God sees our hearts. He really does understand your desires, and He will honor you by helping you get through each day.

I pray each of you today would feel God’s arms around you and let Him love on you. Take a moment to be the kid. Today you are the one with the skinned knee or cut finger and you need some “Daddy-time”. Take that hurt to Him, and let Him “kiss it and make it better”.

One other thing and I’m done. About six years after our daughter was born we had another son. (I don’t mean to leave you as a P.S., Sam. I just couldn’t figure out how to work you in.) And I do know that our little Michael waits for us in heaven, is having a blast, and we will see him again. Have hope and find joy and comfort in the Lord, sweet ones.

Is Jesus ever cruel?

I hope you have a time to pray and and just spend time with God every day. I know when I talk with my Lord, it seems as though He speaks to me in sweet words of encouragement, kindness, and love. I so enjoy these times with Him for I can almost feel His physical presence as He puts his arms around me like a loving parent comforting a child or someone holding a tiny puppy in their hands.

Of course, He often helps set me straight or warns me of behaviors I need to change, but it seems it is always done in a gentle, loving manner. Ah yes, we can have a “cuddly” relationship with Him. And of course there are some qualifiers to having such a relationship, but as a Christ-follower, this is what I often experience.(See note below.)*

Yet in Scripture it seems that Jesus is not always so kind. While there are several examples of Jesus’ “unkindness”, for today let us look in on Him and the twelve as they interact with a Syrophoenician woman, a non-Jew or Gentile. The story begins in Matthew 15:21-27. Jesus has gone to the region of Tyre and Sidon with His disciples after a tiring day. A woman approaches Jesus, frightened and desperate. Her daughter is demon-possessed and while the Bible gives no picture, I am sure the child’s behavior would evoke horror in the heart of a loving mother. (Other portions of Scripture associate demon-possession with blindness, inability to speak, wearing no clothes, wandering in the tombs, and being thrown into fire and water. See Matthew 9:32-33, Mark 5:1-20, Mark 9:22, Matthew 17).   She persists to the point that the disciples urge Jesus to send her away. They are annoyed “for she keeps crying after us.” (Matthew 15:23, NIV) And what does Jesus do? He seems to completely ignore her! Can you imagine how this mother must have felt? She is desperate so she begs the One whom she knows can heal her daughter, and He will not even answer. We’re not told how many times she begs Him or how long it took for Jesus to answer, but when He does it almost seems He is responding to the disciples’ request: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24 NASB)

Wait a minute. Jesus came for all mankind, to save us all from our sins, right? For the “whosoever”‘s of this world, didn’t He? (See John 3:16) Hmmm, can’t believe He said that to her. Yeah, I hear a lot of head-scratching out there. Well…let’s just stand back and see how she reacts to these words.

Perhaps to our surprise, this mother persists and falls on her knees (or bows or worships depending on your translation) before Him and begs again.

Jesus says: “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (verse 26)

Okay, before we get upset about this and think “how unloving”, again let’s get mom’s reaction.

““That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”  And now Jesus replies:  “Dear woman, your faith is great. Your request is granted.” (verse 28. NLT) And finally! Her daughter is healed.

Can you be honest and admit that if you had been in that mother’s shoes, this situation might have tried your patience a bit?  Well, let’s take a look at some possible reasons for Jesus’s answers.

So why did Jesus initially ignore her? Why did He tell her He came only for the “lost sheep of Israel”? And why on earth refer to her (and all the Gentiles for that matter) as “dogs”?

To the first question, Jesus may have been testing her in some way. Her patience maybe? Her faith? Or maybe He is allowing her to be an example for us because He knows she will keep asking. Honestly, I am not sure but notice she does not give up.And does her begging seem to bother Jesus? The disciples, yes. But not Jesus. Not in the least.

He then talks about His mission to the Israelites. Did he want her to understand the importance of that mission?  For He had indeed come for the lost sheep of Israel so that these chosen people could spread the gospel to the Gentiles, to all nations. Perhaps He honored her by explaining this. Or maybe He is testing her patience again. At any rate, she reacts by falling on her knees and asking Him again.

When Jesus next refers to her and her people as dogs, telling her it isn’t right to throw food to them before the children are fed, we might think of the whole statement and especially the word “dogs” as an insult. Well, not really. He could very well have meant little pet dogs, you know the kind we have today who win our hearts when they rest their head on our lap and look at us with “puppy dog eyes” or who wag their tails off when we come home. (I mean after all, who else is that happy to see us?) I think Jesus is referring to dogs in a loving way. (One version actually uses the word “puppies”). And she responds readily “True Lord.” Wait….What does she say? She’s agreeing with Him? So it seems. But she doesn’t stop there, instead she gives this incredible statement that complements his illustration. “But even the dogs will eat the crumbs from the master’s table.”

She could make do with the crumbs. Whatever He is willing to give her would be enough. I believe she is saying “You are enough, Your blessings are enough, whatever You give will take care of my daughter’s needs, I trust You.”  At any rate, Jesus knows her heart, and listen to what He says next (wait for it):  ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.”  He compliments her. He grants her request. Perhaps we can learn from this woman that God is waiting for us to cry after Him, waiting for us to come to Him desperate to have our needs met. Yes, He knows your needs but as I am sure you know, He still wants us to present  them to Him. And if you still don’t think Jesus’ response is what you would expect from Him, remember, He deals with different individuals…well, differently. He knows how to talk to people, including you in your situation. So don’t be afraid to ask. And to keep on asking. To cry out with a pain-filled heart and to expect something in return. He really is listening.

Sources for this blog: http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/matthew/15.html and Ann Spangler and Jean E. Syswerda, Women of the Bible: A One-Year Devotional Study of Women in the Scriptures(Grand Rapids:Zondervan,1999),357-358

*God does not speak to me aloud, but in that “still, small, voice” and if it truly is Him speaking to my heart, what He says will never contradict His Word.