Refuge

Mother’s Day was never meant to be a “Hallmark Card” event.  The two United Methodist women who pushed to create this annual observance in the 1860’s saw the negative impact of war, particularly on women and children, and they were all about women who see needs in the world and work to make things better.  “They were thinking about the work of women and the significant testimony that women could give about the need for peace.”[1]

In fact, when the card companies got involved and the price of carnations when from pennies to quarters, they voiced their concern over commercializing what was meant to honor mothers in a deeper way.

They probably never imagined the tradition with which I grew up of awarding flowers to the oldest mom in the room, the youngest mom in the room, the mom with the most children, and the mom who most recently became one.  And those who instituted that tradition probably never envisioned the hurt they were bringing to some in the room, and didn’t notice some women avoided church on Mother’s Day altogether because it was too painful, for reasons too personal to share.

There is much to celebrate about mothers and about the women who are mothers to many even though they never gave birth.  But this Mother’s Day, it is the Psalm that spoke to me.  It was a plea for God to intercede on the Psalmist’s behalf that drew me in.

“Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,” the Psalmist prays.

It seems life is filled with those traps, those things that bring disillusionment, discouragement, and despair, that endanger the dreams we have for ourselves and for the next generation, those things that disrupt our personal and our community’s peace.

I am sure all of you can identify those traps.  They can be part of our everyday routine – the door left open for the umpteenth time, the squabbling in the back seat, too many obligations and too few resources, lack of sleep, over abundance of questions to answer, loss of a job or loved one, feeling lonely, and sometimes a feeling you are the only one trying to handle it all.  You know, the traps that pile up and make us yell “enough!”

And there are more.  In the last week I have heard stories of the effects of the Opioid epidemic which is just outside our doors, stories of poverty, stories of hunger, of bullying, and stories of possible abuse.

Even if we haven’t heard the stories shared by persons affected, television brings it front and center.  This week human trafficking was highlighted on Hawaii Five-O.  The outtake of the episode was that this is an overwhelming problem, for which there are insufficient resources to address, and yet at the conclusion it seems at least one woman is ready to try to make a greater difference for all the woman affected by this worldwide problem.

Today, as we reflect on our moms and those who have mothered us, we likely can remember times when the traps seemed too much to take, too overwhelming to get through, too painful to endure.  We may also remember times they prayed as the Psalmist does.  Not to eliminate the traps that are set, but to find a way around or through them with God by their side.  Times God gave them strength to move forward in ways we couldn’t imagine were possible.

Seeking refuge in the Lord, seeking God’s ear in the midst of difficult struggles, resting in the fortress a relationship with God brings, and listening for God’s loving guidance which will deliver us, are some of the ways this scripture helps them, and us, get out of or avoid the traps which seek to remove the very breath of life out of us.

When we put it all in God’s hands, God is faithful to deliver us from all that works to pull us down and we are filled with love and light.  When things seem the bleakest, this Psalmist’s prayer can be ours.  I suspect it is similar to prayers lifted by mothers, many times with various words and in a myriad of circumstances.  It is a prayer that reminds us we have the protection of God’s love even when we don’t perceive it.  It is a prayer that reminds us we are never alone.

We are not alone in what we are experiencing because others have experienced it as well.  We are not alone because God is faithful.

We are not alone because we have the church which nurtures us.  Our human mothers are not the only “mothers” we have that follow us into our adulthood. This week’s epistle text 1 Peter 2: 2 begins by describing Christians as “newborn infants” who long for and eagerly lap up “spiritual milk,” so that they might “grow into salvation.”

Leonard Sweet describes the mothering nature of the Church this way:

From the moment that we confess a faith in Jesus Christ, the church becomes our source of spiritual sustenance, our “mother’s milk.” Just as the relationship we each have with our human mother is the most life forming relationship we have in our physical lives, so our early nurturing by our faith mother, the church, directs the path of our life of faith. All the research underlines how the early days with mother are key to the baby’s identity formation. So it is in the baby stages of discipleship, where the nurturing of mother church cannot be underestimated.

For Christians, our family tree is the Tree of Life. We are all “adopted children of God through Christ.” Our Father Christ is wedded to the Mother Church. We are told to honor our Father and Mother, to honor our roots, our origins, the ‘grounds’ of our beginnings, our faith.

Mother Church is the womb for developing in discipleship, and for birthing generations of Christians. We love her not for her qualities or perfection, for she is flawed as all mothers are. But we love Mother Church for her relationship as the bride of Christ, and mother of all. Mother Church brings life into the world. There is no mother without children. And we are her children in honoring Mother church as we honor our physical birth Mothers. [2]

As we prepare for the rest of our Mother’s Day, of celebration all the mothers in our lives, let’s remember all the ways God is with us, as God has been with women throughout the ages.

God is with you today, if you are like Tamar, struggling with infertility, or a miscarriage.

God is with you today if you are like Rachel, counting the women among your family and friends who year by year and month by month get pregnant, while you wait.

God is with you today if you are like Naomi, and have known the bitter sting of a child’s death….

God is with you today if you are like Joseph and Benjamin, and your Mom has died.

God is with you today if your relationship with your Mom was marked by trauma, abuse, or abandonment, or she just couldn’t parent you the way you needed.

God is with you today if you’ve been like Moses’ mother and put a child up for adoption, trusting another family to love your child into adulthood.

God is with you today if you’ve been like Pharaoh’s daughter, called to love children who are not yours by birth (and thus the mother who brought that child into your life, even if it is complicated).

God is with you today if you, like many, are watching (or have watched) your mother age, and disappear into the long goodbye of dementia.

God is with you today if you, like Mary, are pregnant for the very first time and waiting breathlessly for the miracle of your first child.

God is with you today if your children have turned away from you, painfully closing the door on relationship, leaving you holding your broken heart in your hands. And like Hagar, now you are mothering alone.

God is with you today if motherhood is your greatest joy and toughest struggle all rolled into one.

God is with you today if you are watching your child battle substance abuse, a public legal situation, mental illness, or another situation which you can merely watch unfold.

God is with you today if you like so many women before you do not wish to be a mother, are not married, or in so many other ways do not fit into societal norms.

God is with you today if you see yourself reflected in all, or none of these stories.

This mother’s day, know that God and we walk with you. You are loved. You are seen. You are worthy.  [3].

 

[1] Harriet Olson, Chief Executive, United Methodist Women, United Methodist Women Facebook page ® May 2017.
[2] Leonard Sweet, Mother Love and Mother Church.  Preachthestory.com May 14, 2017.
[3] – Adapted from A prayer for Mother’s Day, originally written by Amy Young, as adapted by Heidi Carrington Heath

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