Lessons from My Mothers

Lessons from My Mothers

Mother’s Day provides an opportunity to say thank you to our mothers and those who have been mothers to us. Like so many others, my life has been marked by the mothers in it—my biological mother, my two stepmothers, my adopted mother, my mother-in-law, a few key spiritual mothers, and the mother of my daughter. I won’t list all their names as they would probably be embarrassed. But they have shaped my lives in ways that I am still coming to realize.

This list of mothers tells a story of brokenness and restoration. It is a story woven together by our sovereign God—He has comforted, sustained, provided, and redeemed. And many times, these gifts came through the hands of a mother. As I reflect on each of them, I see more clearly how God used them and continues to use them to shape me. I cannot exhaust what I have been taught through these women nor do I imply that these things are inherent to motherhood. I simply wish to offer this as a reflection on the lessons of my mothers.

Courage

My biological mother was part of my life for three short years before I went to a foster home and then eventually into the care of my biological father. I was reunited with my mother later in my teen years and remained loosely connected until her passing.

In a moment of humbling honesty, my father shared with me one evening that he had encouraged my mother to get an abortion when she was pregnant with me. My biological father and mother were never married and my mother already had one child when she discovered she was pregnant with me. What he told me next confirmed what I had felt throughout my life. He told me that she would not hear of an abortion and insisted on carrying me to birth.

My mother made perhaps one of the most courageous decisions—to choose life in the face of opposition. While my biological mother did not raise me, she courageously brought me into this world and provided for me in the most pivotal early years of my life.

In my biological mother’s passing, I learn another important lesson. Mothers never stop loving their children, even when they are no longer under their care. In going through some papers, I stumbled across my mother’s Facebook password. It seems so small and yet it meant so much to me. Her password was “Michael1987.” When I was disconnected from my mother through my childhood, I would wonder if she ever thought of me or missed me. In her death, I learned that she never stopped thinking about or loving me.

Love

The most humbling aspect of mother’s love is the deep sacrifices she willingly and joyfully makes for those she loves. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The most basic expression of love is the giving of oneself for another. I’ve witnessed this first hand through the mothers God has given me. In many ways, motherhood is marked by the denial of self for the sake of another—the pain of childbirth, the sleepless nights, the unexpected inconveniences, and the daily burdens of a mom. All of this to see a child grow and flourish both physically and spiritually.

I see the sacrifices made by my stepmothers when they took me in as their own, providing the care and acceptance of a mother I so desperately long for as a young child and later as insecure teenager. I see it in the spiritual mothers God has graced me with as they have freely given for my sake and my growth in Christ. I see it perhaps most of all in my adopted mother who willingly chose to count me as her own son compelled by no other motive than sacrificial love. She willingly added another teenager to care for and provide (even through college) and she willingly complicated her life by welcoming all my past baggage. I tell her often how grateful I am that she chose to love me when she could have easily looked the other way and allowed someone else to bear the burden. Knowing the love of Christ herself, my adopted mother displayed great love towards me—willingly sacrificed to make me a part of her family! But if you asked her, she would probably say she never made a sacrifice.

Investment

For my wife’s last birthday, I asked her family to send me reasons they loved her. I was struck by mother-in-law’s statement about her daughter. She said, “I am amazed to see qualities I desire of myself yet refined in you…Seeing you pour into your family my desires for my family is the greatest gift a mom can have.” As I read these words, I was struck not only by what it communicated about my wife but what it told me about her mother. My mother-in-law gladly and freely invests herself in her family. She seeks their good, their growth, and their joy. She raised my wife with the desire that she might love God and love others. As she reflected on her daughter’s life, she was seeing those desires play out in even greater ways than she could have imagined. She was seeing the return of her investment. And it brought great joy.

When I think about the spiritual mothers God has given me, I think of the unmeasurable ways they have invested in my life—whether through meals around their table, constant prayers, encouragement, comfort, presence, gifts, or wisdom. Along the way, they have spoken truth in my life and displayed the love of Christ in countless ways. I am the product of the investment of my mothers. They have shaped me into the man that I am today. And some of them continue to influence me to pursue Christ and invest my life into others as they have done to me.

Treasuring Christ in Motherhood

In the last three years, I’ve seen my wife become the mother to our daughter. Like my other mothers, I’ve seen her courage, love, and investment as a mother. I’ve seen firsthand her bear the burdens of motherhood with joy, give of herself freely out of love, and intentionally invest in the life of our daughter. Seeing my wife become a mother to my daughter has only deepened my love and appreciation for the mothers that God has given me. My wife has also deepened my understanding of motherhood. In particular, she has shown me what it means to treasure Christ in all things, even motherhood.

I’ve been blessed by mothers who love and treasure Christ; however, I’ve seen it most fully and beautifully in my wife, the mother of our daughter. One of my wife’s favorite authors, Gloria Furman, captures what I have seen firsthand in her own life:

Jonathan Edwards used to pray and ask that God would “stamp eternity on my eyeballs.” This prayer has become my own heart’s request too. When your eyes are fixed on the horizon of eternity, it affects your vision for motherhood. We need to have eyes to see a view of God that is so big and so glorious that it transforms our perspective of motherhood. In the context of eternity, where Christ is doing his work of reigning over the cosmos, we need to see our mundane moments for what they really are—worship. In the daily (and nightly) work of mothering, we’re given dozens of invitations to worship God as he reminds us of the hope we have because of his gospel. My prayer is that you would see that the gospel is good news for mothers, not just on our “born-again birthday,” but every single day.”

I feel like I can remember my wife read this paragraph to me at some point. Whether I recall correctly or not, what Furman invites mothers to enjoy, I have seen my wife embrace. I’ve watched her learn to see God’s grace in the mundane and press deeper into to God’s grace in the difficulties of life and challenges of motherhood. I’ve seen her struggle to find time in God’s Word as her understanding of a “quiet time” has been redefined. I’ve observed her show our daughter the bigness of God and the greatness of his love through her patient teaching and consistent example. I’ve seen her treasure Christ as a mother when she opens God’s Word to instruct our daughter in it. I’ve seen her treasure Christ as she sings of God’s grace in her home and shows that same grace to our family. I’ve seen her treasure Christ as she gives of herself to provide and produce life in our family. In treasuring Christ and applying the gospel to her everyday life, I’ve seen her find her identity not in being a mother, but in being a child of God. As a mother treasures Christ in the everyday details of motherhood she is transformed to become more like Him. My wife has shown me the worth of Christ in her motherhood. And it has deepened my understanding of the gospel as I’ve watched the fruit of the gospel grow in her life through motherhood.

Greetings on Mother’s Day

I love Paul’s greeting at the end of Romans. It reminds me of the means of grace that mothers in the working out of God’s sovereign plan.

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. – Romans 16:13

We do not know much about Rufus or his mother. Some suggest he may be the son of Simon the Cyrene, who helped carry Jesus’ cross (Mark 15:21). This would mean his mother is the wife of the man who helped carry Jesus’ cross. And that the wife of the man who helped carry Jesus’ cross was like a mother to the apostle Paul. What a thought! Regardless of their identity, we see in the mother of Rufus a woman who was not only a mother to her own children but a mother to others as well.

Like Paul, I’ve been shaped by many who have been a mother to me or the mother to my own child. As a result, I am who I am today, the gospel is more real, and Christ is more glorious to me.

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