Sixth Weekend of Easter (B/RCL): “Good Enough Mothering & Perfect Love”
May 9-10, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Kristiane arrived home from college and introduced me to a new show last week: Nineteen Kids and Counting – the reality show about Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar, their 19 children and growing brood of grandchildren. It was a trade-off: I’d watch 1 episode of Nineteen Kids and Counting with Kristiane and she’d watch Call the Midwife with me.
I could have been more gracious. I did comment to Kristiane that seeing that show was like watching paint dry. Especially when I’m aware of my failings as a mother I’m grateful that when I studied psychology I came across the concept of “good enough mothering” (thank you, D.W. Winnicott). It says that nobody’s perfect, but our kids don’t need us to be. Most of us, in our genuine desire to mother our children with love and wisdom, do indeed do a “good enough” job for them to thrive.
Speaking about children thriving: there was a front page article in Thursday’s paper about doctors’ differing opinions about when life is viable, at what point babies born very early can survive, with medical assistance: 23 weeks? 22 weeks? It’s a reminder for us to be mindful of and prayerful for all the mothers and fathers who have experienced pregnancy loss – or who have suffered the loss of a child of any age…. And those who longed for a child and whose prayer was not answered as they hoped….
Physical viability may require at least 22 or 23 weeks of gestation, but this Mothers’ Day weekend, this sixth weekend of Easter, the Gospel seems to say that our spiritual life is viable when we live in love.
Jesus’ definition of love is very different than our culture’s. It has nothing to do with sex, with a beautiful figure or handsome appearance, with bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolate, high-end weddings, Caribbean cruises or hot tubs for two. Jesus says:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
In case they miss the point, He adds:
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
True love involves self-sacrifice, to one degree or another. Those who die defending their country, battling a fire, trying to protect the innocent, are excellent and dramatic examples of literally laying down one’s life in love and devotion.
Some mothers literally give their lives for their children: dying during childbirth or while pregnant because they refused treatment that would have been life-saving for them but fatal for the baby. I think we’d agree most mothers figuratively give their lives for their children -- not that any of us is perfect, but simply in the sense that our maternal instinct and conscious desire, most days, is to give our children whatever they need to thrive, at whatever cost to ourselves. That’s true of most fathers, as well, I’d say, but since this is Mothers’ Day weekend and not Fathers’ Day J, and since we speak of mother bears protecting their cubs and not father bears, I’ll stick with mothers today.
Jesus commands us to love, but we know that ultimately no one loves because he or she has been ordered to. We have to choose to love. God chooses to love us, and for no good reason other than this: what God makes, God loves. It’s the unconditional, illogical aspects of God’s love that Jesus commends to His disciples – including us. He reminds us that we are chosen, and God knows we know it’s not because we deserve it, any more than His first followers deserved it:
“You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last….” (John 15:16a-b)
Jesus doesn’t give us some make-work job that we can’t screw up too badly. He doesn’t give us an assignment to complete that won’t make much of a difference but will help us feel good about ourselves. He entrusts us with the coming of the Kingdom!!
Moms are a great example of those who help the Kingdom come, through loving self-sacrifice and Christ-like, unsung, day-in-and-day-out service. Preparing to preach, I thought, what are shining, compelling examples of mothers who have given their all? And then I realized, “I’m surrounded by them!”
There are mothers among us who give us sleep, give up their lunch hour, give up job promotions, defer professional goals and personal dreams, table their own education, their own hobbies to help their children pursue theirs. Single moms, in particular, are unsung heroes among us – and grandmothers who lay aside some of the perks of retirement to help working parents cover all bases – and foster mothers and adoptive mothers who love their children every bit as much as if they’d given birth to them. I’m also thinking of stepmothers who may be way-less-than-appreciated, but who love their stepchildren deeply and who care enough to offer both tender and tough love. There are also other women among us who never gave birth and may have never cared for a child under their roof, but who mentor our youth, serve as loving and strong role-models, teaching them to live lives of faith, to sing, to serve at the altar, to host a coffee hour, to swing a bat, to bake a pie, to build a fire, to pursue a career, who inspire them to make a difference in this world, and not settle for simply making a living.
I visited Gate of Heaven Cemetery in East Hanover yesterday, with my stepmom Mimi and sister Sally and niece Nicole. We went to plant begonias at the family grave, where my mother Georgia, sister Sharon and dad Lee are buried. Sally is the true gardener, who knew enough to bring along a little pickaxe with which she churned up the hard-as-rock soil. (We’re grateful for the rain headed our way, hoping it will soften the earth.) I did my best to remove grass from the garden plot, using a shovel to uproot it. Nicole was our runner, going back and forth to the spigot, to fill and refill the watering can. Our stepmom supervised watched silently, using her cane for balance on the uneven ground, nodding approval.
The generations of care struck me, and the quiet faithfulness over long years. Our mom Georgia loved us well, as long as she lived, which didn’t seem long enough. Then our stepmom cared for us – and over long years went to the cemetery to plant flowers on our mother’s grave, a silent act of loving devotion for the living and the dead. Both my sisters Sharon and Sally mothered me as well, after our mother died. My father filled the role of both father and mother. And Sally has poured herself out for her 5 children, including Nicole, who was born with congenital heart problems and had open heart surgery when she was less than 24 hours old, requiring more surgery and more than usual care throughout her childhood, which Sally gave unquestioningly.
Both my Holy Trinity faith family and my family of origin have offered the best examples in the world of what it is to love without counting the cost, which is basically what our Lord invites us to do. It is because of our Lord’s perfect love that we can offer “good enough” mothering, parenting, mentoring, coaching, and care of any kind. He chooses us to spread His love around: what a gift!
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham