Now this will show my age… If my memory serves me correctly – which as those who know me will tell you is not always the case – the Bill Parkinson song “Mother of Mine” performed by Neil Reid in 1971 is the first “pop” song that I remember. Either that or the bagpipe version of Amazing Grace. Or was it…
But back to mothers. I think that Mother’s Day must be what used to be called a “movable feast”. In different parts of the world, at least, it is celebrated on different days right through the year, from the second Sunday in February in Norway to 22nd December in Indonesia, and pretty much anything in between. The second Sunday in May is by far the most popular day, though in Spain we go for the first Sunday in May.
However, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. So having arrived yesterday afternoon in the UK, where Mother’s Day is celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent – today –, a heartfelt “well done” to all mothers out there. First of all to my own mother, of course, and to the mother of my children. ¡Os quiero!
And back in Spain again, Monday is Father’s Day – coinciding with Joseph in the traditional calendar of saints’ days. It’s a shame I will be a thousand miles away from my kids, though I imagine the wonderful presents they will surely have got for me will wait :-)
Mothers, fathers. Where would we be without them? A stupid question, I know, but you get my point…
There is so much more to parenthood than procreation. Upon hearing that he was to be disinherited by his father, so the story goes, Salvador Dalí claims to have handed some of his own sperm over to his father saying: “Take that. I owe you nothing now!” Beyond that initial provision of a solitary gamete from each progenitor, even the loan of a womb for nine months of gestation does not equate with motherhood, as all surrogate mothers know only too well.
Parenting is an art, a craft that demands huge doses of understanding, wisdom, courage, patience, time, far-sightedness. humour and selfless love, to name just some of the requirements of the job. Certainly not for the faint-hearted. Why, I wonder, do we imagine that raising people in Christ is any different?
“Presenting people perfect in Christ” is not accomplished in quick-fix remedies, miracle cures, or Bible bombs. The work of bringing others to new birth and then drawing them towards maturity in Christ is the task of spiritual parenting. Do we honestly expect it to be any less demanding than “the real thing”?
In the space of a few short verses, Paul describes the ministry that he, Silas and Timothy exercised amongst the Thessalonians in parenting terms, drawing on the imagery of both mother and father to infant converts.
We were like a mother feeding and caring for her own children. We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. […] And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-12)
Nothing can replace the gentleness of a nursing mother, who, before the days of bottles and formula milk, is all too aware that her child’s very life depends fully on her. Yes, babies have some mighty strong instincts, but these are of little use without the nourishment and tender care that a mother provides. The nurture of the new-born in Christ only comes about through the active sharing of our lives, not the impersonal passing on of God’s Word, however powerful that Word may be.
And a father – interestingly, Paul does not highlight financial provision, education, or discipline and punishment. Rather, he focuses on the relational side of standing alongside another in order to help them fly high, be the best that they can be, reach their God-given potential. This is the father whose child hears the words “This is my dearly loved son, who brings me great joy”. All new to the faith need fathers like this.
Paul aimed to be all of this for those he saw come to Christ through his ministry. He knew that planting and perfecting churches was no “wham, bang, thank-you ma’am” display of power but the patient sowing of his own life into others, the embodiment of the best of motherhood and fatherhood to those he served. Whilst not wishing to put too great an emphasis on first-century gender stereotypes, nothing has changed today; this is still how the church of Christ is built.
To all those who gave into my life as mothers and fathers, thank-you. And may God in turn grant me the grace to be a tender mother and nurturing father to those he entrusts to me.