We hold our babies, swaddle them, sing to them. We study their hands unwrapping their fingers grip on ours, wondering if they’ll be able to palm a basketball or reach an octave on the piano. We love to dream of their potential. We pray for them. But every mother knows we can verbalize only a fraction of what we feel toward our children. The rest is stored up, treasured, in our hearts. When it comes to our children, our hearts are deep mines.
In this way, we are like many mothers before us. But perhaps one mother stands out above them all. On more than one occasion, Scripture records for us that Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a full heart for her child too.
As the shepherds intrude into the intimate birthplace of Jesus, relaying all the news to the bleary-eyed parents that the heavenly beings had just declared to them, Mary pulls her baby close wondering at the stir his birth has caused. “[She] treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
When she and Joseph obediently present him at the temple in keeping with the Law, devout Simeon takes their bundle from them, blessing God and calling the baby Salvation, Light, and Glory. Simeon turns to Mary and looks in her young eyes which betray the frail vulnerability of most first-time moms. Mary, this common girl who was chosen for a unique and burdensome task, braces herself at Simeon’s hard words that the “child is appointed for the fall and rising of many…and for a sign that would be opposed, and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” (Luke 2:22-35)
These difficult sayings she had to hear and carry with her.
It reminds me of some of us moms who have sat across a doctor’s desk as we are told of our child’s medical diagnosis involving the painful and unexpected physical, emotional, and sensory suffering our child will endure.
Or us moms who have had a pastor, school administrator, or law enforcement officer look us in the eye and tell us of our child’s poor, rebellious choices that have caused hurt and danger to themselves or others for which they will now need to bear the consequences.
Or us adoptive or foster moms who have had a caseworker tell us our child’s birth family history and it’s like a punch in the stomach from which we never quite recover. A grief we always hold as we parent them.
Or us moms whose grown children have looked us in the eye telling us they are turning away from the faith we trained them in, the spouse they promised to love until death, and are making a new path for themselves.
These hard conversations, words passing through air that land, not just in our ears, but pierce our hearts like a knife that never comes out.
How do we respond? How did Mary respond to her own burdens in mothering?
Mary is quite the controversial female in church history. Our Catholic friends nearly deify her and us Protestants mostly overlook her. Admittedly, she is in a unique place no other woman will ever be – experiencing a virgin conception then birthing and raising the Son of God.
So what do we do with Mary? As different as her circumstances are from ours, I believe her example is valuable to us. We don’t need her to be our Intercessor. We certainly don’t need her to be our Co-Redemptrix. Her Son is sufficient for these things. But I believe we desperately need Mary to show us what faithful mothering looks like while a sword is piercing our souls.
How does she do this?
- She submits to God’s sovereign choices in her life. Step by step as her hard story unfolds, she surrenders to him under it. She said submissively, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) Those were words she never forgot. She served him obediently and did what her Master asked of her even when his sovereignty caused her mother’s heart pain.
- She stays engaged and involved in parenting. Even when Jesus is old enough to have some independence at the Feast of the Passover and she loses track of him, she spends the next few days searching for him. (Luke 2:43-45) Although she doesn’t understand all he was called to do as God’s Son, it still strikes me that she looks for him. As he got older, she didn’t “check out” of parenting him for her own self-protection, anticipating the break in relationship, knowing the reality that he had things to do of which she was not part. She stays engaged. She actively parents him and doesn’t withdraw from him emotionally or physically. She’s present. And she’s even confrontational with him like a good mother should be, continuing to require him to submit to them, which, of course, he does. (Luke 2:48,51)
- She hopefully endures for the glory of God. The strongest women aren’t the most demanding. They aren’t the brashest bra-burners. They aren’t always the movers and shakers and new law-makers. They aren’t the women bench-pressing as much as the men at the gym. But they always are the women who know and trust their God. They know he is mighty and they hold onto the hope, especially in the darkest hour, that all things are possible with him. They wait for his mercy because they understand it can’t be time-stamped – it reaches from generation to generation. (Luke 1:37, 46-55) Mary endured while watching the Son she once swaddled being stripped and beaten. She watched his hands, her mind flashing back to when his baby fingers were wrapped around hers, now open to receive a piercing nail. The one who was present with joyful relief when he took his first breath of air at birth, stood nearby his cross as he struggled to breath his last. Of all the pain a mother might endure, this has to be the worst.
Even in the pain of mothering, when all seems lost and we want to pull away and leave them to their own way. Even when that sword piercing our soul taints our days from the moment we open our eyes to the time we pillow our head, we ponder these things in the deep mine of our hearts and read of Mary’s faithful example. We remember that “whatever was written. . .was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
Moms, especially those of us parenting in unique and challenging situations, look at Mary this Christmas. She’s everywhere. . .in the nativity scene, on our postage stamps, and in the pages of Scripture. Make her theology yours. Make her submission yours. Make her continued involvement yours. Make her endurance yours.
And look forward to that day when with her, we’ll have the knife removed from our hearts and the wounds of mothering will be healed forever because her Son, and because her Savior – and ours – is risen with healing in his wings! (Malachi 4:2)