A few days ago here in the USA we celebrated Mother’s Day. The day in which we, ideally, shower our mother’s with love, brunch, candy, cards and some relief from their motherly duties. It’s a good day and I did my best to make my wife feel special. In that vein, I thought today I’d offer a few thoughts about mother’s and other women in our lives.
First off, a confession.
I am not a mother.
Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to you the reader. The person behind these words is a guy and there is little hope for me to be a mother and to truly understand, deep down, what it means to be one. Honestly, this is a bit of a detriment when it comes to sharing thoughts about mothers and trying to not come across as chauvinistic. This was also made apparent to me at a recent parenting class I went to with my wife. There were probably ten women and two men (myself included) in the room. Aside from the stark ratio difference it was clear from the difference in our questions and reactions that the men and women were there for very different reasons. Us fathers had a nice moment when we shared a side joke about Han Solo while the mothers in the room were sharing stories and frustrations about tantrums, snacks, time-outs and bath time.
I’m far from a strict complementarian but it was clear in that room that the guys shared very different concerns about parenting than the women. The leader of the class spent a lot of time prefacing her responses with, “That’s okay…”, “That’s normal…” or something like “That’s what happens at that age…”. While what we heard was great information for me, I began to get the feeling that I was in sort of a support group. These mothers were asking questions and had concerns I wouldn’t really ask. Their concerns were responded to first with encouragement then some kind of plan or action to handle the concerns.
Call me a typical guy, but I didn’t need the encouragement first…just give me the answer.
Chatting with my wife on the way home I confessed, that when our baby throws a tantrum or has some other kind of issue, my first reaction isn’t to take it personally, let’s just figure out what needs to happen.
She very simply said, “You’re lucky.”
That got me thinking about how men and women, mothers and fathers, do generally react differently in different situations. I’m not going to pigeonhole here. Women are just as different from other women as they are from men and vice-versa. Not every woman likes to cook or sew and not every man likes to work on cars or likes beer. But, especially in the church, what is different is how we validate those distinct concerns or responses. Here’s what I’m thinking…
In the church, we’ll often hold up Jesus as an example for men and fathers. God is called “our Father” and referred to as “he” or “him”.
Then, consequently, we’ll hold up other women and mothers in the Bible as examples for women and mothers. God is not called “mother” and is rarely referred to in the feminine.
On one level this makes sense. Jesus was a good guy, so other guys should act like him. The Bible typically uses masculine names for God so we echo that. Ruth, Esther, Mary et. al. were good women so other women should strive to act like them.
The issue then becomes, Jesus we worship as Lord…the women we don’t.
Now, I’m not going to argue for worshiping women. But, I think this may subconsciously cause a few problems. First of all, it can give men and fathers an inflated sense of authority and priority in relationships. Being encouraged to follow examples set by Jesus may give men the feeling that they shouldn’t be questioned or that they have God and Jesus backing them up in their decisions.
This may lead to women not readily seeing themselves in the example set by Jesus or in the image of God. While there are some great examples of strong women in the Bible, they are usually praying to God for help or seeking help from Jesus or other God ordained/empowered men. This then may deflate the authority and decision making power of women. The examples they are are called to follow are constantly looking elsewhere for help and validation.
This reinforces that their self-worth, what defines their “image”, comes from outside themselves and is not a part of any ingrained image or blessing they already have from God.
When, what it seems the Bible may really be trying to tell us is that both men and women derive their unique image from God and his relation with the world. Genesis 1 tells us that God created both man and woman in God’s image, both having value as a representation of God. Paul will later write in Ephesians:
“and submit to each other out of respect for Christ. For example, wives should submit to their husbands as if to the Lord. A husband is the head of his wife like Christ is head of the church, that is, the savior of the body. So wives submit to their husbands in everything like the church submits to Christ. As for husbands, love your wives just like Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. He did this to make her holy by washing her in a bath of water with the word. He did this to present himself with a splendid church, one without any sort of stain or wrinkle on her clothes, but rather one that is holy and blameless.”
Ephesians 5:21-27 (CEB)
Now, this verse is often trotted out to demonstrate proper wife submission and husband authority. What I would rather point out is that both men and women are instructed by Jesus’ relation to the Church. The example for both men and women comes from Christ and is related to Christ. The example is mutual submission, mutual love and concern for the well being of the other.
In Christ, both men and women can find their identity, their image, their example and their life.
While mother’s may fret and worry over the well-being and safety of their children, that is emblematic of Christ’s fretting, worrying and ultimate sacrifice for the church and the world. The life and concerns of a woman and a mother are not “other” from God just because we often refer to God as “he” and because Jesus was a man. They are wrapped up in the full image of God as demonstrated in numerous images all over scripture. Jesus even says of Jerusalem:
“How often I wanted to gather your people together, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. But you didn’t want that.”
Matthew 23:37 (CEB)
What mother hasn’t felt that about her wayward children?
As a woman and a mother, you have the stamp of God’s image on you. Do not tell yourself or let anyone convince you otherwise. You are an example of God’s working in the world, your skills abilities and decisions are just as important, valuable and emblematic of the divine character of God as a man’s. We are all called to follow and demonstrate the character of Christ regardless of gender or our ability to bear children.