Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. For all you grammarians, that’s “mother’s”–singular, possessive–as in the day to honor your mother, specifically. All across the country, cards and flowers have already been sent; on Sunday, phones will be ringing and restaurants will be full, all to say, “We love you, Mom!”
Some people need little prompting to honor their mothers. You may be one of them. Such folks celebrate the day gladly, with gusto. When they send a card that says, “The world is a better place because of you,” they mean it.
And to be honest, beyond the Hallmark hype, there are people who struggle to find the right card or greeting. Maybe that’s you instead.
The late family therapist Jay Haley once told of a troubled young man who sent his mother a card that read, “To a woman who’s been like a mother to me.” Awkward in the extreme. But the truth is many people can’t bring themselves to buy something that seems too sappy and sentimental. That’s where humor cards come in handy: they fulfill the obligation without saying too much. After all, there’s more than one way to take a card of the “Happy Mother’s Day from your snotty kid” variety.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t send funny cards; sometimes that’s just the way our families are, with people always ribbing each other. But if we know our motivations to be mixed, perhaps we can do better.
It’s clear that God wants us to get this right:
Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you. (Deut 5:16, NIV)
As Paul notes, this is the first of the Ten Commandments that also includes a promise (Eph 6:2). With the carrot, however, comes the stick: “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death” (Exod 21:17, NIV). If you’ve ever mouthed off to your parents, be grateful that you live under grace.
But these aren’t just rules to follow blindly. There is something intrinsic to a godly life that expresses itself in the honoring of one’s mother and father. Look, for example, at the way Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy: he cites both of the above commandments as he skewers their superficial religious rationalizations for not supporting their parents (Matt 15:3-9).
Why is this so important? I find it fascinating that at one point, the commandments regarding honoring our parents and honoring the Sabbath are brought together:
The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy. Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. I am the Lord your God.'” (Lev 19:1-3, NIV)
We should remember that violation of the Sabbath was also punishable by death (Exod 31:14-15; 35:2; Num 15:32-36), a shocking idea in a day when many Christians give so little thought to observing a day of rest. Suffice it to say that God takes the commandments about the Sabbath and our parents very seriously.
But again, why? The commandments are given but not explained. I’d like to offer the following possibility: if we can’t honor the Sabbath in the midst of a world that wants to enslave us to work, if we can’t honor our parents in the midst of the ambivalence and ambiguity of imperfect and broken families, then neither can we receive life as a gift from the hand of a good and gracious God.
The one undeniable fact about all of our mothers is this: without them, we wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be writing this, and you wouldn’t be reading it. It might not always seem like it, but life itself is a gift. And the holiness God desires is rooted in gratitude for that gift.
How can we cultivate that gratitude? We might do well to remember that God loves us like only a mother can:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matt 23:37, NIV)
These are some of the most poignant words Jesus ever spoke. God, longing for us? Wanting to shelter us under his wings? How tragic not to respond to that kind of God with love and gratitude.
In that spirit, thank your Father for your mother. Honor her, and let yourself be enfolded under the wings of God.