On Being a Mother (to the women who aren't)

Almost immediately upon becoming a mother, a part of my heart turned to those women who weren’t.  As surely as my heart grew soft and tender toward the child in my arms, so it has grown toward the women who long to be described by that word - mother.

The women whose bodies cannot conceive or bear children.

The women who have lost children.

The women whose life calling does not include having children.

So many names and faces come to mind as I write this.  It would be impossible to detail each of their nuanced situations here, but I pray their stories echo through these words nonetheless.  

These past years, my life has been inextricably bound to the lives of these women.  I have hugged their necks; they have held my children.  They have worried over my babies' bumps, bruises and runny noses; I have prayed over their early pregnancies, miscarriages, and stillborn children.  They have championed my causes, dreams, and callings; I have applauded them in theirs. 

In and through all this, these women have imparted life into the life of my family. And although the world may not grace them with the title of mother, they have taught me so much about what God purposed in motherhood.

My thoughts turn to these women often, but never more so than on Mother's Day.  On Mother's Day, more than any other day of the year, we separate women from one another.  On this day we divide mothers from all other women - as if that's even possible.  The fact is, it’s not.

The first time a woman is given the title of mother is in the book of Genesis.

The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living
— Genesis 3:20

 Eve was the first mother.  She was the first woman to give birth to a child.  She was also the first woman to experience the searing pain of losing a child.  But take note that God counted her as a mother before she had a child.  Eve is given the title of mother in Genesis chapter 3, but it’s not until chapter 4 that Eve conceives and bears a son called Cain.

Eve was a mother before she had a child. 

Think for a moment about the implications this carries.  Eve's maternal designation came primarily from the fact that she was created a woman, not from her ability to birth children. 

Women beautifully reflect a part of God’s nature and character when we take on the maternal role designated for us whether we have physical children or not.  In Genesis, we learn that in order for humans to more fully reflect God's image, He created both man and woman.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’
— Genesis 2:26

A part of who we are and what we do as women uniquely reflects aspects of our Creator. 

Women, like Eve, we were all created mothers.

The Hebrew word for “mother” carries with it the meaning "point of departure or division”.  The word represents a nurturing source from whence those of similar character disseminate.  This goes to the heart of what it means to be a mother.  More importantly, it goes to the heart of what God purposed in us and for us as women. 

We see this meaning of mother imputed to Sarah when God says,

I will bless her and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.
— Genesis 17:16

While Sarah did go on to give birth to Abraham’s son, Isaac, the meaning of mother in this verse is referring to her as a point of departure.  "She shall be a mother of nations."  God began something in and through Sarah that continued well after her death.

Mothers give life.  They nurture, raise-up, guide, equip, encourage, confront, protect, restrain, love, and then they send out. 

These roles are not only fulfilled by the women who have physical children.  The Lord's mandate for us to be fruitful and multiply extends well beyond the realm of the physical and into the realm of the spiritual.  

I can think of no greater example than Deborah, a woman who lived during a day in time when a women’s ability to bear children was paramount.  Although Scripture makes no mention of Deborah having biological children, we know she seized hold of her role as mother by leading the nation of Israel towards God’s protection and provision.  She was a prophet, a judge, and a warrior, yet over all these noble titles she places the banner of “Mother”.  She wrote of herself,

The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.
— Judges 5:7

Under Deborah's leadership, the people of Israel flourished.  With care and pain, she led Israel back to their God and King.  Under her example, others rose up.  She was a mother.

My point in all this is not to give Mother’s Day the stink eye.  I am a mother - to three amazing boys.  I love being a mother.  I love my mother.  She is beautiful and hilarious and just a little bit mean. (She can’t be blamed for this trait; it was passed down from her own mother).  I love other mothers.  Their very existence encourages me.  It reminds me that I’m not alone in this daunting task I’ve been given.  But we must not push these women who do not have children aside - not even for one single day of the year. Indeed, these women do give life.  We need these women.  They mother too.  Don't reserve your gratitude on Mother's Day for only those women with children, but go out of your way to thank the ones who don't.  Let's rightly celebrate them on Mother's Day as well.

My friend, if your heart is so broken over a lack of physical children that you have opted out of mothering, I beg you to reconsider.  There are so many who need what you do.  God made us mothers before He gave us children.  It is part of who we are.  Do what you do, sweet friend.  The world will experience more of God's glorious grace because of it.  His very word promises it.

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.
“Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back; lengthen your cords
and strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations
and will people the desolate cities.
— Isaiah 54:1-3
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