P.D. Eastman's book Are You My Mother? was read countless times in my childhood among many other Dr Seuss classics.
In this memorable story, I was introduced to an adorable baby bird who was lost and desperately looking for his mom. Once he hatched, he fell out of his nest and his instinct was telling him to look for his mom, but he had no clue what she looked like! He comes across many other animals. Are you my mother? The dog says no. The cow says no. The cat says no. Even the machinery said no. Eventually, the little bird is reunited with his true mother after much searching.
There are deep lessons and analogies to be learned here. We are so much like that little bird.
Are you my mother?
I'm writing this blog on Mothers Day. I felt a nudge to write on the theme of Mothering for many years and recently spoke on this topic at a women's retreat in Manitoba. So before I start my day to celebrate my own motherhood, as well as the incredible moms and women in my life who have mothered me, I pause and reflect on the angst this day also brings forth for many: both spiritually and relationally.
In my own journey of faith, Mothers Day often brought deep sorrow more often than not because I spent many Mothers Days apart from my own mother (& mother in law) as I lived long-distance from them. As a young momma myself, I struggled with the what ifs and the "woulda-shoulda-coulda" thoughts as my idealistic tendencies were crippling my ability to fully embrace Mothers Day. By focusing on what I didn't have (family supports who live in my own city) and the imperfections in me and earthly mothering expectations, I let myself down. I struggled with fully embracing my motherhood for many years as a result. Condemnation, guilt and oh, right: comparison- the thief of joy.
There was a time when I was in a season of deep lament, but I knew that God is speaking when three unrelated individuals said to me within one week:
"Have you ever related to God as your mother?
"Is this theological blasphemy? Is this OK to even consider? How can I relate to God as both Father AND Mother?" These were the many thoughts were racing through my mind. I was raised, taught and practised my faith by relating to God solely as my heavenly Father. I'd relate to Jesus as my friend, Savior, and brother and to the Holy Spirit as Counsellor, the one I'd draw upon for wisdom.
I was both intrigued by the question, and yet somewhat fearful.
Because of my innate curiosity, I'm drawn to this concept of God as our both Father and Mother, metaphoricaly and for some, they embrace it literally. In my wrestling soul, I could just feel the religious watchdogs putting me through a microscope to somehow slander me if I even entertained the feminine attributes of God along with the masculine. In some religious practices, that is quite normal. In Christianity, many are divided on the topic. In my formative leadership journey, I was introduced to the varying perspectives over the years in the Church of Egalitarian and Complementarian theology with extreme perspectives of both "sides" where others don't hold such definitive views.
There are numerous translations of scripture that contradict one another when it comes to passages pertaining to the root word (Hebrew/ Greek) meaning of gender-(including a woman's role and interpreting some of those in its cultural context.) I've held that tension as a woman in leadership and have had many discussions in that regard which I continue to process. But the simple notion of allowing ourselves to be open to new concepts that haven't been openly taught from the pulpit can perhaps feel like fear. But as a dear University professor friend of mine reminded me, that felt fear it is more often than not Cognitive Dissonance that we are experiencing. We are meant to grow and challenge the status quo. Think outside the box and be open to God reaching us in unexpected ways.
It's so easy to live in fear of scrutiny.
One example: Living through the tension a few years back when the Shack was released. When talking to people of various backgrounds, it was interesting hearing a variety of responses. Some were deeply moved by the analogies of the Trinity throughout the book or movie. Some were upset by the mere thought or suggestion that a mothering attribute could be a part of the Trinity alongside fatherhood characteristics. From Catholics to Protestants- Pentecostals, Lutherans, Mennonites, Baptists, Anglicans etc. who are among the 30+ thousand types of denominational forms of Christianity in this broken world, Some continue to live deeply entrenched in tradition versus truth and extreme patriarchy is their normal. Others have empowered women but in the process disempowered men where extreme feminist stances have backlashed to strip away the truth of true biblical equality. It is a travesty that we don't explore this injustice together and right the wrongs of religious pasts. God is family. His family made up of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, male and female birthed out of our original design. One called to live empowered with love and respect for one another's complementary equality in our unique diversity. I thank God for the many churches who seek balance but also freedom in this area. I'm incredibly grateful for the many leaders and pastors who are champions of women in our communities, business world, faith sector and leadership realms.
As mentioned, one of those leaders spoke into my life to consider relating to God as Father AND Mother looked deeply into my eyes and spoke life. He knew how deeply I cared about being in line with scripture in my quest for restoration, desiring to be bold but being careful not to be a wingnut, he quoted scripture from the book of Isaiah:
From that moment, I was open to the notion of relating to God as my perfect parent- who is both a Father and also has Mothering qualities through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is One. I can just imagine the Trinity as family conversing together before mankind was created as it was recorded in Genesis 1:26-27: "..Let us make mankind in Our image. So in the image of God, He created them male and female." and Jesus cried out in John 17 for us to be One. Not just the men who were disciples of Jesus, but all men and women who follow Christ are to be one. We need the Spirits help to take us under His (or Her) wings and allow the Helper to help us, the Counsellor to counsel us and to love the Spirit of Wisdom like a sister. (Proverbs 7:4)
We all need mothering and fathering in our lives. Yet- Truth be told, our family of origin will not be completely what our soul aches for and no earthly person- dad or mom can totally fill our every need. I cannot be the all in all for my daughters. But what I can do is provide a place for security, to be known/ significant, to experience love and acceptance. I cannot impart what I first don't possess. We need the complete picture and characteristics of God through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to even attempt to provide such stability in our mothering relationships.
Dear God, Thank you for giving me the gift of mothers in my life and I give thanks for the many gifts you have given to me as a result of being a mom. It has helped me know you and your character in a profound way. Continue to show us wisdom, grace and empower us with your nurturing presence, with gratitude. Your daughter- Jodi
Click on the links below to read other scriptural references to Father God as a mother, or with "mothering" characteristics:
- Genesis 1:27 Women and Men both created in God’s image
Hosea 13:8 God described as a mother bear who seeks to protect
Deuteronomy 32:11-12 God described as a mother eagle
Deuteronomy 32:18 God who gives birth
Isaiah 66:13 God as a comforting mother
Isaiah 49:15 God compared to a nursing mother
Isaiah 42:14 God as a woman in labour
Psalm 131:2 God as a Mother
Luke 15:8-10 God as a woman looking for her lost coin