A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
4th May 2007
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One of the universals of life is motherhood. Everybody has a mother. For many people, she is the first person who loved us—and the person who loved us the longest and the deepest. The bond between mother and child is commonly unique. There is nothing else quite like it and yet it is common to many mothers and their children. Fathers have their own relationship with their children but it stands outside the particular intimacy of mothers.
Yet we live in a fallen world. Thus not all motherhood is so idyllic. Motherhood is not always easy. The pain is not only in childbirth. For many mothers that is just the beginning of the pain. From the exhaustion and harassment of raising little children to the angst of teenage rebellions; from the searing ache of standing helplessly by the folly of the wayward offspring to the bitter grief of children dying before you—mothers know pain like nobody else.
It is not only children who are sinful. Mothers also share in the sinfulness of humanity. Some mothers are negligent and uncaring and others oppressive and controlling. Sin can mar any person and any relationship.
What is so extraordinary about motherhood is how little our sinfulness destroys this profound connection between mothers and children. A mother's love can still be a byword for right relationship. For mothers are so often self-sacrificial in their devotion to their children.
Yet the sinfulness of humanity affects motherhood in many ways. Living outside the Garden of Eden, means that we all suffer the consequences of sin—even the sins that we have not personally committed. One of the saddest consequences of humanity's sinfulness is the inability of some women to have the children they wish. The unfair distribution of the affects of sinfulness makes childlessness particularly painful. Be it the failure to marry the right man or the medical difficulties in reproduction—the grief of not having children can be intense. Times like Christmas and Mothers' Day are turned from joy into deep sorrow.
There are other ways that motherhood is affected by our sinful world. The lack of support by husbands makes the task more difficult. The failure of men to provide sufficient security for women to raise their children is one of the problems that feminists fail to critique adequately. Single mothers are one of the most economically vulnerable groups in our society. The struggles to raise a family without the support of husband and father are enormous. The rise in unstable de facto marriages has left many mothers at the mercy of fickle unreliable men. Marriage is not the panacea of life, but commitment to stay and support each other is needed in the long task of parenting from the totally dependent baby to the responsible adult.
But it is not only irresponsible fathers who make mothering more difficult. Society at large has been unhelpful. The last part of the twentieth century was so negative about mothering that many women felt discouraged and demeaned. Career is everything in a materialistic society. Career says that you are valuable, worthwhile, important and significant. Career offers financial rewards, meaningful tasks, and comfortable surroundings, interesting social interactions, travel and purpose. To be “just a mother”, spending your time in the drudgery of domesticity was clearly perceived as a second-class existence for the “also rans” of life.
But motherhood is too fundamental to human existence to be relegated to second-class for very long. In the last few years there has been a significant upswing in the number of births in our society. Whether it is the Treasurer's challenge to have a third child for the nation, or the economic security of the country, or the need for the careerists to have their children before it is too late, or the post-feminist realisation that there is more to life than railing against men and how badly women are treated, or some other explanation—there is a decided increase in births in our society.
In a fallen world like ours, where everybody is sinful and we all live with the consequences of each other's sinfulness—it is important that we honour our mothers. The best way to do that is to give thanks to God for them and pray for them.
Next Sunday our community celebrates Mothers' Day again. Let's invite all our friends and neighbours to bring their mothers to church so we as a society can honour our mothers, praying with thankfulness to God for the women who have given us so much.