“What are we doing today, Mum?”
“Who are we seeing?”
“Where are we going?”
Already the answer is beginning to sound a little monotonous, as light hearted as I try to sound, “Oh it’ll just be us! Doing pretty much the same as yesterday. Maybe we’ll go to a big field again…!” But the novelty of large, empty fields is quickly starting to wear thin…
Even as an already home-schooling mum of four, I’m feeling the shock of a calendar stripped bare. Social engagements cancelled, clubs off, no meet-ups, none of the network of social support that usually gets us through the week. And chances are, unless you’re a key worker who still has to work (in which case I imagine you will be dealing with all of this, and a whole lot more!), you now have the prospect of staying at home with your children 24/7 too. And whilst you were already used to being their main source of care, and the manager of their busy life- you now not only manage it- you are it! For the foreseeable future you will be their teacher, carer, entertainer, play mate…
In the face of this, you may, like me, feel slightly overwhelmed. Being at home with your children all the time will look different depending on their ages and stages, but it will undoubtedly be difficult and demanding for all of us in different ways.
And yet at the same time, despite the fleeting moments of panic, I have also felt a hope rising, a determination welling within me, to trust that this unique time of enforced isolation with my children (and thankfully with my lovely husband too!) will in some ways be a wonderful gift in disguise.
Ever since I first held my little ones in my arms, I’ve felt amazed by both the weight and the wonder of what God entrusts in to our care when he blesses us with a tiny human life. And of all the responsibilities he gives us as parents, the precious and unique responsibility of nurturing and shaping an eternal soul within our very own homes is top of the list. As Jon put it on Sunday, as Christians we are all stewards of the greatest of stories, and as parents we are called to pass that story on to our children. To daily dish up the life-giving food of God’s word that can transform their hearts. To nourish their souls with Christ as we teach and disciple them and point them to Jesus, that they might become like him.
Yet it’s so easy amidst the hustle and bustle of normality to lose sight of this calling.
In all the rush and distraction of life, it’s easy to become like passers by throwing bread to the birds, scattering crumbs for our children as we race along with all the different activities we have planned, hoping they’ll manage to pick something up before we all swoop off again. Yet now- in this enforced and strange isolation- we have an unprecedented season of time and space to let them perch on our arms for a while, and feed. Because there has probably never been such an opportunity as this to slow the days down and to grab hold of the many moments we will have together with our children to nurture their souls.
However inspiring this might sound though, if you’re anything like me it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and discouraged very quickly. You imagine peaceful times in God’s Word around a beautifully laid breakfast table, the children hanging on your every word, before launching in to deep discussions about the truths you’ve shared. Back in reality, someone’s spilt milk all over the Bible in a spoon fight, the toast is burnt, everyone’s arguing about who got to pray first last time, and you’re pretty sure that there’s jam in your hair. There you are exhausted and depleted and it’s only 7.30am. Or maybe that’s just me.
Or perhaps you haven’t even tried facing Bible time with the children, because instead you’re absorbed in the headlines, checking for how many new cases of Coronavirus there have been overnight, or getting ready to rush to the supermarket to see if you can beat the queues. Maybe you feel so weighed down with the enormity of it all that you don’t feel you have anything to pass on. Maybe you just don’t feel able to be a mum today.
Well, I’d love to encourage you, on this Mother’s-Day-like-no-other, that you’re right, it’s impossible to pass on what you haven’t yourself received, but you don’t have to. Because God offers you all that you need in Himself before he asks you to give anything out. He doesn’t call us as mums to nourish the souls of our children before he calls us first to come to him, to receive nourishment for our own souls from him, in perfect and overflowing measure.
Which is why Psalm 103 is so precious to me as a mother, because it bids me come to God as a dependant child myself.
A song of ascents. Of David.
My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.
3 Israel, put your hope in the LordPsalm 131
both now and forevermore.
David paints a picture of being like a ‘weaned child with its mother,’ who having spent their formative years being nourished by her, has learnt what it means to be fully dependant on her and now to rest, fully content in her care.
We’re not used to God being depicted as a mother, but much as we rightly know and address him as Father, Scripture teaches in places such as this that in his tenderness and care he also embodies the characteristics of a mother. David shares in this Psalm how reflecting on his relationship with God as like that of a mother and child helps him to trust him more fully in a chaotic and confusing world.
David cushions this image between his testimony of how becoming like a dependant child has changed him in verse 1, and a call to God’s people to let it change them likewise, in verse 3.
In verse 1 he describes how he has recognised that there are many ‘great’ matters and ‘wonderful’ things. Things that he doesn’t understand and which he could allow to bewilder or anger him. Things that could cause him to question God’s goodness, or to rail against his wisdom. Yet instead, like a child, he has humbled himself. He has acknowledged the limits of his human understanding. He has accepted that these are things that belong to God alone. It’s the same truth that’s echoed in Isaiah 55
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”Isaiah 55
Like a trusting child, David is able to rest in the knowledge that God is the only person who not only understands, but orders all things- especially those things that confuse or overwhelm him. And so he has learnt to look up at him as the Almighty God who is above all things.
And at the same time, in verse 2, he has learnt to lean in to him as a trusting child. He knows that the God who orders the universe is the same God who cares for and protects him like a gentle mother. He knows that his God is both mighty and tender, omniscient and fully present with him.
And so he finishes his song in verse 3 by crying out to Israel- to the people of God- to do the same.
“Israel, put your hope in the Lord, both now and forever more.”
And we, the mothers of 2020 who belong to God’s people, are to do the same.
As we face the challenge of nurturing our children in these difficult and lonely times, however confused, afraid, frustrated and overwhelmed we might feel, we too can humbly learn to look up and to lean in.
To look up- past the headlines, past the twitter feed, past the to do list, past the sea of children’s faces, past our own surging emotions- to the God who is above all things, whose ways are too wonderful for us to understand. To humble ourselves, and put our hope in him, because he is the Lord of all.
And then to lean in, like small, contented children with their mother, trusting implicitly in the tender care of the God who holds us and never lets go.
Because for all that we have lost in this strange new world of Coronavirus, we only ever stand to gain more of him. We have a Heavenly Father who is also mother-like in his all-encompassing nature, and as such is ever present, ready to nourish our anxious souls and calm our fearful thoughts.
All this because of the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus, who willingly opened his arms upon the cross where he died, so that through his death all who put their trust in him could be forever adopted in to the Heavenly arms of the Father.
And so when the daily grind of being a mother in isolation feels overwhelming, and the task of nurturing souls more overwhelming still, remember that you too are a child of God through Jesus. Look up at Him in awe, and lean in to Him in trust for just one more day, and around that messy breakfast table, tell your children to do the same. To put their hope in the Lord, both now and forever more.
Written by Ruth Herring