Happy Mother’s Day, Friends. Whether you are a mother, know a mother, or had a mother, this is a day for celebrating the person—or the people—who have graced our lives with the love and kindness, gentleness and comfort that has continued through the years to lift, nurture, encourage, and help us grow. Whether that person was our biological mother or someone else who brought those blessings to our lives, Mothers represent a special kind of love—love that is tenacious, hopeful, and believing; that never stops trusting in our goodness, that always looks for the best in us. She can see it when others can’t. It’s a vision only those who love can know.
It’s also true that no two mothers are the same—just like none of us are the same—so we all have different memories and experiences that continue to bless us in a thousand different ways. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate the fact that my mom wasn’t a June Cleaver kind of mom. She was tall and stately and wore high heels and had a fierce intellect. She got irritated often—which I now understand, because I was a very pouty kid—and she wasn’t a great cook (she’s the only person I’ve ever known who could burn chocolate chip cookies on the bottom while they were not quite cooked on the top). But she loved me and I knew it. And she was just exactly the example of a strong, smart woman I needed; a woman who cared about truth, who believed in respect and equality, who put energy into things that fascinated her and made time for soulful things like gardening and genealogy, the two great loves of her later life.
My stepmom wasn’t a June Cleaver type either. But she was a joyful, passionate figure in my life. She had two speeds—laughing and hugging with gusto (which is how she was most of the time) or mad enough to spit nails, in which case we kids went outside to play–fast. Barb was also creative and energetic and had once upon a time been a fashion model at Saks Fifth Avenue in Chicago. She cared about beautiful things, and that spilled over into her life, always. She made my dad laugh—which was kind of miraculous to see, because he was a grumbly old bear. She was also one of those eat-dessert first kinds of people and she really did it. She’d have a great big hot fudge sundae while the rest of us picked at our salads, regretting our choice. She taught me about humor and freedom and fun, and it was impossible to wonder if you were loved when she was in the room. Of course you were. And you were welcome.
My mother-in-law was a gentle soul who enjoyed family more than anything else in the world. She had had a difficult childhood herself and, perhaps because of that, she was very sensitive and tuned in to the needs of people around her. She was a great cook and enjoyed it, but she had her challenges too—like the time she forgot that she’d put my father-in-law’s work boots in the oven to dry out (who knows why she did that) and then turned it on to preheat for supper. It took days to get the smell of burnt rubber out of the house. When something went wrong or feelings were hurt, Diane didn’t get irritated, like my mom, or yell, like my stepmom; instead she would be hard on herself, which in some ways was harder to deal with than the other two approaches. She didn’t deserve her own judgment—she deserved the same gentleness she offered everyone else—but it was hard for her to see that. It could be that tendency was a lingering scar from childhood. I always wished—and prayed—that she could love herself as much as she loved us. She was a beautiful soul and a great blessing in my life.
Both my stepmom and my mother-in-law passed away last June—within 24 hours of each other in fact—so this is my first Mother’s Day without any of the moms who loved me into being. Their memories, their laughs, their shortcomings, their love is still real for me, still living with me, alive and awake and showing up in my life every day. Bodies age and pass away—we’ve all experienced that by this time in our lives—but the spirit is eternal, and the love our mothers shared continues to bless and uplift us, often just when we need it. Love truly never ends. And it may in fact grow stronger through the years. We learn that gradually, over time.
I think it’s good news that none of us is expected—now or ever—to be a perfect mom. We do the best we can, and we hope the sentiments in the cards are true, but we know that sooner or later—for big things or small–we will need our children’s grace. Somewhere along the line, we all need to forgive each other. It’s inevitable. It’s continual. It’s part of being human in a world full of other humans. We hope that our kids understand when we have a bad day or we see things wrong or we just mess something up we wish we hadn’t. We pray that when they look back on a Mother’s Day years from now—as I’m doing today—they’ll see the love that overshadows the burned cookies and the baked boots or the sharp words that come out in a moment of irritation. When all is said and done, we want our lives to shine most brightly with all the love that was shared along the way.
A couple of years ago I read a quote from the Dalai Lama, in which he encouraged people who want to be more compassionate to remember and feel the love they have for their own mother. That memory makes it easier to treat other people with more kindness, he said. About his own mother, he wrote in 2020,
“…my mother (was) my first teacher of compassion. She was simple, uneducated, just a village farmer, but so kind-hearted - and her kindness was unconditional. It is the love with which she nurtured me that is the core of the compassion I can find in myself and feel for others. This very basic level of affection is natural to human beings.”
That idea of beginning inwardly with a sense of love we feel in our own hearts, for our own mothers, and then extending it outward—thinking, perhaps, of someone who irritated us, He loves his mother too, or His mother has great love for him—is a lovely way to remember what’s real about a person we may be judging on purely surface things. When we remember the love in another’s life, we get closer to what’s lasting, what’s eternal, what’s Godly about them. When we intentionally look for and see “that of God” in others, we are nurturing our capacity to love and share the light and goodness of life.
Our Old Testament reading from Isaiah today is a single verse:
“As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you…”
God says this to the children of Israel in the last chapter of Isaiah. You may remember from our study of this book that it is sometimes hard to get through. God is alternately angry and full of judgment, and then loving and kind, sharing the promise of future full of peace, abundance, and harmony. And here in this last chapter, God evokes the image not just of Yahweh, the Father, protector, guide, and judge, but the divine Mother, full of tenderness and care, comforting children who are exhausted and overwrought, who need safety and reassurance and love.
It’s the kind of love that makes us come alive again after struggles and crises and pain; that gives us the strength to hope after a time of loss and disappointment. The idea that love makes us come alive again isn’t something new—we know it well. It’s all around us in our shows and books and popular media. A week or so ago I went to see The Sound of Music at Civic Theatre, and as I’m sure you remember from the story, it is Maria’s love—her joy, her music—that makes the Von Trapp family come alive again after the loss of their mother sent them all into a cold, distant, and highly disciplined life. Maria brought kindness and chaos, playfulness and song back into the house, even though Captain Von Trapp had declared it gone forever. The love that flowed into that family healed the heartache of loss, and brought them joy and a renewed energy that helped them find the goodness in life once again. That’s the work and promise of love.
As another example, you may remember the book, The Secret Garden, which was one of my favorites when I was young—and I’ve read it several times since. That’s the story of a very spoiled girl who loses both her parents and is sent to live with a distant uncle. He is cold and businesslike and travels a lot, and one night when he is away, she hears terrible screams coming from another part of the big house. She discovers it is her cousin who is sickly, unable to walk, and never leaves his room. The staff live in terror of him because of his tantrums. As the story unfolds, the girl finds a secret garden on the property—one that was locked forever when her aunt had suddenly died. Gradually the girl and a new friend begin to work on the garden, cleaning it up and providing care to help it flourish again. As the garden comes back to life, the same happens to the people around it—we see a big change first in the girl’s attitude and behavior and then, throughout the household, as she tells her cousin about the garden and makes plans to help him visit it. At the end of the story, grief is healed, relationships are repaired, health is restored, the garden is flourishing, and they all have begun to live again. Love brought them all back to life.
Sometimes I find myself resisting—in good Quaker fashion, I suppose—the idea that we need to celebrate someone on a special day just because the calendar tells us to. We hope our mothers felt loved and appreciated not just on Mother’s Day when perhaps we gave them candy and flowers and took them out to eat but every time they thought of us, looked at our pictures, or heard our voices on the phone. Real and lasting love doesn’t happen in little snapshot moments. Instead, it flows, like a beautiful, uninterrupted stream of love, winding its way into and through our lives and then, through us, into the lives of others.
And that connects with the reason Early Friends felt they shouldn’t celebrate holidays at all: they thought lifting one day above another was unnecessary because every day is a holy day when we make room for God in it. We don’t need a special day for that. Each new moment we can make a choice to love, to look for the good in each other, to hold out hope and forgiveness to those who are hurting or have lost their way.
A little over a week ago, Patti sent me a message about a story she’d heard about the concerning prevalence of loneliness in our country today. This is something that is concerning professionals in a variety of disciplines, who are seeing the impacts of loneliness on physical, emotional, family, and societal health. Earlier this month, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report, entitled, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” which found that half of adults in the United States today say they are experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. The risk of this surging loneliness—which was growing even before COVID-19—is that it heightens the likelihood of premature death, and it brings a 29% increased risk of heart disease, a 32% increased risk of stroke, and a 50% increased risk of dementia in older adults. That’s staggering. And it can be helped. Loneliness and isolation is bad for us, on all levels. What we need—especially when we feel painfully alone—is a mother’s love.
When we are feeling lonely and isolated, what could be more comforting than having our mom come and sit beside us, putting her arm around us or her hand on our cheek, letting us know we are remembered and wanted and loved? That’s what God told the children of Israel through Isaiah, and that’s what God’s tenderness still does for us today. God’s love shines through our most precious memories of our moms, and it continues to live on. It’s a love that heals everything–hurt, anxiousness, loneliness, isolation. And that same love flows through all of us. As we have freely received, we freely give. It’s ours to share now.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he offers a beautifully clear and concise picture of what it means to be part of the stream of Love and light that shines through us to others. Reading it, we recognize when we are truly in the flow of love and we also see when our egos and judgments are putting obstacles in the way. There’s no mistaking it. With so many people today needing kindness and connection, what better purpose could there be than to simply pour all the love we can into our world? We can do it in honor of our moms, sharing the love they gave us. And we can do it to honor God, because each time hurting hearts feels loved, a seed of God’s kindness gets planted in their lives.
Paul reminds us that it’s a choice we make, a clear and intentional action we take to be a healing force in our world:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
It is possible to share this gentle, simple, healing love with everyone we meet. We are wired for it. Thanks to those who have loved us well, this kind of kindness and care already lives within us. We have been touched and changed—brought back to life by love. And now it’s our turn to share what we’ve received of this greatest—and forever—blessing.
Happy Mother’s Day, Friends.
- OT Isaiah 66:13
- NT 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a
- NPR.org. May 2, 2023. America has a loneliness epidemic. https://www.npr.org/2023/05/02/1173418268/loneliness-connection-mental-health-dementia-surgeon-general
- Cassatt, Mary. The Child’s Bath. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/111442/the-child-s-bath