As God’s children, holy and beloved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. ~ Colossians 4:12
This year has been challenging for Jennifer and me with both of our mothers passing away. As Jennifer says, “We lost our biggest cheerleaders in life.” Our old acquaintances—grief and pain—came as uninvited house guests, and they have not left yet. However, their sharp edges have softened, and we can start looking beneath the surface of our sorrows to the gifts and blessings our mothers shared with us.
All our mothers were beautifully and wonderfully made in God’s image and God blessed them. And all our mothers were very fallible like all of us. The ideal expectations placed on a mother can be insurmountable (I have not met June Cleaver yet) and it takes time for us to reconcile our mother’s gifts and graces alongside her very human flaws. I trust that our moms did the very best they could under their individual circumstances, and I pray that we can forgive and understand them as we have been forgiven as well. With that said, Mother’s Day can be complex.
What are the gifts of the spirit, if any, that we have received from our mothers?
Jennifer and I were able to be by her mother’s side for the last two weeks of her life. It was a time of great love and sadness, healing and reconciliation. Grandma Connie was a lifelong elementary school teacher and in her passing, her bedroom became her classroom.
As her physical body became weaker the spirit of love grew within her. It was indeed a bright sadness. As full-time care givers we tried to meet Grandma Connie’s needs. We shifted her position in bed to make her as comfortable as possible. We gave her water to drink first out of a cup and then transitioning to a wet sponge. Jennifer combed her mother’s hair, gave her sponge baths, and necessary medication. The two of us along with friends and family took turns holding her hands and sharing stories. Connie thanked each person for coming, confirmed their goodness, and loved them. She was showing us the way of grace.
When Connie could no longer walk to the bathroom, Jennifer and I cleaned her. I remember holding Connie on her side while Jennifer lovingly washed her mom. Connie looked at me with open, tender eyes and said, “I bet you never thought you would be doing this with your mother-in-law.”
“No,” I said. “But I bet it wasn’t your plan either.” Connie smiled. “I love you, Craig. You are the best son-in-law ever.” I did not realize that a messy, uncomfortable task could be so holy and so sacred. Love is vulnerable and trusting. I will be forever grateful for Connie sharing this gift with me, Jennifer, and those who came to say their good-byes. Love does remain.
When my mom came to live with us, I remember tucking her in at night which was an interesting reversal of roles. As a child, Mom tucked me in every night, gave me a kiss, told me she loved me, and she always said as she left my room, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
At bedtime, over the last couple of years, I arranged the blankets on Mom’s bed, made sure her oxygen was working, and, most importantly, found the TV remote in case she woke up in the middle of the night. Mom said, “I’m kinda helpless, aren’t I?” “No, you’re doing fine, Mom.” “Well,” Mom would say, “You and Jennifer will never know how much I appreciate you doing this for me. I am so grateful to you kids.” I always held back the tears. “I love you, Mom.” “I love you, too,” Mom would say and then she would add with that sparkle in her blue eyes, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
Our relationships with our mothers are usually complex, but what gifts from the Spirit did we receive from our moms?
Mother Mary is the archetypal mother. As her son, Jesus, was dying she stood under the cross (John 19:25). What is she doing standing there? At first glance, it seems like she isn’t doing anything. Father Richard Rohr writes, “She is mute, seemingly passive, overtly doing nothing. But at a deeper level, she is doing all that can be done when one is standing under the weight of the cross. She’s holding the tension, standing in strength, refusing to give back in kind, and resisting in a deeper way.”
We can have more empathy, compassion, and love for our mothers when we recognize the weight of life they had to shoulder. They weren’t perfect carrying all the stress and demands of life and motherhood and that’s OK. We are all human. May we just love.
Like Mary under the cross, Christ asks us to stand in strength as well. “We can’t stop the crucifixion, but we can help stop some of the hatred, anger, and bitterness that surrounds it,” says Rohr.
May we celebrate our mothers today. May we give thanks for the life they gave us. With them, may we share a vulnerable love that transforms our hearts. May we stand in grace with them.
Blessings and peace,