I stood in her kitchen, my arms clutching a bag of chocolate bars, jars of preserves, and snacks for the road home—all gifts from her kitchen cupboards. On the many occasions I visited this lovely Czech woman during the two years I lived in Prague—winter dinners after school, summer lunches in her garden, lazy weekends playing with her kids in the pool—I never left empty-handed. While I was half a world away from my own family, this Christian woman mothered me with a sustaining tenderness, opening her home and her heart to a stranger who could barely speak her language. She was God’s provision for me in a season when I was in need, and every Mother’s Day, I think of her kindness.
Mother’s Day can be tricky. This day that should be so special is for many a deep reminder of the brokenness and sorrow of living in a cursed world. Some have lost mothers early or felt we never really had one. Some feel overwhelmed and under-supported in this season of mothering, while others are still longing for children. How do we celebrate Mother’s Day as simultaneous sinners, sufferers, and saints?
Motherhood Under a Curse
Truly, motherhood was affected by the Fall. The Lord declared: “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you shall deliver children” (Gen. 3:16). “God wasn’t just talking about the pain of childbirth,” writes Nancy Guthrie. “There is no epidural powerful enough to overcome the pain that is connected not only to birthing but also to being a sinner raising a sinful child in this sin-cursed world.” This means broken relationships, children that walk away from the family or the faith, and mothers that hurt instead of help.
In our churches, the curse might also look like women carrying the secret pain of infertility, who’ve wept a hundred nights aching to hold children who never come. This is a pain shared similarly by single women—I was content in my singleness long before I was content with the possibility of never having my own children.
Of course, the curse is felt ultimately in the final sting of death. Whether we had good relationships with our mothers or not, when we say goodbye to the women who gave us life, we grieve a great love lost or that could have been. And how unimaginable the grief of mothers who must lay to rest their children? Surely, we feel this curse deeply. The words of the prophet Jeremiah resonate profoundly when he speaks the word of the Lord: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamenting and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more” (Jer. 31:15).
Motherhood in the Church
Three of the four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’s family coming to look for him while he’s teaching (see Matt. 12:46–50; Mark 3:31–35; Luke 8:19–21). His response redefines relationships in the church: “And it was reported to Him, ‘Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wishing to see You.’ But He answered and said to them, ‘My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it’” (Luke 8:20-21).
We, the body of Christ—are mothers and brothers and sisters to each other. Throughout the New Testament—Paul, Peter, James, and Luke all refer to the saints as “brothers and sisters,” exhorting Christians to treat each other as such in the faith.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul writes: “Do not sharply rebuke an older man, but rather appeal to him as a father, and to the younger men as brothers, to the older women as mothers, and to the younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Tim. 5:1, emphasis added). This isn’t just instruction on how to handle conflict, but a reminder of the new relationship we have with each other as we’re joined in the body of Christ. We see the tenderness in these relationships in the personal greetings attached at the end of Paul’s letters, like this one in Romans: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well” (Rom. 16:13, emphasis added). I can imagine Paul, far from home like I was, humbled by and grateful for the care of a woman who had no earthly responsibility to love or provide for him, and yet she makes him one of her own anyway.
The church needs these kinds of mothers. We need women who will see to the needs of their spiritual families as well as their fleshly ones. These are the women who lift the heads of weary saints with kind words, feeding both empty bellies and empty hearts with their cheerful hospitality, generosity, and care (2 Cor. 9:7). The spiritual mothers in my life have given me places to sleep when I was traveling, saved a seat for me at their dinner tables, and opened their kitchen doors far too early in the morning when I needed someone to speak to or cry with. And they have built me up in the faith—challenging me with Scripture, enriching my life with prayer, and encouraging me with their faithful walks. Every Mother’s Day, I’m grateful for these women.
Motherhood and Christ
The curse may say that women will have pain in childbirth, but they will bear children, and the rest of God’s promise to our first mother, Eve, is that one of those children, eventually, would save the world (Gen. 3:15). Christ has come and has redeemed his people. It’s the same redemption picture in Jeremiah 31 when the Lord speaks of Rachel weeping. Her sons—Northern Israel, represented by her eldest, Ephraim—have been taken away, lost, they are no more. And so were we once dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1), but Christ has raised us to new life (Eph. 2:5). After Rachel is heard lamenting, the Lord responds: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord, ‘And they will return from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future,’ declares the Lord, ‘And your children will return to their own territory’” (Jer. 31:16–17).
For the church, this territory is a heavenly one. Our home is with Christ, and he will comfort our grieving, aching hearts—“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Let’s celebrate the spiritual mothers in our pews: the women who have been faithful servants of our Lord, building his church and caring for his children. I rejoice that—with or without children of my own—I’ll have opportunities to do the same. And when the God of all comfort gathers us up and brings us home, the greatest disappointments of this cursed world will fade in the immeasurable joy of life everlasting with our God and King.