God as Mother

(I originally wrote this as a reflection/devotional for a baby shower for a dear friend!)

Mother and daughter hiking in the woods with 'heaven slides'

A few weeeks ago, I had to take my 9yo daughter to the ER. Her earring had grown into her ear and we needed a doctor to remove it. Jubilee has pretty high anxiety, but for medical things or physical pain, her anxiety goes through. the. roof.

In her anxiety and pain, she has often wondered why God allows bad things to happen to her. That day, she wondered aloud several times why God didn’t love her.

As a slightly older-than-9-year-old human person, I have several reactions to her concern.

  •  One is a bit of a “yikes” – because in the realm of possible human suffering, she’s only experienced the tiniest drop so far.
  • One is a good bit of empathy – because if I’m truly honest, when I’ve experienced some of the worst fears and pains of my life, I have wondered the exact same thing.
  • One is longing to help her understand – because, God has been so gracious, in the worst moments of fear and pain, to minister His love to me in heights and depths I wouldn’t have thought possible before experiencing them myself.

In the end, 5-6 adults were needed to hold her down. It was a pretty terrible experience for both of us.

But in processing afterward, I realized that I want to talk about “God as Mother.” Now, before any of you start inwardly panicking or planning a meeting with the elders to report heresy or something, I am not diminishing the idea of “God the Father” as a Person of the Trinity. The Bible uses countless pictures, stories, and illustrations to help us understand the fullness of who God is – partially because none of them, in and of themselves, can fully capture His character, what He’s like, and how He operates. So as a quick review, a few of the ways the Bible describes God are: as fire, cloud, shepherd, king, father, husband, light, water, bread, a warrior, a lamb, a lion, and yes – as a woman and a mother.

In the book Meaning of Marriage, Kathy Keller talks about how both women and men get to play a “Jesus-role” in marriage. She says that submission and helping are both ways we reflect Jesus in marriage, just as men ought to reflect Jesus in the way that they lead. I remember loving that as I prepared for marriage.

I was delighted when I discovered that in motherhood, we get to play a God-role, too. I remember I just happened to come across this passage in the days Jubilee was learning to walk.

“Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” (Hosea 11:3-4)

As I experienced the absolute joy of holding her tiny hand in mine and patiently leading her around the house, I experienced God in a new way. God is a mother who patiently teaches us to walk, kisses our cheeks, scoops us up when we fall, bends down to feed us and take care of us.

Or, in the very early days when it felt like if sweet Jubi was awake, she was crying, we would bounce her for hours, singing shushes over her. It struck me as a great illustration not only of the way God wants to comfort us (desperately!) but also of how sometimes we refuse to receive his comfort. Isaiah 66:13 says,

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

More recently, I’ve been ministered to by the way Psalm 23:6 makes me think of my own mom’s love – “Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life.” My mom, as just an example, traveled to China 4 times and, the second time, courageously did so much on her own even, in a foreign country, to minister to me after my second baby was born overseas. God is a God who will go to great lengths, who will chase us down, and follow us with His goodness and love wherever we go.

As we all know in one way or another, though, motherhood isn’t all heart-exploding joy. Sometimes it’s heart-shattering pain. Or body-shattering pain.

Isaiah 42 compares God’s bringing forth His justice as a woman in labor: “For a long time I have held my peace…now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”

Or, in Hosea 13:8  “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder…” (Did you know “Momma Bear” is a totally Biblical thing? ;-P Just remember that USUALLY your baby’s enemies are not going to be flesh and blood…so you can’t smack the kid who hurts their feelings.)

I’ve had the privilege of seeing the ways many mothers in this very room are always carrying their children around with them (even once they’re grown up). They’re still burdened by their burdens, cry tears for them and with them, and are driven to their knees for their kids as long as they have life in them.

And since I’ve given myself permission to explore the idea of God as Mother, I see IN their tears, prayers, and burdens a reflection of God’s heart. They are playing a “God-role” on behalf of their kids.

There is something, of course, God wants us all to learn about entrusting our burdens to Him ultimately – but we shouldn’t miss the fact that our concern for our children is the image of God in us. God is a good mother. He comforts. He protects. He pursues. He teaches and repeats and patiently waits. I think that as we understand: to the extent we want to be attentive and tender and caring with our children, God is infinitely more attentive and tender and concerned for our children – we can begin to rest in him as mothers with our own children and cares.

…That day in the ER, as Jubilee’s screams of terror transformed into tears of pain, I started crying and I couldn’t stop. It was SO painful to watch her have to experience such acute pain, it was just involuntary. But in retrospect, I was so glad for those tears because they reminded me of God – as mother. And gave me a picture to hopefully help address Jubi’s concerns that God doesn’t love her.

Because: I technically could have prevented that pain. I could have said, no you do not have permission to hold her down or to yank that from her ear. But because I knew that it was ultimately for her good – it had to be done for her wellbeing – I allowed it.

But allowing it didn’t mean I took pleasure in it – it hurt to watch her hurt. And if I – as a barely “good enough” mom – hurt to watch my baby hurt . . . . we can know that God – as a perfect and good mother – certainly does not delight in or remain indifferent to our pain. God is a good mom. God loves us.

As we witness mothers mothering, may it preach to all of our hearts about who we all are as delighted-in and always-pursued children AND about who God is as a tender, compassionate, bottle-up-all-our-tears, follow-us-to-the-ends-of-the-earth – kind of mother.

Photo by Albert Rafael on Pexels.com

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