Warning: this blog is personal and raw in places. God blessed me with that kind of week.
My daughter Elliana had major surgery for a second time in her very young life earlier this week. I don’t tell you that because I’m looking for pity. I’m telling you to give you a little context for my thought life. And there was a lot of thought. If there’s anything I’ve learned about hospitals over my many visits as a pastor and now the few I’ve had as a dad, it’s that you have time to think there. You may not have much else, but you do have that. The hidden blessing in that is that you can’t stuff away spiritual and emotional hurts. You have to deal with them because they stare you in the face.
I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening to me until it happened. We were sitting in preop actually having a pretty good time. They give little kids happy juice before surgery so Elliana got a little goofy and that led to some pretty good belly laughs together. Then it was time to pray as a family before surgery. The millisecond I reached out to God in the intimacy of prayer my voice cracked and there it was – all kinds of emotions rising in me. That’s when I realized I was hurting for my little girl.
There are many surprising things about God. Perhaps one of the more surprising ones is that in moments like I described he hides himself. He didn’t reach down and hug me from heaven, supernaturally comfort me, or wipe away my brief fit of tears with his divine finger. I’m not the only one to notice this phenomenon. It is the way God commonly relates to us. He goes unseen and un-sensed. Isaiah talked about it in his great prophetic work. He said, “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God, and Savior of Israel.” (Isaiah 45:15) Later one of the great church fathers, Martin Luther, even coined a term for this phenomenon. He called it the hidden God.
And, yet, as I worked through my thoughts I was reminded that God was there and he was at work in powerful, beautiful ways. I want to highlight just one of them. He was showing love and care to Elliana through her mother. She comforted her, held her, kissed her, prayed for her, and sang to her. If you think about it, he often works that way. I can see it in my own mother. She was on bed rest for months so my twin and I could get a good start in life. She put Band-aids on my scraped knees. The list could and should go on for eons. My mom was my mom. In my mom and in Elliana’s mom and in all Christian mothers you catch a glimpse of something totally divine. You see God’s heart at work.
Martin Luther talked about that. He talked about how our callings are really “masks of God,” where we see God working through people to love and serve us as the perfect Father he is. Do you see that? It’s why immediately after God gave us commandments about how to relate to him (commandments 1-3), in the very next breath he gave us a commandment about our parents. Parents are that important because they are God’s representatives (one of his masks) to his little people. That’s what I treasure so much about being a dad. I get to show my little princess how the Great, High King feels about her. And I get to do to it everyday.
I remember sitting with my Seminary president just before I graduated. He said a number of things to me, but I remember one of them particularly well. He said, “Show them Jesus.” And I understood what he meant. By the life I would lead and the love I would show, I would show people God. No, I’m not calling the pastoral office or fatherhood or motherhood a sacrament or anything like that. I’m simply pointing out that these people are God’s representatives and, therefore, God is hiding his service and care to us in the people who minister to us.
Do you see that? You may not have sensed God hugging you when you scraped your knee, but he gave you a mom who would. You may not have seen God pick you up from school every day for over a decade, but he gave you a mom who would. God may not have physically changed your diapers or helped you with Algebra, but he gave you a mom who would. Moms give and sacrifice, give and sacrifice. And then they do that some more. In that giving and in that sacrificing, God is working out his love and care for you.
That’s what makes that calling so incredibly holy and important. Christian mothers don’t do what they do to preserve their genes, as evolutionary science would have us believe. Christian mothers do what they do because they are people created, sanctified, and motivated by God to do what they do. That’s also what a Christian mother desperately wants her kids to know about her. She wants her kids to see that her love is God’s love and God’s work. After all, that’s whom she works for – the God who redeemed and loved her first.
So here’s what I propose this Mother’s Day weekend. Make a deduction about God based on the love of mothers. That’s actually not such a new idea. It’s the same deduction Jesus had us make when he pointed out in Matthew 7 that if evil fathers give good gifts, just imagine the gift(s) he will give as the perfect Father. Yeah, make that kind of deduction. If broken, sinful mothers kiss away tears after a surgery... if they fiercely stay by their child’s side... if they hold a hurting body... if they turn on Dora or get the nurses attention... if moms do that, just imagine what kind of God would create, redeem, and motivate moms to do that. Make a deduction about the God who underpins all Christian mothers.
Dear Mom, that’s what makes you more important than you ever knew. You represent the God you love. You were God’s mask to show me that a being exists who loves me more than you ever could (imagine that!). You were a mask of the God who loved me enough to not only give me a mom like you, but a brother like Jesus. You were a mask that helped me see that my God has a love that moved him to enact a plan to ensure a future where there is no more surgery or pain. You were a mask that taught me about the God who transcends even a mother’s love to give my family (and yours too, dear reader!) a guaranteed future of life and life and life. Happy Mother’s Day, world!