Abraham Lincoln described the inestimable value of mothers when he said, “no one is poor who had a Godly mother.” Despite Lincoln’s words, maternal relationships can be complicated. For many of us, Mother’s Day can be a joyful day centering on the baptism of a child or grandchild, phone calls, face time, or dinner at Mom’s favorite restaurant. But let’s be honest enough to admit that mothers and daughters (and mothers and sons) often have complex relationships. The complexity of the maternal relationship often lies in the unrealistic expectations that Mothers and their children (of whatever age) put on one another.
I’m thinking of a woman named Judy who never felt she quite measured up to her mother’s expectations. Despite many academic, athletic and career achievements, Judy never heard her Mother say, “Well done.” For Judy, there was always a “hint of criticism” in her Mother’s tone of voice and body language…even when she was affirming Judy. As I listened to Judy, I wondered if the issue was her Mother’s lack of approval, or that Judy could not hear or trust her Mother’s approval of her. Judy grew up in a dysfunctional family, characterized by alcoholism and abuse. At the same time as Judy began to unpack her childhood feelings with a therapist, her mother was diagnosed with early dementia. So…her mother was as mentally unavailable as an older adult as she had been emotionally unavailable for Judy early in her life.
As Judy reflected back on her growing up years, she realized that she wanted desperately to have her Mother’s approval. Judy remembered one Christmas when she had “gone all out” on the holiday decorations prior to her Mother’s visit. But, her Mother never commented on the festive decorations in Judy’s home. However, when they went next door to a neighbor’s home and saw their beautiful decorations, Judy’s Mother exclaimed with enthusiasm, “Now THIS is Christmas!” Judy was crushed! Even at the age of 50, Judy was still seeking to win her mother’s approval. I have a hunch that someone reading this article can relate to Judy!
Mother’s Day is also a challenging day for those who thought and prayed that they would be mothers or grandmothers, but, for many reasons, they are not. It is also challenging for mothers whose children have become emotionally unavailable to them or have shut them out of their lives.
In the midst of the joys and challenges of Mother’s Day, Jesus has a shocking message for mothers, children, and all of us: “Put God First in Your Life!” What Jesus is saying is that if any human relationship takes the place that only God can occupy, all of our relationships will be distorted. But, if God is number one in our lives, then our self-esteem comes from God and not from human relationships. We will not look to our mothers, or our children…or to any human relationship…for self –esteem and approval. When we put God as the number one priority of our lives, we are free to love people without strings attached and to allow them to blossom without trying to compete with them…or put them down. It is the way God intended for us to live.
In the world of unfulfilled expectations, disappointments and let downs, there is good news! There is SOMEONE who wants to be the stable center of our lives whose love is unconditional…his name is Jesus Christ. He loves us with no strings attached. He died on the cross to redeem us…and he can help us to love the challenging people of our lives… and to help them bloom where they are planted.
Are we willing to heed Jesus’s shocking Mother’s Day message? It might just change your life!