What Mothers Do

Have you seen this classified ad?

JOB DESCRIPTION: Long term team players needed for challenging permanent work in an often chaotic environment. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call. Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in faraway cities. Travel expenses not reimbursed.

RESPONSIBILITIES: Must provide on-site training in basic life skills, such as nose blowing. Must have strong skills in negotiating, conflict resolution and crisis management. Ability to suture flesh wounds a plus. Must be able to think out of the box but not lose track of the box, because you most likely will need the box for a school project. Must reconcile petty cash disbursements and be proficient in managing budgets and resources fairly, unless you want to hear, “She got more than me!” for the rest of your life. Also, must be able to drive motor vehicles safely under loud and adverse conditions while simultaneously practicing above-mentioned skills in conflict resolution. Must be able to withstand criticism, such as “You don’t know anything.” Must be willing to be hated at least temporarily, until someone needs $10 to go skating. Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly. Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule. Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers. Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects. Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks. Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next. Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys and battery operated devices. Also, must have a highly energetic entrepreneurial spirit, because fund-raiser will be your middle name. Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product. Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.

ADVANCEMENT/PROMOTION POSSIBILITIES: None. Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you.

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: None required. On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.

WAGES AND COMPENSATION: You pay them, offering frequent raises and bonuses. A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent. When you die, you give them whatever is left.

BENEFITS: While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered, job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth and free hugs for life if you are successful.

Every mother here this morning knows that mothering brings more joy and love and fulfillment than seems possible. But every mother here this morning knows that the role of mothering also brings more fears and sorrows and heartbreak than ever imagined.

It is all part of the continually changing, growing, extending, exhausting, exhilarating job description of motherhood.

Who was it that said, “You take the good with the bad?” There’s honest-to-goodness suffering associated with mothering and motherhood all down the line. It starts with the nausea of morning sickness and the pains of childbirth. It continues until and beyond the time your child is retired and drawing social security.

But mothers always have a way of looking at the bright side, of seeing the cup half-full, not half-empty. I grew up in a house with crumbling shingles, a gravel driveway, cracked sidewalks, splintery, unfinished wood floors, no AC or central heat or color TV, and no shower.  Naturally, I was a whiner who lamented the fact that all my friends had so much more than I did.

But mom would remind me that I always had clothes on my back, a bed, and plenty of food. (Mom was indeed a terrific cook.)  She would tell me that the family was scrimping so that she could send me to parochial school.  (Which she dutifully did for 12 years.) She taught me how to pray each day and worship God in church on Sunday.  And she pushed me to study hard in school so I could go to college and have a choice of careers so as not to end up in the coal mines like my grandfather did, or the blast furnace where my dad toiled six days a week.

It’s the gift of looking down the road, checking out the long-range goal, that makes those toughest mothering-moments simply bittersweet, never simply bitter. Suffering through the hardest days of motherhood is possible because the lifetime of love you have for your children, your family, flows up and over the disappointments of any single moment. The vision that helps any mom get through and go on is that of a grown child, loving and caring, capable and confident, nurtured to full potential.

The sufferings in motherhood pale in comparison to such a glorious, prayed-for result.

Many years ago, in Austin, Texas, a woman gave birth to a beautiful baby, healthy in every way but one – the child had no ears. The infant had auditory openings and all the inner ear parts necessary to receive sound, but no fleshy part outside that we call ears. The doctor assured the parents that the problem could be corrected when the boy reached his full growth and a donor could be found.

Well, it was tough on the little guy when he started school. Many times he came home crying, “I’m a freak,” when he was subjected to the stares, whispers, and taunts of the other children. He grew up learning to cope with it, supported by the love of his parents. He became an excellent student in school, graduated from high school at the top of his class and entered college to study geology.

One day he received a call from his father, who told him a donor had been found and that the surgery would occur soon. Following the successful operation, the young man found a whole new dimension of happiness in his life. He now felt whole. He graduated with honors from college and went off to his first job in a distant state, and enrolled for some classes in graduate school.

One day another telephone call came from his father with the news that his mother had sustained a serious heart attack. He rushed home, but arrived too late, for she had expired a short time before he reached the hospital. Later at the mortuary, his father called him to the mother’s casket and pushed back her hair to show the son that his mother had no ears.

The father said, “She made me promise never to tell you.”

Today is Mother’s Day and so we naturally think of those special qualities of life and love that make a mother. Perhaps it’s also true that each of us as Christians, regardless of gender, are called to mother the world for Christ’s sake. Jesus himself claimed the image of a mother hen who longs to cluck and call her scattered chicks up under the safe protection of her wings. Like good mothers we must always be known by our love.

Children can baffle you and break your heart. But they can bring you great joy as well. Maybe that’s why God had children. Certainly we baffle God with our actions. And occasionally we break God’s heart. Still, God loves us so much that God sent his son to give his life on our behalf.

On this Mother’s Day, it would be good if we remembered Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was baffled by her son. Mary did not understand Jesus’ teachings. She knew better than anyone else that he was sent from God, but he didn’t talk like the other religious figures in their culture.  In fact, many of his teachings were in direct conflict with the conventional wisdom of their time. She and his brothers worried about him. They even asked him to come home. They knew that no good could come from challenging the established order of things.

And they did well to worry. For soon the establishment struck back. And Mary had to watch her son die on a cross. But after Jesus’ resurrection, Mary began to understand just who Jesus was. And she became one of his followers.

Mary loved her son and stood by him to the end. That is what life is all about. Love within the human family. Love within the divine family. Love, which comes from the heart of God.  It’s what God – and mothers – do.