Sermon,  Sermons

Living Like a Mother-Father

sermon, part 1. Follow links to parts 2 and 3.

We often have a complicated relationship with our mothers –

We want our mothers to nurture and guide, support and nourish, to always be there when we need them, always forgive when we lash out at them, to be vulnerable and impervious. We want them to be and do everything.

In a recent article, Women Did Everything Right. Then Work Got ‘Greedy.’,  states that “American women of working age are the most educated ever. Yet it’s the most educated women who face the biggest gender gaps in seniority and pay: At the top of their fields, they represent just 5 percent of big company chief executives and a quarter of the top 10 percent of earners in the United States. ” But then these same jobs, in order to advance, one must increasingly work longer hours. And when both parents are engaged in similar industries, something’s gotta give.

“Working mothers today spend as much time with their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s. The number of hours that college-educated parents spend with their children has doubled since the early 1980s, and they spend more of that time interacting with them, playing and teaching.” And we wonder why so few families find time to worship together on a Sunday morning.

Complicated relationship with motherhood itself –

Do I really want to bring a child into this violent world? Do I really want to make my body go through all the changes it must endure? Women die in childbirth, and the stretch marks . . . The idea of growing a person inside oneself seeing the alarming evidence of that growth along with disappearing feet . . . and having no choice but to get that person out . . . somehow!

and the first thing we ask about the baby: is it a boy or a girl?

Complicated relationship with the idea of cultural expectations of motherhood and fatherhood.

Research on effective leadership clearly shows that there is no correlation between assigned gender of the student and efficacy of the instruction according to the instructor’s gender. In fact, it is shown that all students irrespective of assigned gender learns best when the information is given by someone who exhibits gender-neutral characteristics – showing warmth and concern, and are assertive and confident, displaying control and flexibility.  

When our first 2 children were very young a friend gave us the book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber, published in 1999. It’s written as cartoon strips of sample conversations to help parents navigate children’s strong feelings and engage them in conversation more productively – and ultimately, more intimately. It is all about hearing them into deeper speech, listening to their personhood, not the behavior or sounds escaping their mouths.

By the fourth child we became a little less intentional about hat kind of listening . . . Though, I do believe it did become more or less an habitual way of speech. Because, really, we all long to be listened to with such grace and attention, right?

Jesus said:

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” 

John 10:27

The scripture here doesn’t say any other way that Jesus knows the sheep, the people, other than they know his voice – that is, there is loving attention, regular, consistent, relevant words – words that instruct, that comfort, that teach and express love.  

To be known is to be loved and to be loved is to be known.

“It’s a frightful thing – thinking you have to get God right in order to get God to love you, thinking you’re always one error away from damnation. It’s a kind of legalism, really… How ironic. The very condition of humanity is to be wrong about God. The moment we figure God out, God ceases to be God. Maybe it’s time to embrace the mystery and let ourselves off the hook.” 

– Rachel Held Evans

Never felt comfortable with womanly, motherly ideas of personhood. Growing up, on occasion someone might ask whether I was a boy or girl. And it actually pleased me. I always had short hair, hated pink and frills. I loved climbing trees and exploring and pushing myself to be stronger, better.

What makes a good person? A good mother? Father? We might enjoy some so-called equality in industry, but household matters tend to be more at the forefront of a mother’s agenda. Or, at least, the cultural expectation women have (and men typically don’t) to be the go-to. I should say, even those things are changing, but it does require a paradigm shift in thinking – I still take on things out of such expectation, unthinking, other than that I don’t want to appear a bad mother.

(Also, I am aware of a number of family units in which the mom has left and the dad remains to work and parent alone.)

We have had this idea that being equal means acting like the ones who hold power. For some reason the idea that violence and crass language elevates everyone to the same level. Well, the latter is leveling – though likely not elevating . . . But, “women in power have consistently adapted to the existing masculinized culture, where they serve as honorary males.”

And that is exactly where we go wrong: the idea that someone must be in power in order to be of influence. A good leader does not require control. Good leadership does not mean those who follow, do so because they are afraid to do otherwise. Good leadership is infectious, it is relational. It is intentional and patient, kind, not boastful, not arrogant or rude . . .  sound familiar? – it’s Love.

They hear my voice. And I know them.  . . . and they follow. I love them by knowing them, know them by loving, listening to them instead of trying to control the outcome of the conversation.

They recognize me because I am there. They trust me because I get to know them. My kids follow – well, when they follow – they do so because we have had a bajillion conversations; we listen to each other (usually) – but I must be the first to listen.

That sounds frustrating. You seem excited. Wow, that must really be confusing.

And they might say, Exactly! Or, Well, no, not that, but . . .

John 6:35-40 Jesus said:

 . . . Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away . . . And this is the will of God, that I should lose nothing of all given me . . .

Our teenagers are graduating and still need our care and nurture, guidance. How do we continue to provide this?

How do we provide nurture and guidance when we have our own grief – loss of mother or father? Or harm done by the same? How can we fill the void for one another whereby filling our own void?

Shekinah – it is the dwelling with and indwelling of God, of the in/dwelling Triunity; creating space, whereby being filled.

Walt Whitman likens this creative movement to attentiveness to nature, and it is my instruction to the graduates here right now – and all of us who stand with them:

“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.

Your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the riches fluency no only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

I imagine the wrinkles around my eyes intoning “one-who-notices,” the arthritic joints, “preparer of food” or “hugger-of-the-recently-fallen,” even “wielder-of-the-circular-saw.” Perhaps the stretchmarks on my body are a poem, richly fluent, speaking “mother” “parent” “friend” “champion” “companion.”

Our kids teach us about motherhood and fatherhood – parenthood. And they teach us about leadership. Each is unique. So the way we lead and parent is unique. It is in the Shekinah, the indwelling of God, dwelling with one another, creating space, being filled, being more because of one another. So living like a mother-father is really living like a leader – the leader that Jesus teaches us, and that seems only to require that we are known by our voice and know those in our care. This is love. This is leadership. This is parenting.