My grandmother once told me about growing up in in a big Catholic family in Brooklyn, with a God-fearing woman who fearlessly gave birth to five girls and nine boys as her mother. One day while she was at school at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the topic of Heaven came up between my grandmother and her teacher, Sister Ann Elizabeth. “Surely you’re going to Heaven, Sister,” my grandmother exclaimed. Sister Ann Elizabeth took her by the hand, however, and said, “Oh, no, no. Your mother—she’s the real saint. She has given life. She birthed you and your brothers and sisters and she’s raised you in a loving household. She’s brought you up in the Faith. She’s the one who will reach Heaven long before I ever do.”
This struck me, especially because it came from a “Religious” at a time when religious life was seen by many to be holier than married life. That being said, I have no doubts that many mothers are much more worthy of a place in Heaven than I’ll ever be.
Yesterday, as I sat in a pew at Mass, I allowed myself one of the sweetest little distractions. The baby being rocked by a young mother in front of me was the cutest thing in the world. She had the chubbiest cheeks, a slight smile, and these big brown eyes graciously fixed on her mother as she soaked in the love. As it turns out, I was not the only one gawking at how insanely adorable she was—two little girls were fawning over her too. They were each probably about seven years old; they had their hair pulled back in braids by very pink, very girly hair elastics; and they were both completely checked out of their families gathered around them and everything else going on in church. They sat there, gazing longingly at this cute baby nestled in the arms of her mother. They were captivated by the precious new life.
Thank God for little girls and momma’s hearts, for it is these hearts that will grow up to give life and a wealth of love to a world—made up of children—in such need of nurturing compassion.
In an article titled “The Godliness of Motherhood,” Dr. Donald DeMarco describes the mystery of motherhood and the feminine heart quite well:
According to a Jewish proverb, “God could not be everywhere, so He made mothers.” This is a fine, enduring sentiment. I do think, however, that by reversing the statement we come closer to the truth: “God could be everywhere and proved it by creating mothers.” This image is consistent with the American novelist William Makepeace Thackeray’s remark, in Vanity Fair, that “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.”
A mother is a reflection of God. We know this simply by the fact that God created man in His own image, “male and female He created them.” But what I mean is that: to be a mother is a special vocation. It is unique. And the heart with which so many mothers and little girls alike are endowed conveys the nature of God in a very particular way.
God, we believe, is neither male nor female. However, it is probably more fitting, or at least more understandable, to say that He is both male and female. We believe He is everything good. He is strong—He is the just judge—but He is also intrinsically kind and full of mercy. Unfortunately, the masculine pronoun and the fact that God came in the person of Jesus Christ often leads us to forget God’s feminine qualities. Nevertheless, Isaiah 49:14-15 establishes a connection between the God of Israel and the mother of a child:
Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget you, I will never forget you.
In other words, the closest thing to God’s remembrance, faithfulness, and tenderness are those a mother has for her child. What a beautiful gift. In our mothers, our daughters, our sisters—we get an entirely different glimpse of God’s nature than we would if we thought of Him merely as the God who chastised His people throughout the Old Testament or the strong (and very much bearded) man who gave Himself to death on a tree underneath a scorching Jerusalem sun some two-thousand years ago. We meet a God who is nurturing—a God who has shared an intimate bond with us, like the one a newborn shares with its mother, since the time in our mother’s wombs.
Praise God for that. I know I’m only the man I am today because of a mother’s love. My mom has laid down her life in service to me and to the rest of our family. She has offered me grace and forgiveness every single time I’m a selfish jerk. She does all that she can to ease my worry, and she has borne my hurts upon her heart. She’s perhaps striving with me and making this journey called “Life” with me like none other. Most importantly, she has loved me well, just as God has.
My mom is one of my best friends.
That being said, I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the love of my dad, either. My dad has taught me everything I know of integrity, and he has left me a great example of selflessly providing for the needs of others. He has inspired me and given me the support to dream bigger, go farther. His humor has taught me the importance of laughing from your belly regularly. He, too, has loved me like my Father in Heaven has.
My dad is my other best friend.
But I also know that my dad wouldn’t be here if not for the love of his mother. That’s because, when the doctor recommended my grandmother have an abortion due to some complicating factors and the risk that her baby would be imperfect, she unequivocally refused—just as God, who knew how imperfect we would be, still chose to bear us out of love.
What a marvel we have in mothers—in the young girl’s heart. What a marvel we have in our perpetually Life-giving God. Together, they fit beautifully.
Give thanks for the women in your life today—for the beautiful capacity they have to share a taste of Love and grace that speaks only of the Lord. Don’t complain about all the hormones and feelings. They’re part of what makes her the beautiful (and sometimes scary) thing she is: a woman.
Don’t tell the little girl doting on her dolls “it’s time to grow up,” either. Wrap her in love and encourage her to blossom into the well of life she’s made to be for so many. Honor her and cherish her. Her outpouring of love will be one-hundredfold, and the earth will be ever more full of God’s goodness once we celebrate both femininity and motherhood for everything they can be. I’d have to say that’s pretty awesome if you ask me.
Thank God for little girls and thank God for mommas’ hearts.