Mother’s Day is that special day that comes around once a year when our attention rightly focuses on our moms. According to the Oxford Dictionary, a mother is “a woman who has borne a child.” Really? That’s it? To be a mother means you have procreated?

I think Sydney Harris has it right: “Being a mother isn’t simply a matter of having children. To think that is as absurd as believing that having a piano makes one a musician.” It is not surprising the secular world would be amiss and fall short of understanding what a mother is, or for that matter what a father is, because motherhood was God’s idea. He knows what makes a good one. He has seen many in His through the years. The story of one such great mother He had recorded in the Old Testament. Her name was Hannah.

I like art. I enjoy a good painting. A good friend of mine is one of Canada’s top landscape artists. I don’t know a lot about the technical aspects of art, actually almost nothing. In spite of my ignorance I still like looking at a good painting. I love knowing or imagining the story in the painting or the author’s story behind it, that is, what prompted the artist to paint the picture.

Today, I would like to paint a picture of how a godly mother looks, basing my theme on the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1. Beforehand, I need to prepare the canvas by laying out a foundational question. Are mothers important?

There is the obvious point that without mothers none of us would be here today; this is the procreation bit. More than that, our characters have been indelibly marked and impacted by our mothers—for good or bad.

Mothers play a very significant role in a person’s development. They are game changers one way or another. There is not always a direct correlation, but godly people refer frequently to the influence of having a godly mother. Of course, the converse is sometimes true, too.

In this story, Samuel had a godly mother. What about you? If you have had a godly mother then you are very fortunate and should be very thankful today. Yet for some, remembering your mother brings pain and sadness. For you, this day may be a day to start the process of healing, reconciliation and forgiveness.

The fact is mothers have had a huge impact on the world. I am sure to some degree Jesus was influenced and shaped by His mother, Mary. John the Baptist was allowed to be the eccentric individual he was because he had an affirming, loving mother. Let’s face it: How many mothers would allow their children to go out in public having never shaved and wearing clothes made of camel hair? This makes ear piercings and dyed hair seem tame. How many mothers would tell their best friends you packed your son’s lunch box with his favorite meal of locusts and wild honey?

Look throughout history. John Wesley credits his mother for his spiritual formation and passion for Christ. That experience could be told time and again.

On the other side of the coin, there are mothers who may have had a negative impact on their children. Who would like to have Jezebel as a mother? David Koresh, the cult leader in Waco, Texas, spoke about how his mother never protected him from her live-in boyfriend. I always have wondered about Adolf Hilter’s mother. How did she raise her son? What values did she emphasize?

To be a mother is to be a major influencer in the world. A mother plays a primary role in molding and shaping the lives of countless people. Yet it seems in this day and age motherhood is considered to be something passé. To be a mother is to be less important than a career or finding out who you are. By the way, the same is true of fathers.

Hollywood often portrays motherhood in the same light as slavery or some form of bondage instituted by humankind. It seems motherhood and children simply get in the way of a woman living her life. However, motherhood is something God created and saw as good. Therefore, the first point I want to make is that mothers are important. To be a mother is a very good thing.

So what made Hannah a great mother? What can we learn about godly motherhood from her?

Mothers Matter When They Are Committed to God and Prayer
Even in her deepest anguish, Hannah was committed to God and prayer (v. 1:10). Her heartfelt pain and shame was that she had no children. On top of this, she had to endure the daily taunting of Peninnah mocking her barenness, particularly when they went to the house of the Lord each year. The mocking continued when she arrived at the temple to pray as Eli, the priest, accused her of being drunk (vv. 1:21-28). Nevertheless, she continued to pray earnestly, humbly trusting and persevering in God. God heard the mother with an humble and contrite heart.

I have a good friend who was a pastor’s kid who rebelled in every conceivable way. Most everyone in the church had written him off, and many (not so subtly) suggested his mother should do the same. Relentlessly, she held onto God for him. Then one day it came to a head when she was attending a church camp. She entered the chapel and got down on her knees and looked up to God and said, “I am not leaving here until You give me my son back and I know he will follow You.”

Three hours later, she got up with her answer. Not long after, her son found himself at a church altar committing himself to Christ, and within months thereafter attending seminary. He is a pastor today because of the tenacious commitment of his mother to prayer.

Mothers Matter When They Commit Their Children to the Lord.
We live in a world of entitlement and self-determinism. We believe it is our right to possess and determine how something or someone is used. This is a far cry from the biblical position of seeing all things as gifts to us from God and that we are to submit to God’s will in how we live and how we determine how something is used or how others are to live their lives.

Hannah understood this. She recognized that Samuel was not hers but belonged to God. He was on loan to her from God. The Lord’s will for Samuel took precedence over her own desires for her child. I’m sure this was struggle for her. It was costly. She would miss out on those play dates by the Jordan River, “Hide-and-Sseek” in the hills of Samaria, goodnight cuddles. Regardless, she wanted Samuel to belong to the Lord more than to herself. She preferred the pleasure of knowing her son had followed the Lord; and follow the Lord he did.

When I was a missionary, teaching at a seminary in the Philippines, I talked to many students who were in deep pain. What was their pain? Their parents did not want their children to become pastors. Though many had Christian parents, they did not want their children to become pastors beceause it was not lucrative and held no status. The children were expected to support the parents and siblings. I’m sympathetic to this because many of these students were from very poor families.

Now that I teach in North America, I find the same story, though financially it is not the same sacrifice. Parents, moms also, too often have their minds made up about what their children will do and not do. It takes great trust to believe God has the very best interests in mind for our children. Hannah understood this and put the full weight of her heart onto God.

Mothers Matter When Their Love Is Sacrificial.
Hannah exemplifies the teaching of Jesus. She was willing to lose her life for the sake of God. She was willing to lay down her life for her son. In a most tangible way, she was willing to give up everything to have a child, but in accordance with God’s will. Most mothers can relate to this quote: “Before you were born I loved you. Before you were here an hour I would die for you.” This is the fierce love of a mother.

David Lloyd George is remembered as one of the greatest prime ministers of Great Britain (1916-22) yet his past is little known. When he was an infant in Northern England, his mother got caught in a blinding blizzard. Lost and freezing, she huddled beneath a tree for a modicum of shelter, removing her coat and wrapping it around young David. The next day, she was found dead, but the child was still alive.

Mothers Matter When They Love and Are Loved by Their Husbands.
The relationship between love of husband and love of child is not mutually exclusive. Hannah demonstrated this. She loved them equally but differently, one as a husband the other as a son. It is not easy to strike this balance. Related to this, I believe mothers become better mothers when they are loved by their husbands. My in-laws have been married for 56 years, and I bet my mother-in-law would say she was a better mother when she felt loved by her husband.

Elkanah, Hannah’s husband, knew it would be difficult for Hannah to give up Samuel, but he had faith as he said, “the Lord will help you do what you’ve promised” (1 Sam. 1:23). We must remember it would have been difficult for Elkanah, too, to give up Samuel. Samuel was his firstborn male and rightful heir to his property. Elkanah clearly had great trust in Hannah. Not only did he trust her, but he loved her. Why?

The text does not say specifically why he loves her, only that he loves her more than his other wife Peneniah. I don’t have time to look at this issue of having two wives, but suffice it to say, Elkanah’s marriage to Peneniah probably was to provide children to help with the work and provide security in his old age. What I want us to notice is that his love for her was not dependent on whether she had borne him children. His affection was not conditional on what she did or did not do. He loved her just because of who she was, not for what he got. He loved her because he saw her as a gift from God and treated her as such. Husbands, if you want to give your wife a Mother’s Day present, then love her this way.

The other side of the coin of Hannah’s love not being exclusive is that she probably did not show favoritism. It is likely Hannah had more children after Samuel, given that in her prayer she cried out, “a woman did not have a child, and You gave her seven” (1 Sam. 2:5). I believe she showed no more favoritism to any one of her children than she did when she had only her husband and Samuel. If she did have favorites, then it was in the same sense that Erma Bombeck understands favorites.

Every mother has a favorite child. She cannot help it. She is only human. I have mine—the child for whom I feel a special closeness, with whom I share a love that no one else could possibly understand. My favorite child is the one who was too sick to eat ice cream at his birthday party—who had measles at Christmas—who wore leg braces to bed because his toes turned in—who had a fever in the middle of the night, the asthma attack, the child in my arms at the emergency ward.

My favorite child spent Christmas alone away from the family, was stranded after the game with a gas tank on E, lost the money for his class ring.

My favorite child is the one who messed up at the piano recital, misspelled committee in a spelling bee, ran the wrong way with the football, and had his bike stolen because he was careless.

My favorite child is the one I punished for lying, grounded for insensitivity to other people’s feelings, and informed he was a royal pain to the entire family.

My favorite child slammed the doors in frustration, cried when she didn’t think I saw her, withdrew and said she could not talk to me.

My favorite child always needed a haircut, had hair that wouldn’t curl, had no date for Saturday night, and a car that cost $600 to fix. My favorite child was selfish, immature, bad-tempered and self-centered. He was vulnerable, lonely, unsure of what he was doing in the world and quite wonderful.1

All mothers have their favorite child. It is always the same one: the one who needs you at the moment. Who needs you for whatever reason—to cling to, to shout at, to hurt, to hug, to flatter, to reverse charges to, to unload on—but mostly just to be there.

Mothers Matter Because They Bless Our Lives
Some of you are mothers with an empty nest, and your children have started their own families. You are still their mother, but how does it look to be their mother at this stage of their lives?

I believe the key is blessing. Bless your children and your children’s children. This is probably not the time to reprove and correct your children. This is a time to bless your children and encourage them in the hard stuff of life.

There are so many ways in which you can bless your children, and most of them have nothing to do with money. How about a word of encouragement? Try a brief phone call, write a quick email, or post a message on their Facebook page simply to say, “I love you, and I’m praying for you”—then actually pray for them! This will go a long way. Take a moment to inquire about their lives. Be interested in your children’s lives (even if it is not reciprocated). Ask some questions about his or her inner life. If you are able and within range, ask if you can take them or your children’s children for lunch, or make lunch.

With age comes wisdom, and you have so much to offer. Don’t hold it back! Share it in a loving manner. By the way, this does not apply only to your own children. If you know someone who has no mom, then bless them.

Mothers Matter, and We Should Honor Them.
For many of us, our mothers are getting older, and we are now becoming more and more responsible to take care of them. This is normal and is part of life. They have given much, and now they are to receive much. So, the cycle continues. So how do we remain a daughter or son to our mother when she is older?

I believe the key area is honor. The fifth commandment, “Honor your mother so that you may live long in the land,” does not have a time limit or expiration date. It is for life. Jesus said those who humble themselves will be exalted, and those who exalt themselves will be humbled. It remains our task to humble ourselves before our parents to serve them, to be patient with them because it takes them more time to do things than before, to be gracious to them by empowering them to do things for themselves and others.

They are at that stage in life when they need purpose. Mothers never stop being mothers. It is in their DNA to serve just as it is in their Lord’s. Their role has changed, but their desire has not.

Our churches are filled with grandmothers who want to mother. I have seen grandmothers work in the nursery with the young mothers; when they are asked to do so, the experience is richer for all parties. I have seen grandmas meet on a weekly basis as prayer partners for teenagers who are not their grandchildren. I have seen older mothers come along younger single mothers just to be an extra set of hands by picking kids up from school or waiting at home until their mothers return from work.
Do mothers matter? I think the answer to this question is summed up in the ancient Jewish proverb, “God could not be everywhere, so He made mothers.”

1 http://www.thehits.co.nz/polly-grant/chicken-soup-for-the-soul-my-favourite-child/

Craig Smith is professor of biblical studies at Carey Theological College, University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C., Canada.

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