My mommy was my first pastor

mom summer 2011 cropped

This is a picture of my mom holding my son Isaiah two summers ago. I preached a sermon that summer in the Dominican Republic on their Mother’s Day which is the last Sunday in May. My passage was 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. If it sounds more simple and straightforward than how I usually write, it’s because it was originally written in Spanish and my vocabulary is limited. Basically my point was that mothers are called to be the pastors of their family. That’s what my mother was to me, and it has made all the difference.

How many of you wake up to the sound of rooster crowing? In my country we don’t have roosters in the city so we wake up to the scream of an alarm clock. But when I was a boy I didn’t have a rooster or alarm clock since my mother woke up up every morning. She always began with a soft voice and a bright smile. Now if I didn’t open my eyes quickly, she would threaten to tickle my feet or dump water on my head. But every morning of my childhood, the first thing I saw was the smile of my mother.

This was actually how I learned the meaning of grace. Many days I disobeyed my mother and she had to punish me, but I always know that the next day I could begin with a clean slate because I didn’t see the sins of yesterday in the morning smile of my mother. In many ways I can say that my first pastor was my mother. Now that I’m a pastor I see that the calling to be a mother is very similar to the calling to be a pastor, because the two calls have to do with seeking the well-being of people in our care and the good that we seek for them is the will of God for their lives.

1 Corinthians 13 describes the aspects of the ideal love that a good mother has for her children. Open your Bibles with me to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and hear the Word of the Lord: “Love is patient; love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude or self-seeking or easily angered. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

I don’t know if other people have the same experience but when I read these sentences, I see a perfect description of my mother. I’m sure that there are fathers who have patience and kindness in their love but in my experience as a father, I lack many of these qualities of love in how I treat my sons. Perhaps the role of a father is different than that of a mother, but I see many lessons about how to be a father and even a Christian in watching the love that my wife shows to my sons. The love of a good mother is an excellent model of love for us as Christians. But I should clarify a few things.

First, to be a woman with children does not mean that you’re a good mother. In my country, there are many teenagers who get pregnant and have babies when they’re not ready to care for them. Sometimes, God uses motherhood to transform a teenager and maker her into a responsible and dignified adult. I have witnessed this personally! But other times, mothers tragically reject the call of motherhood and treat their children with abuse and neglect. There are other obstacles to being a good mother. Some are obvious and very serious like drug addiction or unstable relations with men. Others are more subtle and common: selfishness, envy, emotional insecurity, a manipulative personality. The truth is that mothers have sins just like all humans. So how can mothers have the qualities of love from 1 Corinthians 13?

My answer is very simple. A mother can be a vessel of the love of God when she trusts in Christ. This is the only way to maintain patience confronted by the rudeness of your children, to keep no record of wrongs despite thousands of daily adversities, to pardon all the disobedience, to believe in your kids in spite of whatever sins, to hope surrounded by the brokenness of life, and to persevere even in the times when you walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Only trust in Christ above all things, in spite of all things, as the Lord of all things.

There are two aspects to this trust in Christ that define the good mother. First a good mother trusts in Christ as her Savior. She trusts that His blood is sufficient for her. This is to say that she doesn’t have to prove anything to anybody because she sees herself as a person who has been pardon by God. God’s pardon expressed in the blood of Christ is the foundation of the life of a good mother.

God’s pardon cleanses us of defensive attitudes, of arrogance, of empty and selfish agendas that a fallen world has taught us. When we accept God’s pardon, our hearts are opened and the Holy Spirit enters them to clean and sanctify us and cultivate fruit like patience, kindness, mercy, humility, hope, and the perfect love of God. The qualities of love that a good mother has are the fruit of a heart opened to the Holy Spirit by the blood of Jesus.

Now there’s a another way that we trust in Christ, not just as our Savior but as our Lord also. These aren’t just pious words that we say about Jesus; each term has a specific meaning. As our savior, Jesus offers us God’s pardon; as our Lord, Jesus directs us to God’s purpose for our lives. A good mother trusts in both the pardon and plan of God. When a good mother trusts in the purpose of God for her life and the lives of her children, her motherhood is transformed from a physical relationship to a holy calling. As a holy calling, motherhood takes on the qualities of love described in 1 Corinthians 13. And God uses this love as a means of grace for the children of the good mother. The ways of a good mother become evangelism and sanctification for her children.

Now pay attention, because patience and kindness only have value as part of God’s purpose. Outside of this purpose, a patient and kind mother can easily become an abused and exploited mother. But the good mother is submitted to the purpose of God and for this reason she receives like a wise pastor all the challenges of motherhood: the rebellion, the disrespect, the embarrassment of public misbehavior. This is not to say that there is no discipline and punishment. It’s just that the good mother does not respond to her children with selfish motives or personal insecurities, only as a pastor of her family who wants the will of God for her children.

Thus it is through her trust in Jesus as savior and the Lord of her life that a good mother becomes a vessel of God’s love. The good mother doesn’t always say “Yes” to her children; she doesn’t give them money or candy every time that they holler. Because the good mother is a pastor called by God to raise disciples of Jesus Christ and it’s through the good mothers of the world that God establishes His kingdom to the ends of the Earth.

One thought on “My mommy was my first pastor

  1. Thank you, Lord, for our mothers.

    Sometime back in my 30’s I came to the realization that all the things I liked about myself came from my mother. Not that my father wasn’t loving. It’s just that love was rarely his first response to anything. Usually, he had to filter it through how it would make him feel about himself.

    For instance, his birds-and-the-bees talk with me consisted of this stern warning: “If I ever have to visit the parents of a girl and tell them that you got their daughter pregnant, you won’t have to marry her because I will shoot you myself.”

    My mother, on the other hand, when I told her that the prospect of dating was too challenging to approach, told me this little fib: “I always thought you were the most beautiful of all my children.”

    That’s grace.

    I pray that I can model my mother in my interactions when someone vexes me, that I may find a way to relieve the burdens of others, as my mother always did with me.

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