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My Mother’s Day Label

My Mother’s Day Label

The tears came again, today. Mother’s Day actually sneaked up on me this year, and I didn’t even realize it was coming up until two days before. Probably a good thing, that.

No Label For Me

This is the first Mother’s Day that I am a…

Well, what am I, exactly?

Certainly not an orphan – both parents are alive and well. Not a widow – my hubby is still by my side.

There really isn’t a name for what I am. Definitely I am a mother, to which the cards and well-wishes on Mother’s Day from my two beautiful daughters attest. But I feel like I am in a new category, this year. The category of those who approach Mother’s Day with something other than complete joy. The category of those who have tasted motherhood, but lost it.

There isn’t a name for a mother who has lost a child.

Maybe that’s because no label can really appropriately encapsulate the magnitude of being in this category.

Mother’s Day at our church is the day that all of the babies are dedicated. Each parent stands at the front with their child and promises to raise him or her to love The Lord, and, in effect, “gives over” their child to God. I did it with my first two children, not long after they were born.

I “gave over” my third child to God, too. But not on Mother’s Day.

No, Dominic’s dedication happened, not in front of our church family, but in our bedroom, 3 days after his birth, as we prayed over him and sang to him and gave him over to The Lord when he took his last breath.

I got 3 days. 3 days to taste motherhood to Dominic. Just enough to know why there isn’t a name for the mother who loses a child…because nothing can adequately describe it.

So I face this Mother’s Day without a label, without an official anything to mark, to the outside world, just how different I am. Just how different Mother’s Day is for me, now. And it causes me to reflect on what motherhood really is. In fact, this is the first Mother’s Day, I think, that I’ve truly understood it. The first parent-honoring holiday that I enter with a complete experience of just what this “thing” is that we honor.

Motherhood is God’s opportunity for the fullest expression of who He is.

“Me” Becomes “You”

We – all of us -are just inherently selfish. We focus on winning and being the best and getting our due and protecting our “rights”. We work to get “self-esteem” and we endeavor to “find ourselves” and we plan out how we are going to accomplish what we want to accomplish. We “choose”, we desire, we take and we…well, we “we“. We spend our whole lives “we”-ing. Until we become parents.

And then it all changes.

Then, suddenly, “me” becomes “you”. A child enters the picture and the universe shifts. For all but the most damaged of us, parenthood ushers in an era of “Not me, anymore”. Cool vehicles get sold for minivans. Expensive artwork gets replaced by crayon drawings.  Money for new high heels or an updated table lamp goes toward piano lessons. Formal dinners out and paid entertainment become eschewed for mashed sweet potatoes from a jar and tummy time in front of the t.v.

It all happens without us even realizing it. And, ironically, every step we take away from ourselves and shifting our focus on to these little people – we get. We receive. We benefit, ourselves. Every bit of giving to our children gets us a little closer to experiencing who God is, and brings us more joy.

Kind of like what Jesus said: “ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25). And kind of like Jesus did: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Mark 10:45.

Parenthood ushers us, whether we realize it or not, into exactly the kind of love Jesus talks about.

Motherhood Reflecting God

Motherhood moves us from focusing on ourselves to focusing on others; from receiving to giving. It is God’s way of naturally drawing us out of the bondage of “rights” for ourselves into the freedom of responsibility to others. Parenthood allows us to experience the truth of what we often fight in practicality: that the best joy of life, the most profound freedom in world is found not by choosing ourselves but by pouring out ourselves for and into others.

There is a reason that parenthood draws us into the experience of God. John 3:27 says, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven”.

Parenthood is merely a reflection of the relationship the Trinity enjoys. That perfect, mind-blowing, simultaneous individuality, unity, and community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit that mutually gives and receives, loves and is loved, originates and participates. Real motherhood is an opportunity to live out, on earth, the essence of the Trinity. It is the divine chance to experience the Source of giving and love while we simultaneously practice it and participate in it. Motherhood is God’s invitation to live out tangibly what He tells us scripturally –  to experience the I am here, in our world, in an intimate, real and concrete way.

With parenthood, The Lord allows us to experience the first taste of his fullness and Truth and love – that only by giving up ourselves for others, only by selflessly choosing others over ourselves, can we find true joy for ourselves. Selflessly giving to children is a grace-laden opportunity to experience the first level of true joy and freedom in this life: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Most of us who are parents have experienced that. Motherhood has allowed me to experience that joy and freedom so many times over, as I have, through loving and giving to my children, received far more than I gave.

But this Mother’s Day, the Lord has brought me to understand something new. By losing my son, I feel like The Lord has shown me the next level of motherhood. The next level of who He is, as reflected in parenthood.

Not Just Denying; Dying

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. Matthew 16:24. Denying self is the first step. Motherhood helps to set us on that path. But the second part – taking of their cross – requires death. In Luke 14:33 Jesus puts it this way: “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Everything. It’s not enough to simply deny ourselves by giving to others. That natural giving part of parenthood only shows us part of the picture of the Lord. For the full picture, the whole experience, we have to give up everything.

No, it doesn’t always have to mean death of a person. It can be death of pride or death of self-reliance or death of control – the death of whatever holds our hearts to this earth and away from the Lord. But for me, death of my son is what has catapulted me from just being on a path toward denying myself, to really, completely, wholeheartedly following Him. In a “Lord, I don’t want anything else but You” kind of way.

I wasn’t able to grasp love, to “get” giving, to truly follow, until I experienced the death of the very thing He had given me to help me deny myself – my child.

God allowed me to experience the first part of Him when I became a parent. The more I gave as a mother, the more I have experienced joy. But, ironically, that joy kept me bound to this earth – to the objects of my giving, my children. My plans, purposes, and focus centered around this life and this world I was creating with and for my children. As fulfilling as motherhood has been, it has missed the mark of the completeness God has intended for me. Because just giving of ourselves – even giving to others such as our children – doesn’t get us to the ultimate joy. We can never experience the fullness, the complete measure of God-joy available, for which we were created, until the object of our giving isn’t even others.

We can only experience the fullness of joy when the object of our giving, and the impetus for our giving, is Him.

By denying ourselves, by giving to others, we get the first level of joy and freedom. Only by taking up our cross and giving up everything for Him do we begin to come close to experiencing the fullness of who He is. Matthew 16:25 “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”. The Trinity chose loss. That perfect love amongst Father, Son and Holy Spirit was temporarily broken when the Son took on the sin of the world in death. The triune God gave up everything for love of us.

Good parents give up themselves for their children. The Perfect Parent gave up Himself by giving up His child.

Grief is the price of love. The more we give in love, the more we grieve when love on this earth is lost. And the more we grieve when love on this earth is lost, the more our hearts become open to the Source of love. And, when we find the Source of love, we realize that the very things we thought we lost have been redeemed and fulfilled.

In grieving, we feel love most fully. In loss, we give most completely. It is those very things that put us in the position to experience the Source of love and life, rather than merely its reflection.

A New Label

This Mother’s Day, I don’t have my son. And I grieve for him. But, if I could do it all over again, knowing that he would die, would I?

Yes.

And that’s because The Lord has given me more than he has taken away.

Before, I worked to navigate this life according to my own devices and abilities. Now I know how He is in control and can watch for where He leads. Before, I trusted primarily in myself and let The Lord in when my own efforts failed. Now I know how He sustains me as the only thing I have left. Before, devotion times were discipline-driven episodes that I often had to remember to do. Now, devotion times are the lifeline by which I crave God’s presence and voice and without which I cannot move forward in my day. Before, I lived for some esoteric future time when, once “_______” was attained or fixed, I would be content. Now I am able to find contentment in the present moment, regardless of what is happening in that moment. Before, I sometimes heard the Lord’s voice but struggled to know when He was speaking to me with clarity. Now I hear the Lord speaking so often and so clearly that I feel a continual sense of humility and awe. Before, I oriented my life around my purposes, plans, and desires within this world. Now I see everything in light of eternity, and the plans He has for me until I get there. Before, I loved my children selfishly and protectively, as if they were mine. Now, I love my children freely and securely, knowing they are His. Before, my parenting was motivated by love for my children. Now, my parenting is motivated by the Source of love.

I have learned the next level of motherhood. When we give up everything, even the very children He has given us to help us learn to deny ourselves, He gives us everything. He gives us Himself.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

This Mother’s Day is hard, and I mourn. It is hard because I am a mother without a child. But that death has led me to take up my cross and follow Him. And, because of that, I now have a label. I am in a new category, this Mother’s Day.

I am not an orphan. I am not a widow. I am a mother who has lost a child, but who has been drawn by that death to Him. I now can be called…

Blessed.

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