Today I will be reading the scripture from the King James Version of the Bible in honor of the fact that this May is its 401st year anniversary of this translation. This scripture lesson is from the book of 1 Corinthians chapter 13. I invite you to listen for God’s word.
These words are no doubt familiar to you. You have most likely heard this passage from 1 Corinthians at a wedding. It is a favorite for such occasions. You may not realize that renowned biblical scholars lament its use for such purposes. Theologians would have you know that this text actually has little to do with marital love. It follows a chapter in which Paul paints a picture of the kind of Christian community we are called to create. In chapter 13, Paul is describing the type of love needed to make that kind of community possible. Theologian Karoline Lewis writes, “Against all popular opinion, this is not a passage about romantic love, but about a radical communal love that enables individuals to imagine life in a community where unity and difference can co-exist.” This perspective casts an interesting light on the text.0
Now that I have done my scholarly duty and set you straight about the text, I can proceed to refer to it in another unintended way; as a beautiful description of the kind of love a mother has for her child. Let’s listen to the words again with that special relationship in mind. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered. Love always hopes, always perseveres.” This is such an inspiring text when related to motherhood. Most of you know that 3 months ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Honestly, these past 12 weeks have been some of the most challenging of my life. Before I became a mother, people described to me what it would be like, but nothing prepared me for the complexity and demands of being a mom. I love my little girl more than I can capture with words. I wish I could say that my love has all those admirable qualities from 1 Corinthians, but it doesn’t. When I’m exhausted I’m not very good at being patient. My love puffs me up with pride and I boast about having the most beautiful and intelligent daughter. At 4am, when I’ve only slept for 3 hours, I am easily angered. So I’m not perfect, but I am persevering. I look at this biblical description of love, and it inspires me to try to love in this way, so that one day my daughter might read this passage, like I did, and it might make her think of the way she was loved.
When I was younger and I didn’t understand something or if I disagreed with my mother, she would say to me “One day you’ll have a daughter of your own and then you’ll understand.” I remember dismissing her when she said this. I thought I was just as smart, if not smarter than she was. As the feisty child I was, I often disagreed with her. Why was she making me eat my vegetables? Why couldn’t I yell at my brother? Why did I need those time outs? Why did I have to have a curfew? Why couldn’t I wear that short skirt? Why shouldn’t I date that person? Maybe you and your mom argued over some of the same issues. Can you think of disagreements you had with your mom?
There were many times when I complained that she was being unfair, maybe even mean. I sadly remember that there were some fights when I accused her of not really loving me. She told me “one day you’ll understand.” Today I have a daughter of my own and although she is only 3 months old, I have to say, now I understand. I understand the sleepless nights and the intense exhaustion. I understand the frustration and sacrifices. I understand the anxiety and most of all, the love. The choices she made were made out of love. The advice she gave me, she gave out of love. She did her best, just like I am doing my best. Just like you moms here today are doing your best, and just like God is doing her best.
In the Bible there are many passages when God is referred to as a parent. For example, in Deuteronomy 32:18 “You were unmindful of the One that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” And another passage, this one from Isaiah 46:3-4, where God says, “[you] have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb… I have made and I will bear, I will carry and I will save.” Or Isaiah 66:13 in which these words are attributed to God: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” We are invited to see God’s nurturing, mothering side and to see ourselves as God’s children. As I have quickly learned in my short time as a mom so far, being a parent is hard work.
Imagine how tough God’s job as a parent is. God sees us struggling and loves us, but we are headstrong. We want to be in control and do things our own way. I think my stubbornness might be one of my most frustrating qualities, just ask my mom. My daughter has definitely inherited my stubborn streak. From her first week of life, if she didn’t like something a certain way, she let you know it loud and clear. Sometimes the hardest part for me as a parent was watching her struggle and knowing that I could help her, but facing the frustration that she would not let me. She would cry out in hunger and I would try to feed her, but she would flail her tiny, yet very strong arms and push me away. In her frustration and confusion, she was battling against the very thing she wanted and needed most. I ask myself, how many times has God offered me what I need most, and I have worked against God, pushing back the very thing I longed for.
All of us can be stubborn children in God’s eyes. We want life to go a certain way, and we ask God to make it so. When we don’t get what we want, we are disappointed and confused that everything does not work out the way we hoped it would. Our plans for our life and God’s plans do not always match up and that can be frustrating. Our disappointment can be over small things, like not getting the birthday present we hoped for, to the larger and more significant events such as the loss of a loved one or being diagnosed with an illness. I can just imagine God saying, like my mom did, “one day you’ll understand.” God has the patience and perspective of eternity, and we have our sights set on the here and now. As the scripture says, “For now we see through a glass, darkly, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” In this life, we see only a reflection, a fragment of God’s realm. We interpret our experiences with the understanding we have gained from our limited view, but God sees all and knows all. We are stuck in the forest, but God has a mountaintop view, and we can only trust that our lives make sense in the bigger picture. That is why we have to have faith.
That is the greatest lesson that my mother taught me, to have faith. In the darkest of times, she has kept her focus on the light and believed that everything would work out for the greater good in the end. Her faith has helped her through the painful and drawn-out passing of her father and her mother, the loss of her sister to breast cancer, her brother’s struggles with lung cancer and her own near death experience with heart failure. She has been face to face with some of the worst experiences Imaginable in life and yet her faith has managed to inspire her and lift her up no matter how difficult the day. Sometimes I honestly thought she was crazy to be so hopeful and grateful to God. I thought that enduring loss and suffering should make her question God. It certainly made me have my doubts. She has continued to believe, and that belief has made her life and the lives of those around her better. Having seen the way she thinks and lives, I know that I don’t need to be 100 percent certain of God’s existence to have faith. If I believe that my life has meaning and purpose for the greater good, then I will make that a reality. That is what my mother has done because of the strength of her faith, and that is what I am trying to do.
I try to have faith. I try to love as I have been loved. I hope that each of you have experienced the powerful love of a mother or someone who was like a mother to you. Most of all I hope you have experienced the boundless love of our mothering God. And one day when this earthly life is over and we pass into the arms of God, we may all come to understand what we could not see all along, how our lives had greater meaning and purpose than we could ever know. For now we continue to be God’s children and God in her divine parental wisdom says to us, “one day you’ll understand.” In the meantime, we trust and we hope and we love, as best we can.