The summer after 6th or 7th grade, I don’t remember which exactly, I went to camp with the youth group at church. The first night, our guest speaker led us through a time of prayer. He began by saying something like this: “God is your Father and he loves you because you are his children… He’ll never let you down… He’ll never leave you… He’ll always provide for your needs.” On and on it went. For the first time in my life it dawned on me, how deeply offended I was by all of this. I had a father, in the universal biological sense, but he was never loving. My life was a constant reminder of how he’d let me down. He had in fact left, on many occasions. And as hard as I tried, I could not think of a single need he’d provided for, physical, emotional, or otherwise.
For me, it’s hard to think about God the Father without thinking about my mother. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I’m not sure. Like many, I grew up in a single parent home. My mother worked hard and loved even harder. She’s a tiny little Korean lady; maybe 5’4″ with heels on. But she’s got a strength that belies her small stature. To be clear, my mom is no saint. She’s just as flawed as the next person, with her share of issues, faults, and failures. But in my life, no one has put flesh and blood on the great mystery that is God’s love quite like her.
In the creation stories of Genesis, we are told that God made both man and woman in his image (Genesis 1:27). In the book of Job, God uses feminine, birthing imagery to describe his action in the world. In Luke 15, Jesus tells the parable of a woman losing and finding a coin as a metaphor to describe God’s joy when one repents. More than half a million women die each year in childbirth. The imagery is undeniable…a loving parent giving up their life so that their child might have a chance at life. My point is not to argue for Christians praying to Mother God or for de-gendering God altogether. All I am certain of is that my mother was created in God’s image. This means that there is something of our God deep in her soul. It also means that there is something of my mother deep in the soul of God. This can’t be ignored. I’ve experienced it. Much of what little I understand of God has come from my mom’s displays of love, mercy, justice, and sacrifice throughout my life.
Please understand, this is not a knock on fathers. Most of the men I admire most in life are tremendous fathers. They are who they are primarily because they continually make the choice to be the sorts of fathers they believe God has called them to be. I am inspired by them and I hope to be that sort of father some day. There is great value is referring to God as our Father. It teaches us about him in ways that are unique to the role of a loving dad. It is a necessary image. It’s just that today is Mother’s Day and I am thinking about my mother and what she’s taught me about God.
I am grateful that I’ve had the chance to share another Mother’s Day with mine. As my mother grows older, I am growing more contemplative about our relationship and sensitive to the amount of time I may have left with her. A few months ago during a routine check-up, some tests came back that alarmed her doctor. After some more testing, the doctor diagnosed that her heart was enlarged. The news put a pretty good scare in me, to say the least. It’s always difficult to face the topic of a loved one’s mortality but life brings it to everyone’s door at some point. In the past few months since the test, things have stabilized a bit but we are still very uncertain of long term outcomes and I am praying for peace all the time.
As I think about my mom today, I am not surprised that it is an enlarged heart that afflicts her. I’ve never seen the full expanses of the oceans or been to the depths of the deepest canyons but I have no doubt that my mother’s love is larger & wider than both. And although her love for me may not be as large or as deep as God’s love for all of us, I believe it is at least shaped the same way. I’ve learned so much of God’s love for us through my mother’s love for me. Happy Mother’s Day.