The Mission of Mothers Part 1: Eve – The Mother of All Living
This is the first in a series of reflections on the mission of mothers. I have very little that qualifies me to write about this, because I am a man. But as a man who cares about families and about mission, I have seen that mothers play an immense role in the mission of the family. Indeed, without mothers, the mission of the family is inconceivable.
Let’s begin in the Bible with the story of the world’s beginning. At the end of the third chapter of Genesis, we find a catalogue of the troubles and sorrows that burst into the world as a result of the disobedience of the first man and the first woman. First, the Lord pronounced a curse on the serpent who had slipped distorting words into the mind of the first woman. She was duped, and her husband was ensnared along with her. As a result, a brutal war between the serpent and the offspring of the woman was foreshadowed, a war in which the serpent’s head would be trampled. God forewarned the woman that he would increase her pain in childbearing and that her husband would dominate her. To the man the Lord grimly promised a life of hard toil in fields where he would sweat and labor to earn his daily bread, more often than not would reap thorns along with thistles and finally would himself return to the dust of the earth from which he was first taken.
After this dreary forecast of bad news, we read, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” (Genesis 3:20) These are words of faith, hope and comfort. They come to us like a ray of sunshine breaking into the world after days of endless rainfall. The name Adam gave to his wife is a title of great honor. It is as if Adam were saying to us and to the world, “In spite of seasons of famine, hurricanes, floods, family strife, political divisions, wars, cyber-attacks, disease and every other kind of earthly evil, God has not removed the fundamental blessing of life. He will continue to give us and all generations a priceless comfort, an assured promise, a hedge of warmth and protection against the miseries of the world through our mothers.” We are not sentenced to an existence of despair sending us straight down the road to dreary death. We are promised life and hope. Every child who is snuggled in its mother’s arms is a testimony to this.
“Eve” sounds a great deal like the Hebrew word meaning “life.” All of us have received life through our mothers. Yes, life is God’s gift to us, but he has ordered things so that it is given to us through our mothers. Even in the face of all the troubles life will surely bring, there is a delicate, but tremendous reason for hope because of mothers.
But what does all this have to do with mission? When we speak about mission, we immediately think about taking action. Mission is associated with activity. Then what is the mission of mothers? When pushed to answer this question, I struggle to give an adequate answer in terms of action. And I remember that sometimes, mission does not require any kind of specific action, but requires, first and foremost, being present, just being there for others. Such is the case with mothers.
When an outsider enters a home where a young child lives, the child often clings to her mother’s leg or buries his face in his mother’s arms. The outsider may even be a known and trusted person, such as a grandparent. Even though urged by parents to greet the outsider, the child is not ready to face the world. The newcomer represents a strange and threatening world, a world which has intruded into the protected space of the child’s home. There is no place like mom. The child wants to stay with her.
When our family lived in Russia where we served as missionaries, my wife volunteered to help in a small center for recovery from addiction. Sometimes she was tied up at the center until evening. Our middle school daughter began to ask her, “Mom, when I get home from school, will you be there?” She wanted her mom to be there for her after school.
Robert Farrar Capon, an Episcopal Priest, wrote “To be a Mother is to be a sacrament—the effective symbol—of place. Mothers do not make homes. They are our home: in the simple sense that we begin our days by a long sojourn within the body of a woman; in the extended sense that she remains our center of gravity through the years. She is the very diagram of belonging, the where in whose vicinity we are fed and watered, and have our wounds bound up and noses wiped.” A mother is not just the one with whom we are at home, but she is “home itself.” (Robert Farrar Capon, Bed and Board: Plain Talk about Marriage, Simon and Schuster, 1965, pp. 62&64)
In his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul writes, “woman will be saved though bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” I Timothy 2:15 Bearing children is something men are not designed to do. Technology may be able to alter this fact, but it was not a part of God’s original design. On the other hand, God uniquely fashioned woman with this capacity. But I am beginning to stray from the point.
A woman is not created simply to be a baby factory. Her trajectory toward salvation is not simply in her capacity to bear children, but in her “continuing in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.” Among other things, this means that she is there for her children. And her children love for her to be there for them.
As the story of Genesis unfolded, Adam and Eve were driven from the garden of Eden by a fierce angel wielding a flaming sword. The perfect harmony of the garden of Eden had been broken. They could no longer live immediately in the presence of God. Still God did not remove his love from them. Before sending them out of the garden to face the many hardships of life on earth, God first clothed them with animal skins, a sign of his love as well as a major improvement over fig leaves. He also gave us mothers to be present with us, cheer us and reassure us along the way.
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