The bible teaches that human beings are created in the image of God. We rarely image God perfectly. Rather we are like the crazy mirrors at Luna Park. Stand in front of them and you’ll appear unnaturally tall, short, fat or thin. Nonetheless however imperfect the image may be, at our best we see glimpses of the divine in each other. I suspect we see something of how God is toward us in how our mothers are toward us – at least I have through my mum. This Mothers Day I can see seven things my mother’s love taught me about how to love and how God loves us.
1. Love is not blind, but it is biased
I sometimes joke with my mother that I could preach a sermon encouraging devil worship and she’d still think it marvelous. All my life I’ve been blessed with a mother who believes in me and believes in what I can do. Her love isn’t blind – she knows my flaws and from time to time manages to point them out. There have been times in my life I have disappointed mum and failed to live up to the standards she taught me. But it is not my flaws that loom large in mum’s imagination. It is my giftedness, capacity and goodness.
I suspect this is how God is toward us. Just as we see God’s love imaged to us imperfectly by our mothers, we see it imaged perfectly by Jesus. And like my mother, he seemed to see the magnificence in God’s children. Certainly he was acutely aware of our failings – he could call Pharisees white-washed tombs, his follower Peter a devil and called an adulterous woman to leave her life of sin. But he also saw the glory of people.People seemed to grow taller in the presence of Christ, to feel affirmed and valued. They discovered that God was not blind to their faults but that God is biased towards their magnificence as creatures made in God’s image.
2. Love sets boundaries, but has no boundaries
One of the jobs of a parent is to set boundaries for their children around acceptable behaviour. Growing up I knew precisely where those boundaries lay and consequences followed whenever I transgressed them. But one thing of which I was always assured – no amount of boundary crossing could ever compromise my mother’s love for me.
I think it’s the same with God. Jesus told a story about a son who crossed almost every boundary possible for a first century Jewish son – demanded his share of the estate, the means of survival for both present and future generations of the family, and then squandered the lot in wild partying. When he finally returns home filled with shame, “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15). The father of course represents God, who loves us prodigals no matter how many boundaries we cross.
3. Love exults in the highs, but is found in the ordinary
I like to think that there have been times in my life I have made my mother proud: my graduation from theological college, my wedding day, the way I raise my children. These are times of exultation, celebration and joy. But it strikes me that mum’s love was made real not so much in these moments but in what led up to them – bleary eyed mornings changing nappies, sitting up with a child with fever, playing taxi-driver to four active kids, enduring my tantrums, disciplining a child who could make any parent tear out their hair, cooking meals, washing clothes, and more. Here is where love is found, persevering through the difficult and the mundane, in the conviction that all this is for the good of the beloved.
Is not God’s love the same? There will be moments of exultation and profound celebration. But where we find God’s love and need God’s love is in the difficult and the ordinary.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8)
4. Love comes from outside us, but feels everything with us
At the heart of my mother’s love was her capacity to empathise with me. She dreams with me and for me, agonises with me and for me, is happy with me and for me, cries with me and for me. It is deeply comforting to have another human being who feels with you and for you.
The same is true of God’s love. One of the characteristics of Jesus was his compassion for others. To have compassion is to “feel with”. Jesus wept over his friend Lazarus and the city of Jerusalem. People were drawn to him because of his compassion. This is how God is. God feels our sorrows, our joys, our frustrations, our anxieties, our hopes, our dreams. God grieves with us, hopes with us, longs with us. This is what love does.
5. Love holds us tight, but sets us free
One of the great gifts my mother gave me was the reassurance that however far I fell I would always be loved, valued and welcomed. Home was a safe landing place. And it’s love like that that gave me the emotional freedom to leap high, to take risks, to chase dreams.
I find God’s love the same. I think of Peter, thrice denying he knew Christ. I can only imagine his fear when meeting Christ again after the resurrection. He had let Jesus down so badly, turned his back on his friend at his time of deepest need. How liberating then when over against his threefold denials Jesus leads him to a threefold affirmation and then makes him the leader of the early Jesus movement. Love like that sets us free from the fear of failure, knowing that however far we may fall we are held tight in God’s heart.
6. Love is not selfish, but works for our flourishing
My mother is an extremely capable person. I have no doubt that had she set her mind to it she could have been a very successful businesswoman or executive. But what she set her mind and heart to was raising four children and doing all she could to help them be the best possible versions of themselves they could be. She did this in a myriad of ways, from the offering of wisdom to the encouragement of our dreams, to all the mundane things such as ensuring we were well nourished, driving us to sports games and music lessons, to listening to us rabbit on for hours. I recall one long walk on a beach down the south coast where I, as a young David Attenborough, took it upon myself to explain to mum the workings of every shell, piece of weed, driftwood or fish carcass we encountered. It went on for hours and all the time mum demonstrated the greatest of interest, intent on nurturing the spirit of her young child.
I believe God does the same for us. That God’s every act and thought is focussed on our flourishing. “I have come that they might have life and have it to the full” said Jesus (John 10.10). And it is to this great end that God bends his will, calling me to become everything I was created to be.
7. Love draws us in, but sends us out
One of the greatest things my mother showed me about love is that we can never reserve it just for family and friends. Love is to be shared with the vulnerable, the exploited, the wounded and the oppressed. This was reinforced every Christmas during my childhood years. Christmas lunch was spent with the family, but Christmas night the doors were thrown open to anyone who needed
people with whom to celebrate. We shared the evening with friends, people from church who had no family nearby to be with, people who were homeless and more. We laughed and ate and sang and danced and in the midst of it discovered that when love is shared beyond our immediate circle of family and friends there is richness and rich fellowship to be had.
God’s love is like this. It is not given merely so we can delight in it, but is to be shared. Jesus taught us to love our neighbour as ourself and defined neighbour as everyone, as anyone in need. And here lies the great missional impulse of love. Be changed by love and driven by that love bring hope, healing, solidarity and justice to the world.
Conclusion: Living in Love
Take a moment to review my list. Do any of my suggestions particularly resonate with you? Which suggestio ndo you want to take away and build into you life this week.