I have always cringed when I have heard people describe new and seasoned mothers as “cute” or “adorable.” Though those things might be true, and though I might be biased as someone who is not a mother, I have always seen motherhood in a different light. “Cute” and “adorable” do not capture the fearsome and challenging vocation of being a mother. To me, motherhood seems tenacious, fierce, and strong.
My perspective of motherhood has been shaped by my own mother. My mom, a Danish and Irish Catholic originally from Long Island, is the sweetest and loveliest person you will meet. She has a discerning eye for the most appropriate greeting card for any occasion. She generously picks out treats from my favorite bakery and thoughtfully compiles care packages to extend her love from across the miles. Sparing no opportunity to offer encouragement, a listening ear, and hope, my mom’s gentleness and kindness continue to leave a lasting impact on my life.
At the same time, my mother is fierce. When my sister or I have experienced painful moments in our lives, my mom has sat with us, shared our anger or sadness, but also encouraged us to get up, have courage, and continue on. I watched her care for my grandmother with tenderness during my grandmother’s last years of life. Despite the many emotions that came with caring for an aging parent, my mother never relented in her patience or warmth though my grandmother was often scared or unsteady on her feet. I think often of how I learned to be strong and accompany others because of watching how my mom carried herself and listened patiently to others. I think the virtue that my mom has cultivated within me the most is hope, as she often reminded my sister and me that, though we might find ourselves sad or in pain in challenging moments, “the birds will still sing, and the sun will come up tomorrow.”
There are many moments when my mom’s strength, protectiveness, and ferocity have come to the fore. However, there is one story in particular that I believe encapsulates my mother’s strength. When I was 8 or 9, my family vacationed at a beach in the South Carolina low-country. I loved to play in the ocean and would often lose myself jumping and swimming in the salty waves. One day, when I was swimming in the ocean and immersed fully under the water, I felt a hand grab my wrist and pull me out of the water. It was my mother. From where she was standing on the shore, she had run into the water to drag me back onto the beach because she had seen a large shark fin making its way on the surface of the water towards where I was swimming.
In the Book of Wisdom, Chapter 7, there are beautiful verses describing Wisdom, often personified in the Hebrew scriptures as a woman. One verse in particular has always been my favorite and reminds me of the strength and ferocity of women in my life, especially my mother: “For she is the breath of the might of God” (Wisdom 7:25). When I think of this verse, I consider the unfathomable strength and ferocity of God. From our Scriptures, we know that the might of God has destroyed armies (2 Kings 19:35-37), parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14), created the world (Genesis 1-2), healed the sick (Matthew 14:14), and brought the dead back to life (John 20). At the same time, the word “breath” evokes a gentle sensation of air that is cooling, reviving, and life-giving. A breath is a small share in an organism’s larger pattern of breathing and is just one small part of the total function of a living being. From my view, it seems to me that my mother, as well as all mothers, have the capability to be “a breath of the might of God.” Mothers have the power to give life, protect, defend, encourage, and strengthen. They share in the power of God’s might through their steadfastness, gentleness, fierceness, and love.
Mothers, because they share in God’s might, invite us to contemplate God’s own fierceness, love, tenacity, and tenderness. Much like my mom letting nothing stop her from pulling me out of the water to protect me from a shark, God also is relentless in wanting to be in relationship with us as God’s beloved children. Like my mother cared for my grandmother with patience and tenderness, God also gifts us merciful, gentle love no matter the state we are in. Just as my mom continues to listen, encourage, and instill hope, God also accepts us and loves us just as we are. Though God’s power and might is totally incomprehensible to us as human beings, we may know it in a small way through the gift of our mothers.