by Angela T. Kahbeb
I just got back from the dentist with our 5-year-old son, Konami. A trip to the dentist is rarely a welcomed event for most children, but since our son has autism, it was especially challenging. Because of his limited speech, it is difficult for him to articulate his needs. Recently, Konami had several incidents of biting. Even his school teacher had called us concerned about his behavior. After he had been repeatedly scolded, redirected, and given time-outs because of his biting, he finally said to me, pointing at his tooth, “Mommy, my tooth is broken. My tooth is broken.”
Something was wrong. We went to the dentist confident that the doctor would uncover the problem. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Konami interpreted the strange surroundings as a threat. He had a severe meltdown. He hit me. He kicked me. He bit me. He slapped me. He headbutted me.
The doctor was not able to fully examine Konami’s teeth. I left the office feeling battered and beleaguered. But the moment we stepped into the cool spring air, Konami looked at me, faced flushed, nose running, eyes full of tears, voice hoarse from screaming and said, “Sorry, mommy.” I knew he meant it. I knew he really meant it. I gave his hand a little squeeze. “I know, sweetheart. I know.” I was not angry with him–even during the height of his tirade. A mother’s love does not bruise easily (my shins, on the other hand, are a different story). I only wanted what was best for him. After all, I knew he was frightened, confused, and in pain. I understood that he did not understand.
An unflinching mothering God
This is how we wrestle with God. Kicking and screaming when we find ourselves in unfamiliar places, scary places, or in pain. When God redirects us for our own good, we respond to God’s mothering love with tantrums. We cry out. We bite. We hit. We kick. But our mothering God is unflinchingly, unconditionally devoted to us.
In Helen Steiner Rice’s poem, “No Other Love Like Mother’s Love,” she offers this description: “A Mother’s love is something that no one can explain. It is made of deep devotion and of sacrifice and pain. It is patient and forgiving when all others are forsaking and it never fails or falters even though the heart is breaking.”
Deep devotion? Sacrifice? Forgiving? These attributes not only describe a mother’s love for her child, but also describe God’s mothering love for humanity.
Certainly the majority of us are most comfortable and most familiar with God as “Our Father which art in heaven…” But have you ever considered the many Scripture references that illustrate God as our mother? For example, in Matthew 23:37, Jesus himself steps into the role of mother saying, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” In Hosea 13:8, God is imaged as an angry mother bear defending her cubs.
The prophet Isaiah records God’s declaration of giving birth to God’s people.
Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save. Isaiah 46:3-4
Whenever I read passages like this, I think about all that our mothers have done for us and all that we are willing to do for our children.
In Deuteronomy 32:11-12, we witness God as a majestic mother eagle who “stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young; as it spreads her wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft on its pinions.” These verses paint a picture of our God in unmistakably feminine characteristics that we rarely encounter in our traditional discourse about God.
Aren’t these verses a treasure? This rich and amazing imagery reminds us that the God we serve is far beyond our human understanding. Consequently, it is impossible for any one image to fully encapsulate all of who God is.
But whether we image God as Heavenly Father, Loving Mother, or Divine Parent, our words fall short. The moment we lift up any metaphor we begin to recognize its limitations. Our God is beyond male, beyond female. That is why our finite language is severely inadequate when describing our indescribable, infinite God. Unfortunately, words are not our only limitation. Words are linked to our lived experience.
When we hear words like mother or father, our minds naturally go to our own stories. Sadly, too many of us know mothers who are far from the loving mother archetype. Even our God, through the prophet Isaiah, recognizes this painful reality.
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for her womb? Even if these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Isaiah 49:15
Our God, our holy, mysterious, and merciful God is near to us. God is the perfection of the images we use to illustrate God’s relationship with humanity. Regardless of our family situations, our earthly parents are human and are subject to the human condition of imperfection. But we serve a God that promises to care for us beyond the limitations of our human-ness.
The psalmist declares, “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10). God as mother offers another facet of God’s love for humanity. Dwell in that richness.
1. Are there areas in my life where I am kicking and headbutting God, intent on my own way?
2. Name three attributes that describe your mother. How do these characteristics compare to your understanding of who God is and how God interacts with humanity?
3. What, if anything, keeps us from imaging God as Mother?
We give you thanks for your mercies that are new every morning. Increase our hope. Buttress our faith. Teach us to walk in the light of your love. And give us hearts to seek you in unfamiliar places and eyes to see you in unexpected faces. Strengthen the hearts of the weary, especially mothers who desire to model your unfailing love. Continue to shelter and direct us on this awesome journey trusting in your abundant grace, Amen.
The Rev. Angela T. Khabeb serves as the pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church in Delphos, Ohio. She has an amazing husband, Benhi, two spectacular sons, Konami and Khenna, and a precious baby girl, Khonni.