What Happens When God Can be Mother Too?

Category Archives:Mother God and Mothering

Is Mother God Just a Love Muffin?

Do we have to make God the Mother a love muffin and God the Father the Big Boss? Does God the Father get to be Omni-Everything and God the Mother simply present? If we become aware of our own unconscious, societally-based sexism; correspondingly adjust our view of mothers; and see how power is related to love, we can begin to strengthen the mother metaphor for God.

Stereotyping Mother God

One of the problems of calling God Mother is our stereotypes of mothers and women, which can be helpful emotionally but may also reinforce a binary, sexist way of thinking.

To pick up on your own unconscious sexism (if it exists), slowly read the following two verses from Psalm 98 (Swallow’s Nest), one using masculine pronouns, and the other feminine. Notice your different images of God as you read:

“Sing new songs to El Shaddai for the wonders She has done! Her helping hand and holy arm have become our health and salvation.”

“Sing new songs to El Shaddai for the wonders He has done! His helping hand and holy arm have become our health and salvation.”

For me, the second verse seems almost neuter, as we all know that God helps and is powerful. The first image conjures images of a woman cooking Hamburger Helper and a nurse providing medicine. My ever-lingering stereotypes of my own sex get in the way of seeing God as Mother as simply helpful and simply powerful.

A Stronger Mother Figure

Lynn Japinga, author of Feminism and Christianity, writes:

The word he apparently transcends sexuality. At first this argument seems to transcend logic as well, but there are many English words in which the female version is inferior to the male or is sexualized in a particular way. A master is skillful or in charge; a mistress is an illicit sexual partner. A lord manages property; a lady has perfect manners and breeding, but does little more than drink tea. Sir is a term of respect; a madam runs a brothel. Christians throughout history have considered the female and the feminine at best subordinate, and at worst, dangerous. They did not think they honored God by calling God Mother or Midwife.

Especially because of this historical and ongoing sexism, the metaphor of mother is a helpful and needed addition to the father metaphor. Yet, we can move away from these false woman-as-weakling and mother-as-cook-and-nurse stereotypes to a stronger Mother figure for God.

God is Almighty, Mothers are Strong

Many years ago, my dissertation adviser told me he thought me changing a liturgical phrase to “Mother Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth,” was just obviously wrong. Could a mother be almighty, someone powerful enough to create everything? For him, that was the land of paradox.

But mothers are strong, the kind of persevering, won’t-give-up strength that Jesus wanted the male disciples to have when He told them, “The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mt. 26:41b). They fell asleep during His time of deepest need. Three times. Jesus prayed alone as His heart broke. Moms stay awake when their children need them. They wake up when their kids are sick, sad, or scared in the night. And they provide.

As William Makepeace Thackeray said, “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” (Thanks to Jory Micah for the quote!). To a child, which every adult once was, moms might as well be God as far as the power they have. Not always the power to control, which isn’t God-like or good parenting anyway, but the power to affirm, teach, influence, and empower. (And, sadly, the power to hurt when we emulate the brokenness in our parents).

Unlike the impassable Greek godddesses and gods, but like the invisible God, our children’s pain affects us. This makes us all the more powerful.

Power to Create More Than Babies

But what about that old definition of masculine strength that my adviser had in mind? The strength of omni-competence, the maker-of-heaven-and-earth kind of power? Women have those creator gifts, too.

God made women to shape our world, alongside men. We are sometimes “hidden figures,” struggling for recognition for our accomplishments, but women bless the world in every profession in increasing numbers. (See this book with a provocative title for more: The End of Men and the Rise of Women by journalist Hannah Rosin). And we still keep the hearth, on average doing much more housework and child care even when male partners are unemployed.

Jesus Showed Us Love is Strength

Other stereotypical masculine qualities, like dominance or authoritarianism, aren’t the strength of God. They are misguided notions of who God is, that Jesus came to change. Jesus didn’t come to condemn and judge the world, but to heal and save it (John 3:17). Jesus came to serve the world (Luke 22:27), not control it.

So, the stereotype may persist about Mother God being a love muffin, but love is the strength and power of Mother Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.

God is love itself (I John 4:8, 16b).

God is Wisdom, and Wisdom is a Woman

In the book of Proverbs, a mysterious character appears named Wisdom. And even more surprising, Wisdom is a woman. When I first grappled with these passages, I concluded that Wisdom was just a literary device, not God or a part of God. (See my post here). But after having read more on this topic, I’m pretty sure Wisdom was later thought to be God or a part of God, even if the original writer of Proverbs did not intend it.

Jesus refers to Wisdom as her in Luke 7:35. He is clearly referring to God, perhaps even Himself. The TNIV commentators agree. (I believe Luke may also be alluding to the wisdom of the woman who shows up in the next passage.)

Wisdom is another feminine metaphor for God, and an aspect of motherhood that doesn’t always leap to mind when we think of generic women. Historically, women have been perceived as having a lack of intelligence, and even today children and adult men associate men with intelligence. (Fact: women in developed countries now score equal to or better than men, on IQ tests).

Wisdom’s Big Picture

Wisdom is intelligence and knowledge applied in the world, but it is even more than that. It sees the big picture, and again, the big picture is love.

On Facebook, I often encourage other moms who doubt their gut instincts by saying, “Moms know!” In my experience knowing-one’s-kid is just one of the physical changes that come with motherhood and the increases in oxytocin, the love hormone.

We know not only because of our intelligence, but because we love. It’s a divine gift one can identify with Wisdom herself.

God is Fierce like a Mom Recovering Her Child

My least favorite verses with feminine imagery for God are the mother bear ones. Hosea 13:8 says, “I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and will tear open the covering of their heart….” But moms, at the height of their powers to save and heal, are warriors. Since they know their children, they are their voices when the child is bullied or has a disability.

In the online moms support groups I’m a part of, I’ve seen the best of motherhood and humanity in the women with children with autism, especially this Facebook group, Recovering Kids. The moms spend nights and days researching what will bring their child out of muteness or bring relief from Sensory Processing Disorder, often without the support of skeptical partners and relatives.

And their children thrive. When I think of myself and the kind of mother I want to be, these moms come to mind. Their motivation is love, with the fierceness of a mother bear robbed of her cubs. 

Motherhood at Its Best

God is not just a love-muffin. But God is love. William Placher writes in Narratives of a Vulnerable God, “…Christians will be most faithful to the Biblical narratives if ‘Father’ [or ‘Mother’] functions, when used, primarily as a symbol of love rather than of power.”

But he’s not quite right. Love is power. And power without love is destructive; it is in fact, evil. That’s a secret that patriarchy keeps us from seeing.

The vulnerability of Jesus on the cross saved the world, like a mom having a c-section with arms strapped down on a table can save a baby. What we all need is a divine parent, whether mom or dad or both, who loves us with the strength of motherhood at its best. And I believe and hope that we find that love in the invisible God who is Mother, too.


Do other examples come to mind of the strength, wisdom and fierceness of mothers?

Does love equal power and power equal love, or is God’s omnipotence separate from Her love? I will write another post on this later.



Attached to Mother God

“A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most courteously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament, which is the precious food of life itself… The mother can lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus, he can familiarly lead us to his blessed breast through his sweet open side….”

Julian of Norwich


I was thinking today, as I was gazing at Sam asleep, that we should all be as attached to Mother God as Sam is to me. Even in his sleep, if he is not in the deep sleep phase, he arches his back and complains if I give him over to Dad to sleep on him.

It’s in the attachment to Mother God that I hear Her voice, and that I grow loyal. It’s in the attachment that I do not flinch when I say Her name to someone who I think might. It’s in the attachment that I move forward to create, with Her, even when it requires courage.

And as any one who has done it can tell you, calling God Mother does require courage. I know there are people who don’t like what I write. And I know hating ideas does morph into hating real people, into put-downs, into plots to sabotage.

It happened to Saul. He thought he was doing the right thing in putting Christians in jail, in murdering them. From Saul’s point of view, he was defending God and Torah. Jesus set him straight, but it took a lot. The bright light of God’s presence, Jesus’ actual voice, and three days of groping in the darkness.

But Saul-who-became-Paul got attached to Jesus, to Mother God, and nothing could stop Paul from being loyal to Jesus, after that (see 2 Cor. 11:21-33 for what Paul went through for Christ).

So, how does attachment to Mother God happen? How do we nurse at Jesus’ side (Julian of Norwich) so often that we can’t be without him, no matter what we go through?

Brother Lawrence called it “the practice of the presence of God,” and he did it throughout the most mundane tasks, like washing dishes. He washed a lot of dishes in his lifetime. Yup, me and Brother Lawrence. But he did the dishes with Jesus, and that changed him.

I will try today to keep remembering the sweet presence of Mother God, and the ever-available milk of the Word, even as I read the fifty-two board books I read every day, wrestle another clean diaper onto my son, and make more blueberry smoothies for my family.

And I will keep writing and prayerfully thinking of God as Mother, even when I know Saul is afoot. He could become Paul any day now.

Does thinking of God as Mother help you keep Her nearer? 

Is it hard to go public with calling God Mother?

Mother God’s Parenting: Blame vs. Grace

As I try to understand the gospels, I like to think about what rabbis normally said and how they said it. I imagine that listening to one was a bit like hanging out on the streets of New York City. They were hyperbolic, extreme, to make a point.

In Luke 3, which is what I read today, I get the impression John the Baptist thought his listeners were a rotten bunch. He calls them vipers, and demands they begin to bear good fruit in their lives. John was a prophet, not a rabbi, but he knew how to get people’s attention on his metaphorical street corner.

He isn’t as hard on them as it would seem though. When the people ask, “What should we do?” his response is simple: Share what you have, and don’t steal, or cheat, or accuse someone falsely. John isn’t really asking for much. Grace was woven into what he said, like silver threads.

This whole issue of blame and punishment is a big one though, not only in the Bible, and religion, but in families.

It’s hard to imagine God as Mother being all that blame-y, though Father God, or even just God, can conjure up images of wrath, endless fire in hell, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

That’s partly because of Old Testament prophets who spoke of punishment from God, but also because Jesus talked like that when he taught. Rabbis everywhere spoke of hell sometimes, of course. But Jesus was doing something different. He was explaining a new, love-based morality to people who felt like they could never go to hell because they followed all the rules.

Paul’s take on Jesus is that trusting in Jesus wipes out punishment. You can escape God’s justice against sin, through faith in Jesus (e.g. Rom. 5:8,9). And faith can start small, like a tiny seed, or melded to unbelief that we cry out to God about. Jesus, long before Paul, said that the work of God was to believe in Him (John 6:29) and John said that Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it (John 3:17).

Relationship. Holding God’s metaphorical hand. Receiving forgiveness and unconditional love. That sounds like God as Mother.

So, my question is, how might Paul’s view of punishment and grace translate to mothering and fathering?

Blame and Grace in Families

In my house, blame is the undercurrent we are either being swept along by, are surfing, or swimming against. It’s huge, though we work against it more and more often these days.

On bad days, we blame the dog for peeing again on the floor. I think blameful thoughts about Joel not remembering things I’ve said. Joel might blame Marshall for not turning off the computer or for refusing to go to a certain store.

Words are hardly needed. Just a tone, a huff or sigh, a slight inflection of a word. Since Marshall was 5, he too has played the blame game. It’s not hard to pick up from your parents.

Since at least that many years, I have tried not to be blame-y. Only a year ago, however, did I begin to occasionally use the word “grace” around the house. It struck me then how very absent it was, in word and deed. We ignored things, and attempted forgiveness, but didn’t run to grace.

Grace is unmerited favor, I learned in Sunday School. You don’t earn it, don’t have to deserve it. It’s favor that is a gift. It’s a favor, one you can’t repay. It’s love that keeps going, when it could stop to punish.

This is Mother God’s heart, to bestow grace, and for us to give it to each other as sisters and brothers. There is a book I’ve read parts of called Grace Based Parenting. I love the title. This is Mother’s God call to parents, and spouses.

Just how hard is it in our culture’s parenting climate to give unmerited, unearned favor to our kids? Aren’t we supposed to deliver Love and Logic?—as in, give the most natural consequence with the most loving tone. “Uh oh! Looks like you go to time-out again, Milo. So sorry!”

That’s good-intended but it’s not grace. I don’t give consequences in a sweet tone of voice, anyway, no matter how many Love and Logic books I’ve read and seminars I’ve been to.

How do we want Mother God to discipline us, Her kids? How does She actually do it?

I think none of us want to suffer for what we do, even if it’s justice. Suffering’s a bit random, anyhow, not always connected to our actions. “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is a perennial, painful question, Job’s and Rabbi Kushner’s.

But we kind of expect bad things to happen when we do something bad.

Yet what we hope for is a God who keeps believing in us, no matter what we’ve done–again. We want a Mother who draws us close to Her when we’re feeling ashamed. We want a Mother who never turns her back on us because we’re supposed to be in Time-Out.

And that’s Grace, a gift we can receive from Mother God to give to our own kids, and each other. Right now.

What ways do you receive grace and give grace in your family?


Divine Breasts

For from those divine breasts where it seems God is always sustaining the soul, there flow streams of milk bringing comfort to all the people.

–Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, p. 179-180

Recently, a fed-up dad posted a video on Facebook of him trying to eat and drink at a restaurant while wearing a white blanket over his head. He wanted to point out how ridiculous it is that our culture pressures women to entirely cover up their breasts and babies to feed their children.

My son Sam is 18 months old and loves to nurse. Worldwide, this is normal. Developmentally and biologically, this is normal. In the United States today, not so much. (Most babies wean by age one).

Breasts-on-the-loose are scary in our culture. They are objects of sexuality that are never proper to expose in public every day places.

But for my toddler, Sam, breasts are his safe place. He has always just thrown himself sideways knowing I’ll catch him, when he is ready to nurse. He gets tired or upset, and then gets to sink deep into soft mama, who gives sweet, warm milk and the chance to suck, which rights the world again.

In many countries around the world, it is a given for moms to suckle their children as they grow older and fully develop their immune systems, which doesn’t happen until age 4 or 5.

When mothers allow their children to grow out of breastfeeding, on their own terms, kids will wean anywhere from age 2 to age 7, typically. The same with bottles, or thumb-sucking. Kids need to suck for comfort. Weaning before a child is ready is always a sad event for both mom and baby.

The Healing Power of Mama-Milk

I tried to wean my oldest child, Marshall, when he was two, and had tooth decay, due to pressure from a dentist. It didn’t take me long to hear my son’s voice through his tears, reflecting feelings of grief and rejection. I decided then to follow my own instincts about what was best for my son. (It turns out that breastfeeding protects teeth, and that changing diet will work wonders for dental health.)

Marshall started to naturally forget about his “morning mama milk” just after his fifth birthday. It was about that time he began to show the more potent symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Inflexibility, crying often, and hitting. That was all new, post-weaning. Mama’s milk had been protective.

GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) author Natasha Campbell-McBride says post-weaning is often when kids start to show symptoms of underlying conditions. There is powerful stuff in breast milk, so protective to the immune system it can stop cancer growth.

Due to the false advertising of formula companies, many in the U.S. don’t know about the healing power of breast milk. But some cultures understand without necessarily having done the studies. In Mongolia, for example, the women express milk for adults to drink, as well as breastfeed their children indefinitely.

Breastmilk and God

Mother God knows about it, too. It was Her idea, to create a drink so potent with life that it could, on its own, nourish a baby until she walks upright.

So it’s no wonder that God, or Her people, chose the name El Shaddai, which can be translated Breasted One. The apostle Peter also uses the metaphor of breastfeeding in speaking of God (I Pet. 2:2, 3):

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Mother God is the safe Person who always welcomes us into the softness of Her center, who offers us the sweet milk of salvation. Sozo, the Greek word for salvation, also connotes safety and healing.

We can throw ourselves sideways and rest in Her as She holds us and rights our inner world again.



Keep Talking

What do you do with the pain of injustice, while you wait for Mother God? You talk about it. I do, anyway.

Marshall talks, and draws. This morning he drew a caricature of the bully. She stood in a pool of blood with only bones for legs. These are images from her own stories she showed Marshall. I tried to talk him out of this drawing but it is his expression of waiting for justice.

When Jesus was on the cross, waiting to die, he talked, too—amazingly. He asked God why he’d forsaken him. He told a man next to him he’d be with Jesus soon in Paradise. Justice. He complained, “I thirst.” He asked God to forgive the ones who’d crucified and tormented him. He gave his mother a new son, John, to care for her. And finally He let people know his work was done.

He was not just a victim, because redemption for every one, through His death, was coming. “It is finished,” He said finally, and He gave his spirit to God.

Maybe there is some spiritual parallel here. What we’re all waiting for is the pain of injustice to die. Because some things can’t be restored. Can our beloved son un-know that people kill each other or die in gruesome ways or that a friend he trusted hurt him repeatedly?

We are managing pain, hanging here on our own cross. I say “we” like Mary may have said it.  She was at the bottom of the cross after all, waiting with Jesus to die. She never left.

I wonder if she said the wrong things sometimes, like I do. Because of us not understanding Marshall, he feels abandoned—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” said Jesus. We forsake by trying to pull him into our world, with forceps. All the old parental controlling techniques just damage.

Last night, I just invited him to come sit next to me and I held him close. This heals, this brings relief and a glimpse of resurrection. Marshall thirsts, for touch, tender looks, the love that gets stored and locked up in the hearts of tired parents.

One of the phrases that has sometimes grated on me is Micah’s many requests for smoothies throughout any given day. “I’m firsty,” he’ll say.

His little speech impediment makes him sound so little, and reminds me of how little he really is at age 9. The request can come 4 or 5 times a day, because he shuns water.

To give Christ drink, when he is thirsty on the cross, is an honor many of us would embrace. And so will I.


“Dirty Fingernails,” by Susan Harrison, inspired by Nadia Bolz-Weber in Pastrix


Jesus’ fingernails were dirty

When Mary met him near the tomb

Resurrection is like that meeting,

Not so much like Easter morning.


My fingernails are dirty, too

From my garden and my work.

Could you see I am the body

On this coming Sunday morning?


And if I brought my son, or sent him–

The one with marker on his face,

And with dirty hair and hands?

Could you find a resurrection there?

The Christ-likeness of Moms

“I am among you as one who serves,” said Jesus in Luke 22:27. In seminary, as a single woman, I chose this as my missional verse. It was ironic and a bit too optimistic because I was never a particularly good servant. Until I became a mother.

The verse perfectly sums up many experiences of motherhood.

  1. The “I am” part. I used to say my mission was incarnational, about Christ-in-me living in the world. That was at least sometimes true. But as a mom, I have had to become the most like Jesus that I have ever been,
  2. because I am “among you.” We mothers do work outside the home, and we go on business trips. But just as often, we are present, at least most of the time,
  3. “as one who serves.” Jesus was saying here “I’m God and even I show up with a towel” to wipe feet or dry tears. Fully embodied, present service is exactly what mothering is.

I realize now I wasn’t as much the Christ-like, present, servant-type person I thought I was or could be in seminary. But that was soon to be my mission in a far less exciting way than I’d have liked.

Before I became one, I didn’t respect mothers all that much, not the stay at home variety anyway, not the really Christ-like ones who embody that verse.  I’ve since discovered a lot of feminists have that problem, painting stay-at-home moms with invisibility.

I remember when Marshall was little, I had a stay-at-home mom-friend who felt incensed with a feminist, childless colleague of her husband’s who was moving out of the state. They’d been friends, at least friendly, and she emailed the woman to get together. Her email was disregarded, but the colleague asked my friend’s husband to take her to the airport.

The invisible part of all this was not just that her email was ignored, but that the feminist colleague didn’t realize that by asking my friend’s husband to take her to the airport, she was also asking my friend to give up her Saturday morning. But she’s the mother, right? She’ll just do it, just be there, with or without a thank you.

That’s when I realized fully that I’d had the same prejudice against stay-at-home moms in the past. It seemed like they’d checked out of the race, opted out of a life fully lived, and were doing nothing of immediate value. Leaning back, not leaning in. I would never have said that, but when I look back and analyze my attitudes, I can see it.

But ultimately, that’s a God thing, a Christ-in-the-world phenomenon, to just be there, all the time, with or without acknowledgement.

My guess is She gets tired of not being thanked for endless service and presence. Jesus sure indicated that might be true, when he praised the tenth leper, the Samaritan, for coming back to him to give thanks (Luke 17:11-19). Most of us are the Other Nine, most of the time.

Unless She shows up in a fiery furnace and we don’t get barbecued, after all. Then the Psalmists’ lullabies come back to us and we say, “Though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

Thank you, Mother God, that you are among us as one who serves, enabling us to serve, too.

Mother God Loves the Bully, Too

Yesterday, Marshall told me more of how the girl at school hurt him. He actually had told her he didn’t like the violent things she said, but she kept saying them. She’d threaten him in various ways to get him to watch her horror- based Toontastic videos: “I will drink all your blood if you don’t,” or “I will choke you if you don’t.” He was afraid she would do just what she said, so he complied. He said, “It was horrible.” Marshall says she did this kind of thing to the two younger girls in the class, too.

I know now why he said—or where it came from—that he’d choke me, at the psychologist’s office. He never knew what choking was before this girl. Just makes me angry and sad.

I’ve been reading Tatoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyd, a Jesuit priest who founded Homeboy Industries in the gang neighborhoods of L.A. He talks about having to face the challenge of loving the kids who murder the kids he loved.

And of the mothers. One mother’s oldest two sons were murdered within one year. She ended up in the ER one day with heart problems. Suddenly, a teenage boy was brought in right next to her. He’d been shot several times.

It was certainly a boy who was in the gang who’d shot her sons. The team was working hard to save him, but he was dying. She knew her friends would say to pray for his death. But she knew also she could not wish another mother to go through what she’d been through. She began to cry for the boy and prayed for him to live. And he lived.

This is the great love of Mother God, who takes the bully under her wing, as well as Marshall.

Yet, I wonder, how does Mother God feel happiness, delight, in each of her creatures, no matter what they do? I guess the same way I feel delight in my kids no matter what they do. The delight is the default, after the pain, after the anger. Always delight eventually.

But there is still pain. For two days, Sam has wanted to swing in the back yard in his toddler swing. I can see his beautiful face this way. I sing “back and forth” to him in a sing-song way, and he smiles at me like a light was inside him.

If I pretend I am someone else, I can momentarily erase the dullness in my eyes. The sadness and grief go away, and I can meet Sam in his pure, new delight. But as me, I want to hide my eyes from Sam (though I don’t). He needs an adult to mirror his joy.

To mirror Mother God’s joy. Boyd writes, “Delighting is what occupies God, and God’s hope is that we join in. That God’s joy may be in us and this joy may be complete. We just happen to be God’s joy. That takes some getting used to.”

Yes, it does, and calling God “Mother” is helping.

Mother God’s Delight

Little children, tiny ones, usually know their parents delight in them. But as they get older, and harder to understand, and not as cute, our children are not always sure we love them as much.

That’s how my 9-year-old, Marshall, feels. And that’s how I feel: not so sure we’re cute to Mother God anymore.

Lady Julian of Norwich said it’s the cross that shows God’s love, the drops of blood on Jesus’ forehead. These make me feel sad and guilty and grateful—but delighted in?

Yet Mother God delights in Marshall and Sam, and in me and you. Where are the Psalms revealing Her great love? Thank goodness for the concordance. There’s Psalm 18:19, from the TNIV (revised by me):

She brought me out into a spacious place;

She rescued me because she delighted in me.

The Wisdom figure of Proverbs was “filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in Her presence, rejoicing in Her whole world and delighting in humankind” (Proverbs 8:30, 31, TNIV, revised by me). It’s a beautiful thought, the delight of Jesus and Lady God in Her creation.

May I accept that delight and let it overflow into how I see my kids and the world, this day.

Mother God Never Sleeps (And Neither Do I)

Last night, Sam slept on his own on his back. Due to an infant breathing disorder, he’s slept and breathed well only on top of one of us, since he was born.

He only woke up kicking and arching his back twice. But I am so used to sleeping sitting up, and sleeping lightly, that this new thing of four hours straight sleep and then lying there awake (checking his breathing rate when he has stridor) that I am raggedly fried, emotionally speaking.

I am reading Shauna Niequist’s delightful book, Bread and Wine. Today as Sam napped I read the chapter, “Hail, Mary.” Shauna describes a night that was “possibly the bleakest of my life,” when she had to take her ten-day old baby to the hospital for suspected spinal meningitis.

She sat through that first night alone with her new baby. She texted her friend who told her to try praying to Mary. When her father arrived and saw she needed him, he took the day off. Her father sent her to the chapel for a break.

There, Shauna (who is Protestant) found a statue of Mary and prayed,

“‘Dear God, we need your help. Help my baby. Help my baby. Help my baby.’ No longer a prayer now more a keening, low wail. ‘Help my baby. Help my baby.’ The statue of Mary, pale and silent, reminded me that I wasn’t alone at all, that I was one of a great line of mothers who entrusted their children into God’s care, terrifying as it is.” (159)

And soon, she found, her baby was fine. There was no meningitis and they were home the next morning.

I cried hard through this chapter. Maybe because it’s just been a long fifteen months of not sleeping. I never went through this in the hospital with either child but the point is, I needed to cry. This mothering thing is all-consuming, like being a doctoral student for twenty plus years. You’re always “on,” needing to do more. Your job is never really finished until you graduate, or in a mom’s case, until they graduate. I assume anyway. Maybe it just never ends.

God as Mother: does God feel like this? Spent, always responsible, having to stay present emotionally? God never sleeps, either, but this feeling of exhaustion, does She get it? We assume Mary does—she had a lot of kids besides Jesus—but does God?

Jesus compares himself to a mother hen longing to gather up his chicks and protect them. He feels frustrated when Jerusalem does not respond to his maternal love (Matt. 23:37 and Luke 13:34).  He sees the crowds as “harassed and helpless” like sheep without a shepherd and feels compassion for them (Matt. 10:36).       .

It seems like God wants to mother each of us and yet we are often a lost sheep she searches for, the one she leaves the ninety-nine to find (Luke 15:3). And we often refuse to be found. Normal children reciprocate. They want to be near their Mother and Father.

So maybe the pain of Mother God is even more searing than anything we usually go through as mothers. She has so many runaways, so many lost kids. And is never sleeping, but always looking for us, and trying to get us to listen to her. Yelling, maybe, even screaming sometimes. “Come home! Come home to Mama!” she calls out.

But we can’t hear Her very well, not in some of the ways She speaks, through events and people and children and even animals, and in the quiet voice we hear that we think must not really be Her.

Maybe Mother God keeps calm and carries on. Maybe She doesn’t lose it out of the stress of worrying over us or constantly carrying the ones who stay with her. But Jesus expressed His sorrow over children He wanted to protect (“how often I have wanted to gather your children together!” Matt. 23:37), and who just wouldn’t be loved. So, why wouldn’t Mother God?

My image of God is expanding to include a forlorn Mother.

And again I’ve reached my limits; I am not divine. I need the help of Mother God.


“Hear my cry, El Shaddai, and listen to my prayer.

I have reached my limits, and my heart is faint…

O lead me to the high rock of Your safekeeping.

Be my protection in the midst of foes.


Let me always abide in Your presence.

Hide me in the shelter of Your wings.”

Swallow’s Nest, p. 44, Psalm 61