What Happens When God Can be Mother Too?

Category Archives:Parenting

Guest Post: “Father’s Day Boycott?” by Dr. Tim Bulkeley

Whenever someone lets their mask slip and I catch a glimpse of the pain and hurt a bad father has caused my stomach lurches like I’m on a carnival ride. The pain of a father’s abuse lasts till the child grows old. It is a wound that only dies when the child passes on. But the problem with Father’s Day is not only abusive fathers, but also many who simply worked too hard to “provide”, and so seemed to fail in caring. So many fathers have caused pain that Father’s Day is a problem.

On Father’s Day, of course, I could feel so grateful for my own dad’s love and care. I could enjoy Father’s Day, because I had a dad I can celebrate.

But for so many friends, for them it is not even a day of mixed feelings. Father’s Day, for them, means remembering what is better forgotten – especially when it can never be forgiven.

We should all boycott Father’s Day!

And yet, I watch my son, a great dad, caring for his children Micaela and Rose with a fierce and tender love. As well as the joys of days spent at Playcenter [a parent-run New Zealand kindergarten], I hear of the sleepless nights (certainly less sleep than is good for parents). I hear the stories of intelligent and willful children demanding what they cannot be given (even angels have temper tantrums, at least human ones do). Parents are often driven to wit’s end. Being a parent is far from easy.

So parents need all the encouragement and support we can give. How could we be so stupid as to think of a boycott of the day when the fathers who try hard to be good parents for their children get a little recognition?

Fathers’ Day is a time for mixed feelings, a time to remember the past with gratitude or sadness, but also and above all, a time to encourage all those men who are trying and, naturally, being only human, failing to be the fathers we want our children to enjoy.

Dr. Tim Bulkeley is the author of Not Only a Father: Talk of God as Mother in the Bible and Christian Tradition.

Parenting Like God

Meet a Motherly God

I’m reading a book called God and the Afterlife: The Groundbreaking New Evidence for God and Near-Death Experience by Jeffrey Long, M.D. I tend to be a believer, since science has not caught up with Near-Death Experiences (NDEs) yet and there is no conclusive materialist evidence for why they happen. The NDEs often change people; that much is undeniable.

And, though the gender of God is variable in people’s NDEs, the most salient characteristics of God seem motherly. In fact, the understanding I’ve gained of God through reading about NDEs can inform my life as a mother, and can help all of us parent better. So, what can we learn from Mother God from the people who have had NDEs, and how does that translate to how we parent?

Mother God Loves

The first thing we can learn is that She is love. When people go to heaven in their NDE, that’s what they often first realize: God loves me unconditionally. One says, “I have never felt loved by someone on this earth the way I felt loved by this being,” and another reports, “I felt someone was carrying me very lovingly–an unconditional love.”

Is this what our children know about us? Do they get that we love them and understand them, and accept them as they are? Is this what my kids feel about me?

When my oldest son was about 5, he reported to us, “You don’t love me like you did when I was first born.” And he was right. As he grew, love became subtly more conditional and based on his behavior, less and less freely given.

The priority of showing love to our children seems obvious, but it counters the popular wisdom about kids. We’re told, and often believe, that the most pressing thing they need from parents is discipline. They need not to be one of those kids that cause the problems.

But it’s acceptance, understanding, love and mentoring that help children grow up well. It’s not time-outs or losing video game time or even feeling cold at school because she forgot her jacket–again.

One NDEer recalls, “I understood the major superior being of love to be God, and I sensed God’s love for me and for all….I sensed that we are all on a path to that love and to God.”

Parents are on the path to learn how to turn our hearts to our own children (Mal. 4:6; Luke 1:17), to see from their perspective, to have empathy, and then to gently help them grow into all they can become. We are not on a path to learn to control their behavior.

She Doesn’t Condemn

The second helpful parenting wisdom I learned from NDEers is that God is fundamentally forgiveness. She doesn’t judge or condemn us. We judge ourselves. Another NDEer says, “The Light also knows everything that I’ve ever done and will do but loves me unconditionally….There is no fear, no judgment, punishment, blame, or shame. No ledger of good and bad deeds. Only warmth, peace, joy, happiness, forgiveness, and love in the Light.”

Most say they do review their lives with God, but God doesn’t stand beside them with condemnation. Instead, others’ perspectives become more obvious than they were, such as how someone we hurt felt when we hurt them.

How painful will it be to feel the exact emotions our kids felt when we punished them or threatened them or sent them to their rooms? And to realize they learned nothing but to mistrust us and to put up barriers between themselves and us? Feeling those feelings now through empathy, and remembering our own most painful moments as children, may help us stop hurtful acts that we normalized as child discipline.

Quantum Energy Requires Respect

The third NDEer-truth we can apply to parenting is that we are all made of the same stuff, all connected in love and sibling-hood. As one NDEer says, “I also had this knowing that the essence or spark of the Highest is in everything–every mineral, vegetable, animal, and human.”

For parents, that means we should see our children as fellow human beings first, with differing needs based on development. But basically deserving all the respect (if not freedom) we would give an adult friend.

We wouldn’t say to our BFF in the typical nasty tone we reserve for our kids, “How many times do I have to tell you, take your shoes off at the door?” No way. We’d have no more BFF.

Our kids feel the same way, but they can’t get rid of us. They’re powerless when it comes to enduring disrespect from us. And eventually, they come to feel, deep down, that they are bad. That they deserve our negative voice tones and many corrections throughout the day.

And later, as teens, they realize that we’re the ones at fault and get angry and shut down. We start to lose them, sometimes permanently. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Made in Her Image

When we want to become better parents, we can draw our inspiration from Mother God. She loves us (John 3:16), She doesn’t condemn us (John 3:17), and She sees our value and respects us (Gen. 1:31; John 10:34), no matter our age.

She’s the Mother we always wanted. And, made in Her image, we can become more and more like Her.



Mother God in a Toddler-Sized Package

When we need something, sometimes the best thing to do is assume Mother God is giving us what we need, already. Then we can turn around to face what (or who) we think is taking something we need from us.

I learned this today. Sam’s sleep has been wonky the past few nights, as in, won’t be put down for the first part of the night. Finally, last night, I could at least sleep most of the night sitting up, with him sleeping on me. But, not well.

This morning, though, he wanted to nurse every ten minutes. I felt snappy and irritable. I wanted my coffee and muffin and to eat in peace for fifteen minutes. My sacred-coffee-space was being violated.coffee photo-1452882033718-1caccfcfe77f

I did get five minutes. But the little toddler hands holding my leg, the arms reaching up, the pattering of following feet, that all continued.

Finally, I gave up. When Joel showed up in the sitting room with Sam (now Joel was following me, too) complaining, “I don’t know what to do with him,” I said, with a tone, “Why don’t you read to him?” He responded according to my tone. I shot back something else that sounded perfectly rational and perfectly edgy.

I sat Sam down though and we read “Pooh’s Sunny Day.” I took him into the bedroom to nurse in the a/c. After a while of that, I realized I felt better. It occurred to me that Sam’s chasing me was good for me. My stress level from tiredness went way down due to all that good prolactin and oxytocin. I got my fix without coffee.

And Joel needed a break, too. His bruised rotator cuff is still hurting because he uses it so often. When he got to stop lifting a 25 pound-er, he cooked us a Chicken-Rice Paleo casserole, which was delicious.

Sam often delivers Mother God to me in a toddler-sized package. It was hard to see God’s gift this morning, but when I did, I could receive peace and give respite to Joel. Sam was meeting our needs, not standing in the way of getting them met.

What or who is chasing you that you’d wish would go away, but is actually Mother God’s gift to you? 


What Would Raffi Do?

The first song I heard by Raffi, the Canadian children’s folksinger, was “Biscuits in the Oven.” Tears gathered in my eyes as I danced with 1-year-old Marshall. I sensed this man was responding deeply to a calling to love, that can only come from God. The words were simple, but his voice and music fed my soul.

Recently, we found some of our old Raffi CDs we’d misplaced, and we play them daily. His are the only songs with lyrics that Marshall, my nine-year old Asperkid, will listen to. He, too, knows that Raffi is a mentor, a real presence in our lives calling us to goodness, truth and justice. When Marshall is upset, Raffi calms him.

When Raffi wrote a song called “In the Real World” on his CD “Love Bug,” Marshall said, “He can’t mean it.” But I explained that Raffi really does think the world of trees, flower, sky and sun is better than the online world. He got quiet.

I recently finished Raffi’s autobiography, written in 1998. I couldn’t help but search for a sign of a faith in Christ. One of his grandmothers was deeply evangelical and prayerful, though the pamphlet-giving type. As for Raffi, he wasn’t impressed with Christianity, nor the New Age or yogic philosophy he briefly explored. He was attracted to Taoism in college.

Now he talks about listening to The Creator in prayer and taking his life’s work as a calling. He strives for integrity. The value of caring for children comes first, over money.

It seems to me that Raffi has a sense of being a co-creator with God, and an understanding of the sacredness of children. He’s drawn on the feminine aspects of God intuitively, allowing the Spirit reign in his work and life. The idea for activism for children came to him in a vision. He clearly listens, stays open, to God. Can that happen without believing in Jesus? Yes, I think it happens all over the world every day.

It occurred to me that someone could start a WWRD movement, What Would Raffi Do? But he’d find that over-the-top. Nonetheless, I find great overlap in Raffi’s view of children and Jesus’s.

Raffi starts his autobiography, “Children are the most reasonable people I know.” Jesus said, “Unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the reign of God” (Matt. 18:3). I think Raffi was saying that the values of children right the world again, make adult reason seem paltry. And that they tell the truth when adults would prefer they didn’t. And this too was Jesus’ point. Children enter into the world of faith easily, and this, said Jesus, was the work of God (John 6:29).

Adults aren’t usually so good at taking cues from little humans who are supposed to show respect, more than be respected. But we’ve got a lot to learn. True, Raffi and Jesus are both childless men. But I think they give us tired, just-give-me-ten-minutes-alone-in-the-bathroom parents more objectivity.

In Jesus, we see both a Mother and a Father unlike any most of us have experienced. This divine parent welcomes children in the presence of adults–in a culture where children had little power. Then, in front of those same adults, praises the kids as examples of spiritual maturity (Matt. 19:13-15).

You never hear Jesus scolding a child. And, never a word to parents about discipline. No quoting of Proverbs about not sparing the rod. Just Jesus’ quiet insistence that children understand God and the way things should go, in ways his adult followers did not.

Raffi seems to get that. I have pasted his Covenant for Honouring Children below from his website. So when you get to a hard place in your life with kids–just ask, What Would Jesus and Raffi Do?

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.

The Divine Task of Parenthood

Having babies is like starting your own fan club. But then sometimes when kids get older, they start to question us, like believers question Mother God as they get older in faith.

Marshall is that age where we get critiqued regularly.  He says, “I feel like an intruder lately.” He wonders if we love his new brother more than we love him. He wonders if we no longer adore him, now that he isn’t a baby and included in that mutual adoration club.

He’s right that we don’t love him in the exact same way as his brother who is fourteen months old. In some ways the love I have for Marshall has stronger, deeper roots due to more time, nine years vs. 14 months. In other ways, the love I have for him is like offering vegetables when a child wants brownies. It’s not sweet enough.

It stings. It’s hard for me to admit that I treat Sam with warmth because mostly what I get from him is positive, and I struggle to treat Marshall the same way when he calls me names and criticizes me. (He is repeating the behaviors of the bully, but it’s still hard to take).

Yet, Marshall scarcely even knows what he is saying, or its impact on us emotionally. Asperkids, at least sometimes, lack a “theory of mind.” They don’t fully realize others have a mind separate from their own. It makes these kids and adults seem egocentric.

John Elder Robinson, who wrote Look Me in the Eye, says he will sometimes walk into a party, go straight to the television, and turn it off, because it bothers him. He forgets to think about the fact that someone may be watching it. But he means well.

For Marshall, when he calls us “creep” and “jerk,” he is stating a fact. That this fact-naming might make him less immediately lovable never occurs to him. Our voice tone changing into irritation is inexplicable. One of us leaving the room suddenly to try to cope feels like rejection. We are learning to do the superhuman feat of staying cheerful in all situations or Marshall’s feeling of rejection is only intensified.

Marshall wants to stay connected in the same way Sam naturally is by being dependent, vulnerable and cute (like Marshall was at fourteen months old). He wants baby-cradling, but at 4 foot 6 inches, it just isn’t happening much, despite our good intentions.

And now all the anger and hurt within him is expanding into a universe, creating someone we don’t know.

Suddenly we parents are not adored anymore.

But the real divine task of parenthood is to always reach out; to be Jesus of the one lost sheep; to never give up; to, like El Shaddai, be ready with new mercies every day, and with an open heart that can heal, and be hurt again.

Jesus spoke the truth to people about sin (including sin toward children), but in the end, his final word was forgiveness—because “they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Jesus took their perspective, and he could forgive.

The truth is all of us have difficulty seeing from others’ point of view. Parents may have this problem even more than people with Asperger’s. But that is key in being a good mom or dad, especially to a child who is often misunderstood, and another child who can’t yet speak for himself.

We’re all children inside, seen inaccurately, and without the right words, sometimes. We criticize Mother God when we’re really asking for love and protection and for Her to understand us.

And we’re always in need of the kind of forgiveness that sees our hearts and stays open, the kind She gives every day–even when we don’t adore Her like we once did.

The Perspectives of Love

Marshall flopped on the floor of the psychologist’s office, playing with one of those sensory pin toys that make the shape of your hand. He was explaining to her why he hates people: “They have destroyed so many animal habitats.” She nodded—she loves animals, too—and asked, “Is there any one you don’t hate?”

Marshall then climbed up into my lap, all 83 pounds, 4 and a half feet and I gave him a long hug. I was the Good Mama.

But at the end of the session, he accidentally hit his head on the side of the door. Then he came back into the room and hit me, with threats quoted directly from the older girl who bullied him.

I try to stay half in denial about Marshall’s new self, affected by trauma. The other half of me, at least, has to enter his world and see what he sees. And occasionally kick a demon out.

This is the Mama-Jesus-Task—walking scary roads together, never abandoning, always beckoning.

The Reign of God Starts with our Parenting

Jesus said John the Baptist was “the Elijah who was to come” (Matt. 11:14). The second Elijah, John, was to “turn the hearts of the parents to their children” (Mal. 4:5,6; Luke 1:17).

Repentance and the reign of God is at least partly about children, in their worst moments, the times we most want to turn away or to threaten to withdraw our love. To really repent is to love our children with open hearts even when we’re in pain, and to stop the control-through-fear, the manipulation, the verbal or physical abuse. It’s to choose to see from our children’s perspective.

I’ve never heard a sermon on this verse, yet if John was the greatest human in history (Matt. 11:11), in Jesus’ estimation, then we need to listen. I need to listen.

There are so many components to love, like a big Lego heart. The funny thing is, I’m not aware of having learned love from God, like the part of love that sees from the other person’s perspective.

Yet I believe Mother God sees life through my eyes; I think Mother God understands me. This is where I feel safe. If I thought Mother God would only argue with me about anything I said, I would never speak.

Arguing is the easy place to parent from. I have nearly reduced my interactions with Marshall to asking him to get off the computer so he can interact with us. He almost always say, “No.” The computer is now his friend, his safe place. I see it as an enemy.

The only thing that will put the pieces of our lives together is love, which will mean going deeper and deeper into his world and helping him sort it out together. That means I quit trying to control him and see what is important to him and why.

The Perspective of Grace

Yesterday, Joel had a moment of grace for Marshall, one I usually don’t. Marshall has taken to walking away from the house lately when he feels rejected. He and Joel were both in bare feet. Joel followed him down the street and said, “Can I come with you?”

Marshall looked back gratefully and said, “Yes,” and then began to tell Joel what a bad parent he was.

But by the time I saw them, outside, they were walking together toward home, smiling, side by side.

This is the metaphor for our parenting of our wounded Asper-boy. Don’t try to get him to change; go with him into his own choices and back out again. It is the safety of unconditional love that changes us.

This is also a metaphor for Mother God’s parenting. She doesn’t shout stern commands to come home; she follows us where we choose.

She never leaves no matter where we choose to go—the office, the pub, the bus stop or the Internet. And she loves us unrelentingly, loves us all the way home.

Mother God, My BFF

Raising Myself

Marshall has complained about my parenting lately and I agree. I feel lecture-y too often, like I don’t take time to listen well. So I am re-reading Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves. Aldort’s thesis is that parents are afraid of loving unconditionally, afraid we will spoil our children, but that it is unconditional love that makes whole children and therefore whole adults.

The first time I read it, I wept my way through the words, and at the end felt like I’d been born again as a parent. I have since written articles on this kind of parenting. Yet, without continual reminders of my own ideals, I go right back to conditional love.

Why God Isn’t My BFF

So, the phrase, “unconditional love” reminds me of Mother God. But most of my life I’ve not known God as Mother, but rather as Someone rather distant. So finding a source for unconditional love hasn’t come naturally. I’ve focused on Jesus, reminding myself that Jesus is, in fact, God, but still with little emotional change when I hear the word “God” or even “the Father.”

The past couple of years I have come up with a guiding phrase for the year every New Year. This year’s was Own Best Friend. I got this idea from an article in O Magazine, by Martha Beck, Ph.D. She talks about having a special scarf or hat to put on to represent yourself as Best Friend, to yourself. You-as-you pour out your heart, and then put on the Best Friend items of clothing to respond. The Best Friend sounds a lot like a very good therapist. She is a good listener, asks good questions, and encourages.

So, I started speaking to myself in that way, especially the encouragement part. I’d think, “What would I want a best friend to say to what I just said to myself?” and then have the BFF voice say it, even if it wasn’t entirely truthful. Something like, “Oh, you’re much too hard on yourself. I do that kind of thing all the time!”

Well, God’s voice and the BFF voice are not the same, or I’d have consulted God instead. The sweet, soothing half-truths that heal me and give me self-esteem again are what I seek though. God doesn’t mince words and God doesn’t need me to “tell Her more” because She’s got the scoop already.

I’m going to have to mull this over. It’s really a trust issue—trusting Mother God to love me, to pour love out on me, to adore me like I adore my kids, on my best days. To think I’m awesome no matter what, like a true BFF.

I go to God for truth, not for unconditional love; and so I’m missing out.

God Is Not a Helicopter Mom, but a Doting One

I’m going to keep calling God, “Mother God” in my prayers and mind, and think about Her as someone who dotes on me, is really always seeking not only my welfare, and that of others, but my happiness. Wow, how different is that!

But Mother God is not your helicopter parent. Despite the truth She’s always ready to give, She is usually pretty hands-off when it comes to obedience. Except for the thing where I never get to brag without immediately being humbled, She lets me do my own thing. I’m free, and that kind of sucks as much as it’s good for growth in all my human gifts.

But within my freedom, I need a close BFF relationship with God. I need Her to let me know I’m okay. I’m enough; and even awesome. Maybe if I can start getting those messages, I can give them more easily and often to my sons.

Marshall is learning that Mother God wants to bless us—with the sun and blue sky after a bleak, grey, rainy, cold Oregon morning. May I learn this more deeply, that these gifts and more are the caress of an ever-loving Mother who delights in us–in me, and my children.