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