(The following is a transcript of Shauna Niequist’s message “Loving Like a Mother.” The video is also available to you.)
It is totally my pleasure to be with you. As Heather mentioned, you are my favorite church—you are my home church. And there is nowhere I would rather be on Mother’s Day than right here with all of you.
I am myself a mother. We have two sons—Henry and Mac—and they are ten years old and five years old. And I think I say this every year, but I’m pretty sure this year I’m right: five and ten are the absolute perfect ages for human beings. It is just a... they are a delight, and I... one of the things I am most thankful for in all of my life is that I get to be a mother to those two boys.
I wanna begin today with a quote. You know, a lot of times, a speaker or a teacher will begin with some words to kind of set the foundation for what we’re talking about today. Sometimes it’s a section of Scripture. Maybe a Psalm. Maybe a prayer. Maybe a piece of sacred literature. And this is what I want to start with today—so take a look at this...
How to be a mom in 2017:
Make sure your children’s academic, emotional, psychological, mental, spiritual, physical, nutritional, and social needs are met while being careful not to overstimulate, understimulate, improperly medicate, helicopter, or neglect them in a screen-free, processed-foods-free, GMO-free, negative energy-free, plastic-free, body positive, socially conscious, egalitarian but also authoritative, nurturing but fostering of independence, gentle but not overly permissive, pesticide-free two story, multilingual home preferably in a cul-de-sac with a backyard and 1.5 siblings spaced at least two years apart for proper development also don’t forget the coconut oil.
And every mother in the room said, “Amen.”
I’m not done. The author continues...
How to be a mom in literally every generation before ours:
Feed them sometimes.
There was a mom last night—I talked with a mother and a daughter. And the mom was maybe my age, and her mom was maybe my mom’s age. And she was like, “You are so right. You know what we did? We just put them outside with Wonder Bread and a hot dog.”
I was like, “Yeah, that—does that sound like my life at all?”
But the quote is not finished—the author finishes with this line:
This is why we’re crazy.
So the author, you may have heard of her or not, her name is Bunmi Laditan. And you may know her from her Twitter account Honest Toddler. If you have not seen the Twitter account Honest Toddler, I recommend it very highly. There was a season in my family’s life where I feel like what got us through the toddler season was like prayer, grandparents, and reading Honest Toddler tweets to each other at night as consolation.
One thing you might wanna do is google “How to put a toddler to bed in 100 easy steps.” Also from this author. And it’s just exactly what it’s like to put a toddler to bed in 100 easy steps. And the best part is when you get to the end, she says, “Now you have three minutes, and it starts again—the whole 100.” So.
We’re here today to talk about mothering. And today I want to honor all of the different ways that people mother. I want to honor birth moms and adoptive moms and foster moms. I wanna honor grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren. And single moms. I wanna honor stepmoms.
A friend of mine became a stepmom to two teenage girls this year—that is a real situation. But I saw her yesterday, this mom. So she just became a stepmom this year. And she said to me, “This year—” she said, “This week, I received a Mother’s Day card for the first time in my life. Guess who it was from.”
I was like, “One of the two? I don’t know.”
And she said, “It’s from my new husband’s ex-wife.”
Isn’t that beautiful? That this woman, where they are now parenting these two girls together, this mom is welcoming this stepmom into mothering with a Mother’s Day card. I think that is such a beautiful picture of what moms do at their best, right?
I also wanna take a minute to honor all of the moms who play such important—all the women who play such important, vital roles in our lives. Who nurture us and coach us and challenge us. Who mother us in all sorts of very important ways, even though they’re not moms. We honor the role that you play in our lives.
And I know that for many of us in this room, today is a little bit of a difficult day—or maybe a very difficult day. Maybe you lost your mom this year, or your relationship with your mother is broken. Maybe you’ve been walking through infertility or you’ve lost a child. Maybe you have longed to be a mother, and that hasn’t been the path of your life. Maybe today feels like one big sparkly monument to the most raw wound in your life. Another way to say it is maybe you hate Mother’s Day. And if you’re here anyway... if you showed up anyway, and you’re here just waiting for someone to see you and acknowledge you, I see you. And I think you’re brave. And I wanna thank you for being willing to join us in this place. And I wanna say a prayer for you. So let’s pray together.
Dear God, thank You for every person in this room. We know that you can see everything we’re carrying. The good things, the hard things. You see our joy. You see our loss. You see our grief. You see our delight. And we come to You this morning with all of those things. For everything we bring to Mother’s Day—the highs and the lows—we know that You see it, and we know that You care. We thank You for the gift that it is to be together today. In Your name we pray. Amen.
When I look at our world right now, when I look at things like hunger or poverty or division, I so desperately want to be a part of making that better. And I especially want to make the world better for my children. And I think every single one of us in the room feels that same way, right? We wanna make a better, safer, more whole world for our children and for their friends. And if any of us could just snap our fingers, we would do that—of course.
I think there is one specific way that every one of us here can be a part of making a better world. And it’s if every one of us brings everything we have and offers it to the world to help and heal people. And when I look in my life at the people who are doing this, at the people in my life who are walking out God’s love in practical, beautiful ways—the people in my life who are examples to me, who are giving and brave and selfless and protective. The people who are living the kind of love that changes people—that tells people who God is. Do you know who I see living out this kind of love? Mothers.
The moms I’m watching are relentlessly forgiving. They’re tireless. They’re on their knees in prayer. They’re living with their arms extended to bring healing and hope every chance they get. Do you know what I believe has the power to change our world? If every single one of us learned to love like a mother.
I wanna invite every person in this room—man or woman, young or old, mother or not—to take a lesson from the moms in our world and learn to love like a mother.
God uses the Bible to tell us who He is. And there are so many metaphors and images in Scripture of God as a maternal presence—as a mother. There is an image that talks about His love as a womb—His nurturing character, His nourishing presence. In Hosea 13:8, God compares Himself to a mother bear—describes Himself as a bear robbed of her cubs. He says, “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open.” That’s a momma-bear kind of love. He describes Himself as a momma bear—protective. Powerful.
In Isaiah 42:14, it says, “But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.” He’s telling us that He’s active. That He’s powerful. That He’ll be patient no longer. And the image He chooses is that of a woman in labor. That’s very significant.
And then in Isaiah 66:13, I love this: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” The Bible tells us what God is like. And the Bible tells us that God is like a good shepherd. That He is a father. That He’s like an eagle, protecting us under His wings. And He’s also like a momma bear. Like a woman in labor. Like a mother comforting a child. God shows us who He is through the love of a mother.
What if our heroes weren’t athletes or celebrities—people with money and power and fame. What if our heroes—the people that we’re watching, the people we’re imitating—are the mothers who show us every day what God is like. When you nurture, instruct, comfort, challenge, inspire. When you show bravery. When you teach kindness. When you demonstrate patience—time after time after time... you’re teaching the world what God is like. And I don’t know a group of people who live that love more often and more consistently than the moms in my life.
So sometimes love feels abstract. Is it a feeling? Is it red hearts? Is it kisses and hugs and sweet words? I wanna say for our purposes today that this motherly love that I’m talking about is made of two essential ingredients. It’s made of bravery and it’s made of generosity. Brave is showing up. And generous is being a giver and not a taker.
And I’m not saying that all moms are all brave and all generous all the time. I am certainly not... all brave and all generous all the time. But I’m saying, when I look out at a landscape of moms, at the core of what they are and how they live, I see over and over again bravery—showing up—and generosity—giving and giving and giving.
For many moms, not all moms—I know that the adoptive journey, the stepmothering journey, the fostering journey, begins in a different way—but for many moms, the very beginning of mothering is an act of generosity. Because, essentially, you are saying, to a very tiny stranger, “You can live in my body.” This is real generous. You can have a house, and it’s my body.
It’s like the greatest act of hospitality: “Come on in. You can stay with me for a while.”
My son Mac, who is five, said to me recently, “Mom, of all the houses that I’ve ever lived in, do you know which one is my favorite one?”
And I was very curious to hear his answer, because he has only ever lived in one house, and it’s the house we actually still live in right now.
“Which house, buddy, is the favorite house you have ever lived in?”
And he pointed to my stomach, and he said, “I liked living in that house the best. It’s like we were snuggling all the time.”
And, on one hand, that’s like the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. On the other hand, what he does not remember about that glorious time is that I was sick every single day of my whole pregnancy with him—it was like a real dark time in my life.
And so I was like, “Mmm, yeah. I totally also remember that sweet, nine-month snuggle time as well, pal. I remember it. A lot.”
For many moms, the first thing that’s required in their mothering journey is bravery. Because one of the first things they do as a mother is get on an airplane and fly to China or Romania or Ethiopia to adopt the child that they’ve been longing for. For my friend Heather Avis, who wrote an amazing book called The Lucky few—it’s a book about adoption and parenting, specifically parenting children with Down Syndrome. Heather says that saying yes to Macy—to adopting a child with Down Syndrome—was the scariest and best yes she’s ever said, because being a mom requires bravery.
My own mom. You wanna talk about bravery and generosity? My mom is not here today because she’s in Iraq. She’s with Jeremy and Jessica Courtney and the Preemptive Love team. You met them at Celebration of Hope. My mom is literally one of the bravest people I’ve ever known. She spends many weeks a year in war zones and conflict areas. And when she’s there, she listens and learns and asks questions. And she carries the stories of people who have lost everything. I can’t think of a more generous way to live than the way my mother lives.
The Bible is full of stories of women, many of them mothers, who model this bravery and this generosity. Esther risks her life, over and over, to save her people—her whole story is a story about what it means to be brave. In Exodus, Miriam saves the life of her brother Moses by hiding him a basket in a stream. And it’s a dangerous and very brave act. In Luke 21:1–4, it says, “As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’”
You’ve probably heard this story before. It’s one of the examples in all of the Bible—one of the core examples of what it means to be a generous person. And it’s a story about a woman.
Possibly the most significant example of bravery and generosity and a mother’s love. Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary is brave. She says, “yes” to an angel who invites her into a wildly unknown adventure. I hope I would have said yes with a faith that Mary demonstrates. And she’s generous. Mary gives up her plans for her own future—her vision for life as she imagined it. She gives up her body and her reputation and her future to be used by God to be the temporary home of God’s Son.
Brian Zahnd, who is a pastor and a theologian, he says it this way: “Mary consented to the highest risk—for her flesh to give flesh to the Word of God. And we, too, are called to this risk—for our flesh to give flesh to the Word of God.”
So I wanna talk about this practically. Practically speaking, if every one of us—man, woman, old, young, mother or not—were to learn from the mothers in our community and were to live with this brave and generous love, showing up and giving, what would it look like?
Have you ever played this game—it’s like an icebreaker game, and it’s like a bingo, but it’s not the kind like with the numbers. It’s the kind where there’s all these different squares. And maybe, like if you play it at a birthday party, all the squares are related to the person whose birthday it is. Or maybe you play it like on the first day of school. And it’s a way to like get people interacting. So it’s... you need to check someone off who has been to Antarctica, or has run a marathon, or has broken both arms, or something. And you just walk around wherever you are trying to find people—do you know what I’m talking about? Have you played this game? Yes, okay. Sometimes it’s called “Find Someone Who.”
But here’s the thing... if you’ve played this game before, and if you’re either really competitive, or you just really want the game to be over, so it can be like snack time—which is how I am—you realize that there is a way to get this game over like double speed. This is what you do. Instead of looking around and going to each person and asking, finding someone who, this is what you do. You look at your paper for a second, and you realize, What are all the things that I am? And then you just start saying that all around the room so everybody checks off all the squares and then the game is over and then you cut the cake. Okay?
So. Instead of just like wandering around aimlessly, waiting for someone to tell you things, you walk out there—you drive this process and you say, “I have run a marathon. I am left handed. I never had braces. Who needs ‘never had braces?’ I never had braces.” And you move this process along. By, instead of being someone who waits to find “someone who,” you flip the game, and you say, “I’m someone who.”
What I’m suggesting today is that each one of us walks through life saying, “I’m someone who. I have this gift to offer—to heal and help the people in my life, to heal and help the world. I’m going to show up and be brave and be generous.” And instead of saying, “Find someone who. Come to me. Offer things to me.” You look at your life, and you look at what you’ve been given, and you say, “I’m someone who can help in this situation. I’m someone who can bring healing in this situation. I’m someone who can meet the need of this situation.”
Here’s an example of it that I just love. My grandpa, after he retired, started a ministry at his church of all retired men. So now they all have their days free, and they all worked in trades in various areas. My grandpa had been a sheet-metal worker. And what they did—this is their volunteer ministry that they started—they call women who’ve recently been widowed, or single moms in their community, and they say, “Can we find a time to come to your house?” And when they come to your house, they come with their tools, and they say, “Hi. Does anything need fixing?”
That’s what I’m talking about.
That’s a group of grandpas in Kalamazoo, Michigan who have learned to love like a mother. They show up and give. They walk through their life with their tools, asking the question: “Hi. Does anything need fixing?” It’s that kind of active, generous, brave, practical love that’s going to change our world. And it’s the love that I see mothers demonstrate every day.
And if you’re thinking of like “I’m someone who,” if that feels sort of like braggy to you. If it feels like, oh, that’s sort of like making a big deal of myself—I wanna be more humble than that. Here’s the thing... the gifts that God gave you are not yours; they’re His. And they’re not for you—they’re for the world. What God gave you is not for you; it’s from Him for the world. And so, at that point, if that’s true, then you offer them freely, with open hands, over and over. I’m someone who. I’m someone who.
For example, maybe what you have is money. Maybe there’s a family in your life, and if you showed up with new bikes for their kids, it would change their summer.
Maybe it’s time that you have to offer. Every mom I know is wishing for more hours in a day.
So let’s bring this full circle just for a second. What if Mother’s Day this year is all about our whole church family learning from moms, watching them, learning to be brave and generous, and then using our new learning to show up and give to the moms and the families in our community? What if Mother’s Day this year in our church family is all of us learning from moms, and then using that new learning to show up and give to the moms and the families in our community?
Here’s something else. I’m not just talking about the good things God has given you—the money, the time, the skills, the knowledge, the talents. I’m also talking about the hardest things that you’ve experienced—whatever life has given you God can use for a purpose. What I’m saying is: Even your pain can become part of your purpose. Here’s an example of it that I love.
Many years ago, one of my best friends, Courtney, she delivered a daughter significantly premature. She was in the NICU for many weeks, and Courtney learned the hard way everything that you need to know about life with a preemie. And then, a couple years later, when my friend Rachel’s son was born significantly premature, Courtney, who had only met Rachel through me a couple times, asked for her phone number, and she said, “I know this road. And I wanna walk it with Rachel.” And then... when my friend Annette’s daughter was born significantly premature, Rachel asked for Annette’s phone number because she said, “I know this road, and I want to walk it with Annette.”
These are women who understand that their pain has the potential to become their purpose. That everything that has happened in their life is not just for them but can be used to help and heal the community they’re a part of. That’s so beautiful to me.
And so my question for you today—what is it in your life that you have to offer? In what ways can you stand up and say, “I’m someone who”?
“I beat cancer.”
“I raised three teenagers.”
“I can fix a washing machine.”
“I make a killer chicken soup.”
“I’m really good at praying.”
“I have a passion for T-Ball.”
Whatever you have, it’s not for you, it’s for the world.
And there’s one more image I wanna share with you.
I heard a story earlier this year, and it captured me so deeply. One woman was struggling—she was carrying something very heavy, very painful. And her friend, who lived across the country, mailed her a package. And in the package was a purse. And tucked inside the purse was a card that said, “I see what you’re carrying. And you don’t have to carry it alone.”
And then, when my best friend lost her father-in-law, I mailed her a purse—inspired by this woman, by this story—and I tucked a card inside, and I said, “I see what you’re carrying, and you don’t have to carry it alone.”
Today, when you leave, every woman here is going to receive a gift from us, and it’s a small coin purse. And what it is, is an everyday, right-where-you-can-see-it, every-time-you-see-it reminder that you’re part of a church family that sees you and honors you and sees what you’re carrying and says, “You don’t have to carry it alone.”
None of us were created to carry it alone.
Every person here was created with great love, on purpose and for a purpose, by a holy God. And every day, God wants to carry with you the heavy things that you’re carrying—and so does this church family. You don’t have to carry it alone.
So today, on Mother’s Day, this is the invitation for every one of us. Bravery and generosity. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Show up and give—over and over and over. I’m someone who. What you have is not for you—it’s for the world. And not just the good things. God can use everything in your life, and He can use your pain, and He can turn it into a purpose to help and heal someone else. None of us were made to do it alone. And the fact that we don’t have to carry all of this alone is the most beautiful and freeing thing I can think of.
Let’s pray together.
Dear God, thank You. Thank You for the gift that it is to gather together. Thank You for creating a church family. Thank You for assuring us that we are not alone—that You are with us, that You are for us, and that You see the heavy things we carry. Please help us to be brave and generous... to follow the examples of mothers all around us... to show up and give. And instead of waiting around to find “someone who,” to “be someone who” can help and heal the communities You’ve placed in our lives. We thank You for the gift that it is to gather. It’s in Your name that we pray together. Amen. Happy Mother’s Day.