A Joyful Mother of Children
Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, May 9, 1999
113 A joyful mother of children
O servants of the Lord,
Praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
Both now and for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
The name of the Lord is to be praised.
Lord is exalted over all the nations,
His glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
The One who sits enthroned on high,
Who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
raises the poor from the dust
And lifts the needy from the ash heap;
He seats them with princes,
With the princes of their people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
As a joyful mother of children.
16:12-24 Pain and joy in birth
have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But
when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all
He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears,
and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to
me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All
that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the
Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.
a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little
while you will see me."
of his disciples said to one another, "What does he mean by
saying, 'In a little while you will see me no more, and then
after a little while you will see me,' and 'Because I am going
to the Father'?" They kept asking, "What does he mean
by 'a little while'? We don't understand what he is
saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them,
"Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, 'In a
little while you will see me no more, and then after a little
while you will see me'? I tell you the truth, you will weep and
mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief
will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain
because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets
the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the
world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see
you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your
that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the
truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and
you will receive, and your joy will be complete.
Explained #660 Joy and sadness
joy and gladness come from love, since we all rejoice and are
glad when things go according to what we love, and also when we
go after and get what we love. In a word, all of our joy comes
from what we love, and all of our soul's sadness and grief comes
from things that go against what we love.
O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. . . . He
settles the childless woman in her home as a joyful mother of
children. (Psalm 113:1, 9)
beautiful and appropriate as this passage from the 113th Psalm
is for Mother's Day, I hesitated about preaching on it.
course, there is the perennial issue for men who preach to women
about Mother's Day: I am not and never can be a mother! A
father, yes, but as Patty is quick to remind me, being a father
just isn't the same as being a mother. In most two-parent
households, it is still the mother who does the lion's share of
the child-raising. More often than not, it is to mommy that the
crying child will go first; she is the one who is usually on the
front line to take care of the children's wants and needs. And,
of course, there is the stubborn biological fact that it is
women who bear children, not men.
way of our reading from the Gospel of John, which speaks of both
the joy and the pain of bearing children, this leads to my
second reason for hesitating in preaching on this passage. We
are past those supposed halcyon days when bearing children was
considered to be an unmitigated joy. Of course, this never was
realistic: bearing and raising children has always had its
struggles and heartbreaks--not to mention its drudgery--no
matter what rose-colored glasses society may have worn about the
joys and wonders of motherhood.
the time when this Psalm was written, bearing
children--especially sons--was the greatest thing a woman could
hope for, and represented her greatest fulfillment. These days,
many women have found other ways to fulfill themselves, and
although we still value our children highly, the negative sides
of motherhood get much more press than they used to. Further,
there is a distinct sense in today's society that if a woman is
"just a mother," she has somehow fallen short of her
potential as a human being.
so we have a situation in which bearing and raising children is
just as much of a challenge as ever, but it no longer gives
women the almost automatic status and respect in society that it
did at one time. (Of course, women have made gains in other
areas where they once received no status and respect at all.)
Still, bearing children remains a desirable and even crucial
goal for many millions of women in our society. Women who want
children but are unable to have them, for whatever reason,
continue to feel the age-old pain of the childless woman evoked
by the Psalmist. And women who have gone through the pain of
labor continue to feel the joy of which Jesus spoke: the joy
that a child is born into the world.
the pain and the joy are real. One of the things that our
society has gained from taking motherhood off of the
unrealistic pedestal that it used to be on is that we now
recognize, and can talk openly about, both the joys and the
struggles of motherhood. Because of this, young women who are
considering having children do not have to be quite so surprised
by the difficulties and emotional struggles that often come when
the initial joy of childbirth has passed, and they are suddenly
twenty-four-hour-a-day mothers. Perhaps this new realism is one
of the reasons that teen pregnancy has actually gone down
significantly in the past few years, and the teens who are
having children are more likely to be older teens.
church's teachings put high value on freedom of choice. So
although it may not seem positive to some people, another thing
we can view as a gain is that women now have much more choice
about whether or not they wish to conceive children. As with
other things in life, if women have children because they have
no choice, or simply because it is "the thing to do,"
some of them will not have the same commitment to raising their
children well as if it is something they think about and
choose to do--especially if the choice is made with an awareness
of both the ups and the downs of motherhood. As this view of
motherhood (and fatherhood) as a choice embeds itself
more deeply into our society, I believe we will see continued
growth in the commitment do doing a better and better job of
raising our children.
what we have been talking about so far are largely social
issues. As important as these are, the church's primary reason
for existence is not to address social issues, but spiritual
ones. Of course, the church does need to be concerned with
social issues as well. But it is through presenting the spiritual
side of every issue that the church can have its greatest impact
on the social and family life of our culture. And it is by
looking deeper--looking to the spiritual meanings contained in
our Bible readings--that we can deal most deeply and effectively
with the issues of pain and joy in motherhood. Let's take a look
at the deeper meaning of marriage and of childbearing.
tells us that when the Bible speaks of a marriage between a man
and a woman, it symbolizes a marriage that takes place within
us: the marriage of our thinking side and our feeling side. In
religious terms, it is the marriage between our faith in
God and in the teachings of the church, and our love for
God, the church, and our neighbor.
we do not have this marriage within us, our spiritual life bears
no fruit. Faith alone, without the warmth of love, is dead
because it does not lead to a life of kindness and service. (See
James 2:14-26) On the other hand, love without the light of
faith directing it is blind and aimless, and can lead us in the
wrong direction just as well as the right one. But when the two
are together--when we love God and other people, and have
a strong and clear faith that shows us how to express
that love--then this marriage within us bears children.
are the children of our love and faith? Of course, as I've
already mentioned, they are acts of kindness toward others. But
they are also new insights into the deeper realities of life,
and new feelings of love for God and for one another. In the
biological world, when men and women come together, they bear
children who also grow up to be men and women--men and women
whom their parents hope will go on to do greater things than
they themselves did. In the spiritual realm, when love and faith
get together, they bear the seeds of new and greater love and
faith--of new and greater kindness and understanding.
may all seem a little bit theoretical, so let's bring these
thoughts to bear on the issue we were grappling with earlier:
the pain and the joy of motherhood. Let's face it: children can
be a challenge. Patty is more on the front lines of it than I
am, but some days it does seem that our job as parents is less
parenting than fire-fighting! The whole day is devoted to
dousing the erupting flames of jealousy and conflict among the
children--and dousing our own flames of frustration,
preferably before the erupt into outright anger at the children.
When a mother is in the middle of one of those days, she may
start wondering why she had those pesky children in the first
is exactly where it can help (after the children have
gone to bed!) to step back and consider the spiritual meaning of
marriage and children, and how that meaning relates to our own
parenting--which is so often stuck on the earthly level of
physical wants and needs. If we think about it deeply, what we
are trying to achieve with our children is exactly the same as
the spiritual meaning of childbirth.
we want raise our children from spiritual motives and for
spiritual goals, we will not be content if our children merely
grow up to be successful in this world--to be respected members
of society with secure, well-paying jobs. If we are parenting
from spiritual motives, we also want to see our children grow up
to be men and women who have a living faith in God--a faith that
is grounded in love, and that moves them to live a life of
thoughtfulness and service to their fellow human beings. What
good would it do our children to gain the whole world, but lose
their own souls? (Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36)
so, as we face the trials of children who don't always do as
their told, who often squabble and sometimes do nasty things to
one another, who say and do things that hurt themselves as well
as others, it helps to keep the deeper meaning of childbearing
and child-raising in mind. As we douse those flames of jealousy
and hostility, isn't there more to it than simply stopping the
kids from hurting each other--and from driving their parents
crazy? Aren't we also aiming to bring about new births of love
and thoughtfulness in them? Aren't we aiming to bring together
the love that is in them from God and their growing awareness of
right and wrong so that as they grow physically, there will also
be a loving and heavenly character growing within them?
we look at it this way, then every time we have to direct and
correct our children, we can look at it as one more opportunity
to bring the goodness and the wisdom of God into their lives. As
we become more and more conscious of this goal in our parenting,
then both the times of happiness and joy with our children and
the times of conflict and correction can become occasions for
rejoicing--because both are giving us an opportunity to bring
the Lord more fully into our children's lives.
the birth of God's love and light into our children's lives does
happen with struggle and pain. But there is joy when we see that
the birth has taken place, and our children have learned more
constructive ways to relate to one another. I feel that joy with
Chris (3) and Caleb (2) when a fight over some coveted toy is
transformed into sharing their toys, and I hear those little
voices saying, "I love you, Caleb." "I love you
too, Chris." I feel that joy when Heidi (9) gets over her
annoyance that one of the boys has been playing with her
precious stuffed animal without asking her, and decides to play
a game with them or read them a story. I feel that joy in those
blessed moments when they are all getting along together, and
really enjoying each other's company.
you see, we can be childless even when we have children if we
are not bringing to birth the spiritual children of new
faith in God's loving ways, and new understanding and love for
one another. If we are not guiding our children toward God's
heavenly kingdom, then we are truly, spiritually childless. And
as we see our children grow up without the faith and love that
we could have offered them, we may recognize with regret just
how barren our family life has become.
there is no need for that. We know that God is with us--whether
or not we have physical children--showing us how we can
have joyful new births of love and understanding that we can
share with our loved ones and our friends, and with the people
we see each day. And if we do have children, the spiritual
awareness that we build in ourselves through our own inner
births will help us to encourage that awareness in them, so that
we can take joy in seeing our children grow into faith-filled,
loving, and thoughtful human beings.
Praise, O servants
of the Lord,
Praise the name of the Lord. . . .
He settles the childless woman in her home
As a joyful mother of children.
"Precious Bundle" is ©Tom
and used with his permission by Moon And Back Graphics to
construct this set
Music: Words of
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer