Mom Was Smarter than I Thought
Nearing the time of the first anniversary of my mother’s death, not wanting my dad to be alone, I drove down to Southern California to spend a few days with him. We took flowers to Mom’s gravesite, agreed that it was hard to believe she had been gone a year, and also agreed that she was an amazing woman with whom we were truly blessed to share our lives. We remembered her as a funny, gregarious, smart, and hard working wife and mother—and for me, someone impossible to ignore, a delightful force to be reckoned with. She was the woman who shaped and influenced my life more than any other.
My mom loved the Lord with her whole heart, served Him with her whole life, and used the full force of her immense influence to lead her children to follow her example. One of the most satisfying moments of my life came during Mom’s funeral service when the words of Psalm 90 were read: “Teach us to number our days rightly…May the beauty of the Lord our God rest upon us…” Mom had gotten it right. She has listened as God guided her in how to use her days, and when I looked into her face, I saw the beauty of the Lord resting on her.
But that was not always the way I saw her in the moment. We went toe to toe more times than I can begin to count. I still shudder when I close my eyes and hear her voice saying,
“Don’t you use that tone of voice with me young man.”
Or, “You just wait till your dad gets home.” —I always hated that one!
But I have long since come to realize that mom was smarter than I thought. Her unwavering guidance is a sweet and cherished memory. And her words of wisdom continue to be impressed upon me—which is a wonderful thing about wisdom! It stays true from generation to generation and needs to be passed on.
Her House…Her Rules
Mom’s words of wisdom made a profound impact for the better upon my life. I can’t think very long about growing up under her influence without hearing these dreaded words: “As long as you live in this house…” I can’t begin to tell you how much I hated those words—and I can tell you why! They immediately ended whatever argument we were having, they ended the argument in her favor, and (and this was the worst) because I knew she was right.
The bottom line here was real clear: Her house…her rules! I didn’t have to like them and I didn’t have to agree with them. And my options were equally clear: adapt or relocate. You just can’t get much clearer than that. What wasn’t clear to me at the time was the deeper lesson that she was teaching me—a lesson rooted in the words and wisdom of God. It was a lesson designed to teach me the value of submission.
Jesus’ version of the lesson is found in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
That’s a tough lesson. The very notion of self-denial, humility, and submission are totally contrary to our human nature. Everything in us naturally compels us to always seek whatever it is that we want. And this is a lesson we have to confront over and over again every day. Nonetheless, when we finally get it, submission yields blessings beyond anything we can imagine.
- How incredibly liberating it is to be free of the burden of always having to get my own way.
- What a delight it is to discover that my happiness does not depend on always getting what I want.
- What a joy it is to experience the Holy Spirit empowering me to simply let go of an issue and then move on without grumbling or complaining.
- And how deeply satisfying it is to be able to distinguish between being true to a core value or simply being held hostage by a stubborn self-will.
It’s hard to over-estimate the blessings that flow to those who learn to submit. It’s also hard to over-estimate the heavy price paid and the damage caused by those who don’t. How many marriages have ended because someone decided they were going to have their way no matter what it cost? How many friendships have been severed because someone refused to let go of an issue?
Jesus said, “If you want to be with me, you’ve got to deny yourself and follow me.”
Mom said, “As long as you live in this house…”
Two teachers. One lesson. And my life has been immeasurably blessed by learning the value of submission.
Not Till You Clean Your Plate!
Another word of wisdom that mom shared with me regularly was this: “You are not getting up from that table until you have eaten everything on your plate!”
As a child, I was an incredibly picky eater. Consequently, dinnertime, in our house, frequently became a battleground with me trying to leave the table and my mom telling me that I wasn’t going anywhere until I’d cleaned my plate. This nightly dinnertime battle was incredibly frustrating to me. I simply could not understand my mom’s preoccupation with the few remaining bites of food resting comfortably on my plate. How would life be diminished if they were simply thrown away? The significance of the lesson completely eluded me at the time.
Many years later I finally realized that this lesson, too, was deeply rooted in the word and wisdom of God. You see, the lesson wasn’t really about food at all. It was about a foundational biblical principle called, stewardship. My mom was teaching me the value of being a good and faithful steward.
Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” In other words, every good thing we experience in life, big or small, is a blessing from God. Even life itself is a gift from God.
Everything has its source in God. We don’t own anything. The earth… everything in it…all who live in it…all belong to God. We simply manage what God has entrusted to us. And what my mom was teaching me at the table is that we don’t waste what God has given us. As stewards, we are always accountable to God for the way we manage what He has entrusted to us. Whether it’s a big thing like our life or a small thing like a few bites of food, God’s blessings are not to be wasted.
- God has given you one life; live it wisely.
- As God gifts and equips you to serve Him, use your gifts to bring Him glory.
- As God blesses you with financial resources, manage those resources to bring Him glory.
- As God blesses you with relationships—friends, a spouse or children, receive these relationships as precious gifts from God and then nurture the kinds of relationships that are pleasing to God.
The Psalmist said, “The earth and everything in it is the Lord’s.”
Mom said, “You’re not getting up from that table until…”
Two teachers. One lesson. And my life has been immeasurably blessed because I learned the value of being a good steward.
You’d Jump Too!
Another word of wisdom that mom often shared with me was this: “If everyone decided to jump off a bridge, I suppose you’d jump off too!” The worst part about getting hit with that particular pearl of wisdom was that 9 times out of 10 I actually brought it on myself by offering up some variant of, “But, mom, everyone else is doing it.”
To my youthful way of thinking the logic here was flawless. If 9 out of 10 moms had already signed off on this particular activity and my mom was the lone holdout, then clearly the problem was with her. Right? Doesn’t that make sense? But even though my logic was flawless, it never swayed my mom. Never.
At the time I was absolutely convinced that her stubbornness was rooted solely in a perverse desire to ruin my day and make me miserable. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered that this lesson, too, was firmly rooted in the word and wisdom of God. Mom was trying to introduce me to the concept of personal responsibility.
- She was teaching me about autonomy.
- She was teaching me about the wise exercise of free will.
- She was teaching me that even if everyone around me makes a wrong decision that I, in fact, am still free to make the right decision.
- She was challenging me to take personal responsibility for both my decisions and the consequences that result from those decisions.
Jesus taught the very same lesson to his disciples. He once asked them, “Who do people say that Son of man is?” When the disciples told Him who the crowd thought He was, Jesus then asked them, “But what about you? Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” To this Jesus replied, “Blessed are you….”
- Blessed are you for not being swayed by the crowd.
- Blessed are you for listening to God’s voice over the voice of all others.
And blessed am I because my mother refused to parent by popular opinion and, in doing so, taught me that I am accountable to God for the decisions I make.
Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”
Mom asked, “So are you going to jump just because they do?”
Two teachers. One lesson. And my life has been immeasurably blessed because I learned the importance of personal responsibility.
I Love You, and That’s That!
Without a doubt, the most important words I ever heard my mother speak, and which I never got tired of hearing, were “I love you.”
Every day she lavished those words on me. And, believe me, there were many days when she would have been perfectly justified to have had a change of heart. But she never did. In fact, she never even wavered. Not one time in my life did I question for a moment the security of my place in my mother’s heart. She loved me. I didn’t have to earn her love and there was no way for me to lose her love.
And her unconditional love of me laid the foundation that made it possible for me to learn the most valuable lesson of my life—that God also loves me unconditionally….
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
- Before there was anything lovable about us, God already loved us.
- When we were doing everything we could to keep Him out of our lives and out of our sight, even then God loved us.
- And even after we come to know Him and continue to do things that break His heart…even then… He continues to love us. Frankly, I can’t explain it. But I know it’s possible because that’s also the way my mom loved me.
In his book, Lost in Wonder, Love and Praise, John Killinger includes this poem to mothers.
I believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who was born of the promise to a virgin named Mary. I believe in the love Mary gave her Son that caused her to follow him in his ministry and stand by his cross as he died. I believe in the love of all mothers, and its importance in the lives of the children they bear. It is stronger than steel, softer than down, and more resilient than a green sapling on the hillside. It closes wounds, melts disappointments, and enables the weakest child to stand tall and straight in the fields of adversity. I believe that this love, even at its best, is only a shadow of the love of God, a dark reflection of all that we can expect of him, both in this life and the next. And I believe that one of the most beautiful sights in the world is a mother who lets this greater love flow through her to her child, blessing the world with the tenderness of her touch and the tears of her joy.
If you are blessed to have or have had a mother who loved you and reflected the love of God, it would be good to find some appropriate way to express your gratitude to her—and to God. And if your mother does not/did not love you with a God-like love, it would be good to forgive what needs to be forgiven and to be grateful. Why? It is because, in spite of your mom’s short-comings, you have the opportunity to be perfectly loved by God. His love is always available to you—it’s there waiting for you to discover it.