Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mothering against the odds

Exodus 2.1-10, John 19.25b -27

This is a rough outline of what I said this morning at our Mothering Sunday service.

 I remember, before I had a family, living next door to a woman with a couple of small children. From everything I could see she was a perfectly nice woman, and a good mum, but every now and then, through the rather thin walls of the terraced house we lived in I could hear the unmistakeable sound of her voice, raised in frustration. “Will you please stop doing that?” “No, we need to go now, so get your coat on…!” “I have told you and told you and told you…”

And I can remember, to my shame, thinking to myself, “when I’m a mum, I’m never going to shout at my children like that…”

Fortunately neither of my children are here today – they are grown up now, more or less unscarred I hope…but they would be guffawing at the thought of that peacefully idyllic family life that I was so sure I would be able to create.

It is wonderful being a mum – or a dad. There are delights and joys that you never imagined. There is the fascination of seeing a child you have brought into the world grow into a whole new person. There is the satisfaction of watching them develop. There is a depth of love unlocked in you that you might be quite unaware of until they arrive.

But it’s not all like that, and, sometimes being a mum or dad can feel exhausting or frightening. “Who put me in charge of this child? Don’t they realise I’ve never had any lessons in it and I don’t know what I’m doing?” It’s not necessarily the child’s fault when you feel overwhelmed either. Sometimes it is just that you are tired or ill, or worried about something else, but it all feels too much.

If being a parent is bound to be hard sometimes for any of us, for some people it must feel nigh on impossible. Who would have wanted to be Moses’ mother? He was born at a time when the Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt, had decided he needed to be rid of the Hebrews. He ordered that all the Hebrew baby boys be thrown into the Nile, so when Moses’ mother gave birth she knew she was in trouble. We can feel her desperation in the story, as she tries to hide him and then has to face the fact that she will have to leave him to take his chances in these crocodile infested waters. She does her best for him, but she knows she can’t keep him safe.

In the other story we heard today from the Bible, we heard about Mary, Jesus’ mother, watching him die on the cross. This wasn’t what she imagined being a mum should be like either. I know how much I worry about my children, even though they are all grown up and leading their own lives. But her child was deliberately challenging the powers that ruled his land unjustly. He was taking on the Roman army and the Jewish authorities too. And doing that got him crucified. And there she is watching it happening in the story we heard, and there was nothing she could do. Whatever would that feel like?

Those stories were from a long time ago, but there are many mothers today who face just as many challenges in caring for their children, mothers living in poverty, or in places where there is war, or struggling with disability or prejudice, mothers who are homeless, or refugees, mothers who are lonely or depressed, or living in places where they have few opportunities.

The woman whose picture is on your service sheet is from Afghanistan, where life for women is often very hard and restricted. Her name is Golbibi Kohsani and she is just 20, a mother of two children, trying to bring them up and provide enough money to feed them. Life can be very hard for Afghan women, who are often prevented from working outside the home or getting education. They are living, like all Afghans, with the after effects of decades of wars and occupation and civil unrest. There is poverty and danger all around, and a social system which often gives women little dignity or ability to make their own decisions. Who’d be a mum under those conditions?

But Golbibi’s life has been helped though through Christian Aid. The local organisation it partners in her area is working to provide looms for carpet weaving, something women have traditionally done and are very skilled at. They enable them to pass on their skills to others and make a living. For someone like Golbibi it is a wonderful tool to help her provide for her family, something she can do at home in her own time, which builds up her self-esteem, and brings in some money. A fairly traded carpet can bring in around £37, which might not sound like much,but to her is a great help. She makes her carpets from wool she collects from her own sheep. It might seem a small thing, but it makes a huge difference. It can’t end the fighting. It can’t end the attitudes that make women’s lives doubly difficult in Afghanistan, but it makes Golbibi’s life that little bit easier and more rewarding.

For the women in our Bible readings too, as it turned out there was help at hand. Moses’ mother finds help from a very unexpected source. The daughter of her worst enemy, the daughter of Pharoah comes along, and she is moved with pity. Moses sister plays her part too, suggesting her own mother as a nursemaid. I strongly suspect that Pharaoh’s daughter knew exactly what was going on, but she wisely kept it to herself, and Moses was saved. They can’t stop Pharaoh’s cruelty, but they can work together to save this one child, and he will grow up to save all the rest of them.

Mary, in her worst hour also finds that she is not alone as she so much fears she will be. As he hangs on the cross, Jesus entrusts her to his friend John. He will be a son to look after her, and she will be a mother for him as he grieves. They are often portrayed, as on our stained glass window, standing at the foot of the cross together as they do in our stained glass window.
A little bit of help can make all the difference.

I’m going to ask now for a couple of volunteers who know how to make a plait out of these three long ribbons that I have hung from the pulpit. We might not be able to weave carpets, so this is the nearest thing…

• Thin gold ribbon for mothers – they are like gold dust, very valuable, but they may feel as if there is a lot of weight on a slender thread of energy and resource.

• Yellow for the love of others, for our love, for our help. Delivered through agencies like Christian Aid, or perhaps through a simple offer of help to a friend who you see is struggling against the odds to care for others.

• Green and gold for God’s love and support, always there even when all the human support is absent.

As they are weaving, I will pass around these short lengths of thin gold ribbon .

Take one and hold it. Perhaps as you look at it, it might remind you of those who care for you – parents, partners, children, friends, neighbours, professionals. Or it might remind you of those you care for, and perhaps worry about – we are probably all carers in one way or another, with feelings of responsibility for someone. Perhaps you sometimes feel as if your energy is running thin. You might still want to do it, and know it is the right thing, and really love those you care for, but it can be hard work.

Let it remind you too of those mothers, fathers and carers like Golbibi, battling through against odds which seem impossible to us. Take it home and tuck it away, in your diary or wallet or purse or put it somewhere you will see it, and remember to give thanks for those who care, to pray for those who care, and remember, when you find caring for others tough, that you are cared for too, woven around with the love of others, and the love of God.

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