I was smacked away from the dinner table on one occasion. Calm down, I was never abused, not even close. But my parents did believe in the effectiveness of that proverb, “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” Thus, I was definitely not spoiled.
Even if corporal punishment had not been practiced in my childhood home, I still would not have been over-indulged. Our family was quite poor. My father often worked two jobs in the textile mills to pay the bills and keep the roof over our heads, and my mother cared for my youngest sibling who was very ill. There was always more month than money, and my wardrobe of patched blue jeans and worn-out tennis shoes proved as much – and sometimes, so did our diet.
On what felt like the umpteenth night in a row that my mother served us the culinary delights of macaroni and cheese and fish sticks, I just could not eat another serving of the Gorton’s Fisherman. So, not knowing the economic pressures of feeding a family on a meager income, I voiced my complaint: “Fish sticks, again! Is that all we have?”
You can guess the response. She said, “Why don’t you learn to be thankful! There are children all over the world who would love to have a fish stick to eat.” You can also guess my unwise answer: “Well,” I said, “Why don’t you send those children my fish sticks, because I can’t stand to eat another one.” I discovered that a fish stick tastes pretty good with a fat lip.
My mother shared a lot of other well-worn but accurate expressions with me as well (usually not as forcefully as the whole fish stick episode turned out). You heard these words of wisdom too: “Money doesn’t grow on trees…When you have your own house you can make your own rules…Quit running with that or you will put your eye out…If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all…Don’t put that in your mouth; you don’t know where it has been…Close the door – were you born in a barn…Always wear clean underwear…If everyone jumped off a cliff would you do it too…Your face is going to freeze like that.”
We’ve all heard these things because children of all generations need words of wisdom and correction; because children of all generations like to run with scissors in their hands, object to their mother’s cooking, and leave the door standing wide open. Words of correction (even those that are a bit unorthodox at the dinner table) are expressions of a mother’s love, and all children need love.
We Christians emphasize the Father-like love of God. And yes, he is our Father. But this emphasis on the paternal, can give us a blind spot so that we fail to see and emphasize the deep mother-quality to God’s love for us. God is also Mother, with a love that is warm, deeply affectionate, and unconditional. In many ways, a mother’s guiding, nurturing, compassionate love is best reflective of whom God is.
I like how John Killinger, in his book Lost in Wonder, puts it. He writes, “I believe in the love of all mothers, and its importance in the lives of their children. 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.”
Certainly, not everyone has experienced this kind of love from their parents, and are thus quite suspicious of a God who offers to love us without manipulation, abuse or ill-treatment. Still, as the Psalmist said, “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10). And hold use he/she will, because we all need love.