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Bearing the sorrows

In this part of the world, Mothers’ Day comes hard on the heels of Good Friday, which seems apt to me.

I’ve no truck with the theory of substitutionary atonement. I can’t believe that a God whose other name is love required a blood sacrifice to render God’s own creation acceptable and no longer repellent. That’s not how I read the Gospels, nor is it the God I have experienced in a lifetime of faith.

So I’m not sure what to make of the language about Jesus on the cross ‘bearing the sins of the world’. The suggestion, however, that Jesus was bearing the sorrows and griefs of the world, makes perfect sense.

As I have said before, over and over, when the creation and its human creatures are in pain, God’s heart is the first to break. This is what I believe. And the closest I have come to this divine characteristic is in relation to my own offspring.

I remember as a teenager being distraught about a breakup with a boyfriend and saying to my sympathetic mother, ‘It’s alright for you, you’re happily married and you never have to go through this!’ Admirably, she restrained herself from commenting on my infantile notions of what a long marriage entailed. What she did say was, ‘We go through it all with you. That’s just as bad.’

Now I know what she means. One of the things you sign on for, when you become a parent, is the anguish of witnessing the suffering of your children without, usually, being able to do a damn thing about it. When they are little you can protect and shelter them to some extent. When they are grown, all you can do is try and be there when and as they need.

Now that all my offspring are well and truly adult and responsible for themselves, this grief intensifies. Over the last decade, when they have endured the normal, agonising slings and arrows of misfortune that even the most fortunate life dishes up, grieving for them has been the most painful thing I’ve had to do, more crippling than my own sorrows.

Not long ago, when another drama shook our family, I wailed to a close friend, ‘I don’t want to be a mum anymore. It hurts too much.’

Pain is not the emotion I primarily associate with parenthood. For me, overwhelmingly, mothering has been an experience of laughter and love. Furthermore, I’ve learnt profound lessons through the dark periods, and these have given me an insight into the way the God who is love feels about every last one of God’s creatures. And I am grateful for that insight.

There are as many ways to learn about God as there are human beings. The way of motherhood is no more sacred than any other. But it is a significant part of my calling, so it is one of the ways I learn about God’s love.

This was published in the July issue of The Melbourne Anglican


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