Am I Crazy?
Betty Freidan, feminist leader of the 60's and 70's opened her 1963 book with this sentence. "As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, and lay besides her husband at night, she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question: Is this all?" That question haunts many of today's mothers, but so does another more painful one. "Am I crazy?"
Today's mothers ask themselves this question because in the judgment of the world they are certainly crazy for all they give up for their families. But this was not always the case, and you know who originally were the most vocal at valuing mothers? The first wave feminists of the 19th century. In 1820 feminist Margaret Fuller wrote, "Earth knows no fairer, holier relation than that of mother." Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote in 1890, "Motherhood is the most important of all the professions - requiring more knowledge than any other department in human affairs." This, in fact, was the judgement of the world in the 19th century. Motherhood was exalted and praised. It's not surprising then that the holiday Mother's Day originated in that century.
But now what do we have? We are in the Brave New World that Huxly wrote about and the 1984 that Orwell predicted. Modern, utopian views of the world never have the role of mother. Children are either produced in glass dishes or taken from mothers at birth to be raised by the State. In the modern world view mother's are dispensable. You have to be crazy to give yourself to something that everyone concludes is passing away.
And don't kid yourself. Modern world views don't only get along fine without mothers, they shame the role. A 1989 article in the Harvard Business Review gave women the choice between being Succeeders or Breeders. In our world being a housekeeper is an accepted occupation as long as you are not caring for your own home. Treating men with attention and devotion is all right as long the man is the boss at the office. Caring for children is even viewed as heroic and noble as long as the children are someone else's.
You don't think the world has succeeded in shaming motherhood for the next generation? Then you didn't read Kathleen Parker's recent editorial in the Statesman. She speaks of a 20-year-old daughter of a friend welling up in tears as she answered what she wanted to do after college. "I know this sounds terrible, but I, I, want to be a mom," she tearfully replied.
You who have been mothers for years or decades understand in the judgment of the world today you are crazy, but what's even worse is the judgment of your own heart that you might be crazy for being a mother. It does not make sense to submit to sinners, and yet you do. Your wants, your needs, your hopes, your dreams are continually placed behind someone else's. When St. Peter calls wive's "the weaker vessel" this is what he refers to. Being the one to submit, give in, go without, puts you in a perpetually vulnerable position and that in anyone's judgement is crazy.
Yet the very existence of the family depends on this. That is not my judgement but that of a secular sociologist. He wrote in a 1980's book, "The family's existence assumes that a woman will subordinate her individual interests to those of others - the members of her family." It's plain crazy says the world to place yourself in a such a position willingly. And your own heart can't help but wonder if the world's right.
Submitting may, however, not be the worst of mothering. What about all the sacrificing? A story about a boy in a math class shows this well. The teacher asks a boy if there are 10 people in your family and 1 pie how much pie will each get? The boy answers a ninth. The teacher says, "No there are 10 people so each would get a tenth." The boy disagrees saying, "No my mom would say, "I don't want any, so we all could get bigger pieces."
It is such a firmly fixed principle that mothers will sacrifice for their children that a court ruled on the basis of it. In 1900 a ship went down. A mother and child were last seen clinging to a plank. They drowned. They were the last heirs in a rich estate, so it had to be determined who died last so the estate would be in the proper name. The court decreed that the estate was to be in the child's name because the mother would have kept the child safe at all cost. The only way for the child to have died in that situation is if the mother had died first concluded the court..
Mothers sacrifice, and they sacrifice for sinners, ungrateful sinners who remember once a year, if that, to be grateful. You must be crazy. And what has all your surrendering and sacrificing accomplished anyway? Has it made any difference? Will it make any difference? Your children look up to actors and singers and sports stars more than they do you. You are just somebody's mother. Dr. Laura can say that with pride because she has millions of listeners, but it sounds rather hollow coming from a mother loading a wash machine or chauffeuring her kids.
How can I answer that nagging question "Is this all there is?" and that fearful question, "Am I crazy?" I can show mothers how valuable their role is to home, society, and church. But if that's all I do, I'm only giving a secular answer to essentially religious questions. Yes, questions of the purpose and meaning of life, of surrendering and sacrificing are essentially religious ones. And the only one who can answer them for you is the Good Shepherd.
Jesus' life was one of submission and sacrifice and this to sinners. Yes, the Father told Him to give His life but it was to sinners He submitted. He did no sin, but took responsibility for the sins of others. He was the Good Shepherd who never made a mistake, never failed to do His job, but He submitted His life to smelly, ungrateful sheep. He led them where they needed to go, not where He needed to go. They needed the green pastures and still waters. He didn't. They needed to be fed in the midst of their enemies. He didn't. He could have stayed in heaven where He had no enemies. He didn't have to go into the valley of the shadow of death, but they did. So He went with them. He could have dwelled forever in the house of the Lord, but the sheep couldn't unless He came down and submitted and suffered for them.
And He didn't just sacrifice His pride, His talents, and His status; He sacrificed His life for sinners. And be clear on this, the sinners were no more grateful or helpful than children and husbands are to mothers. While we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly says Romans. No glory or praise from sinners motivated Jesus to sacrifice His life for them. There was no reason on earth for Jesus to do what He did. Imagine how the question "Is this all there is," could have tormented Him on the cross. Imagine how the thought, "Am I crazy" could have troubled His holy soul.
Mom's if you are crazy for surrendering and sacrificing for your family then so was Jesus. And you know what? He was in fact judged to be. The verses immediately following our text tell us this. Jesus in our text speaks of how He selflessly submits to the will of His Father and the sins of sinners. He speaks of how He will lay down His life for sheep. And what do some people conclude? "He has a demon and is insane," John 10:20 reads. But get this. It wasn't just strangers; it wasn't just the world who judged Him insane. His own family did too. Mark 3 tells us, "And Jesus came home and the multitude gathered again to such an extent that they could not even eat a meal. And when His own family heard of this, they went out to take custody of Him; for they were saying, "He has lost His senses."
The world, human reason, even that of your own family can only judge you crazy to surrender, to sacrifice with little to gain from it. You can't look to these for help, support, encouragement. You can only look to Jesus. Jesus is a specialist at taking care of mothers. Though there is pain and suffering in all that has to do with mothering, the Lord still honors it. Eve is named not for the fact that she was the smartest women of all time, though she was. She is not named because she is the most athletic of all time, though she was. She is not named for the fact that is the most beautiful of all time, though she was. She is named for her mothering. Eve means "life," she is named that says the Bible because she is the mother of all living.
Our Lord shows us the high value He places on mothers. Judge Deborah who is frequently put forth as a feminist role model is not noted in the Bible for her political authority or military victory but for the fact she is "a mother in Israel." Repeatedly the Lord says in the Old Testament that mother's without husbands, widows, are under His special protection. Those who take advantage or persecute them have to answer to Him. In the New Testament, St. Paul directs that the women who have raised children are to be provided for by the Church. The Church is only following her Lord who on the cross made sure that His own mother was provided for. Though our world might judge mothering to be crazy, though your own family might and your own heart too, take heart. Jesus doesn't go by the world's, your family's or even your own heart's judgement. He goes by what He has revealed, and He has revealed that mothers are a special concern to Him.
But moms don't see this. While mothers have special concern for their kids and aren't very sympathetic to those who criticize their kids even when they are wrong, moms don't see this is how their heavenly Father deals with them and their sins. He knows He has placed them in a vulnerable position. He knows women are easily burdened by guilt. He Himself says that Satan particularly hates women. Therefore, women and particularly mothers are His special concern. He is as kind and forgiving towards them as they are toward their children. So if you as mother, can't bear to hear of the real sins of your children, don't think God is any less loving or forgiving towards you. As you are so willingly to put the best construction on the lives of your family, be assured God is no less willing in regard to you.
Here's the problem; you see it in the Epistle lesson. "Now we are children of God, but what we will be has not been made known." You can't look to the world, at your family, or in you and see the true glory and honor of mothering. The Scripture reveals it, but you can't see it; all you can do is believe it, but moms are good at believing too. President Lyndon Johnson after being introduced at Baylor said, "I deeply wish my parents would have lived to hear this. My father would have enjoyed what you have so generously said of me - and my mother would have believed it." Yes, moms as you are so ready to believe the best about your kids, be that ready to believe the the Lord feels that away about you. He is as pleased as can be with all that Christian mothers do. You're not crazy for doing what you do. You can't see that now, but one day you will. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Easter IV (Mother's Day, 5-14-00) John 10:11-18