• The Explore the Bible lesson for May 11 focuses on Proverbs 31:10-31.
As a young pastor serving my first church, I preached many a sermon I’m certain the good people of that rural congregation simply had to endure. God bless the churches that give pastors their first shot at preaching every Sunday. There is one sermon I preached, however, that embarrasses me to this day.
It was Mother’s Day weekend, and I felt compelled to preach a sermon about motherhood. That’s not a bad thing. It’s the title of the sermon, now some four decades later, I’ve never forgotten: “How To Be a Good Mother.”
My intentions were good. I wanted to encourage and bless the mothers in the congregation. The problem was that, at the ripe old age of 22, I’d never been married and never would I ever be a mother. The only way I pulled that sermon off was to force the Scriptures to fit my preaching agenda. That’s always a dangerous thing to do.
‘Mother’ means different things to different people
Before teaching this lesson, every teacher should stop and prayerfully reflect both on the meaning of the texts and also what it is they hope to accomplish with the lesson. It would be especially good to remember one thing in particular.
Teachers teach from their own perspectives. We all tend to read and interpret the Bible through the lenses of our life experiences. Some in the class will have wonderful memories of their mothers and grandmothers. The memories of others will be slanted differently.
Some have no memory of their mothers. Perhaps they died giving birth. Or perhaps, their mothers abandoned them at an early age or even in adolescence. Others had abusive parents and had to be placed in foster homes or orphanages.
Some were born to unwed mothers and placed for adoption and, even in adulthood, have unresolved feelings about a mother they never knew. There may be women in the class who have carried the burdensome secret of an abortion and the guilt of having forfeited a life they wish they could get back.
More and more grandparents who ought to be living out their retirements now are starting over by raising their own grandchildren for a host of sad reasons. For some, Mother’s Day is a day of warm memories. For others, it is a day of perpetual sadness. One mother confessed to me how Mother’s Day always carried a tinge of unhealed grief over her stillborn child years before.
The point is that good teachers always do two things. They seek the best meaning of the text they can find. Then, they prayerfully seek a compassionate way to deliver that truth, always keeping in mind their experience is uniquely their own and not necessarily the common experience of all in the room.
The Burger King baby
The news of late has carried the story of Katheryn Deprill, also known as the “Burger King baby.” Twenty-seven years ago, only hours after giving birth, her teenage mother abandoned Katheryn in the restroom of a Burger King in Allentown, Pa.
Recently, using Facebook, Katheryn sought out and found her birth mother. They were reunited, and Katheryn discovered the story that led to her abandonment and the good life she’s had since. It’s a beautiful story of reconciliation, but it’s also a rare example.
Perhaps this lesson could be an opportunity for the members of the class to reflect on their own origins. It might give them a chance to reflect on the humanity of their parents and how that shaped the person they became. We never fully grow up, no matter how biologically old we become, until we embrace the fact our parents were frail human beings, even if they were our parents.
Celebrating the virtues of a solid-gold woman
The writer of Proverbs uses this last chapter of the book to celebrate the virtues of a solid-gold woman. It may well be the most familiar of all the Proverbs as it often is read at funerals so that families can remember and celebrate the virtues of their mothers or grandmothers.
I challenge teachers of this lesson to take each of the texts and the virtues of good womanhood they celebrate and use them to pull memories out of their class members about their own mothers.
In what ways do these texts call out the ways of their mothers that shaped their lives? Are there ways in which these texts call out sad memories, yet to be healed? Take the chance on letting your class verbalize its true emotions on these issues.
Ask the class what virtues these texts teach that encourage us all to be better parents. What price did our mothers pay to be that virtuous? In what ways does being a better parent compel us to stop and thank and bless our mothers who are still living?
As a hospice chaplain, I frequently stand by the bedside of a mother who soon will pass or who already has. It’s heartening to watch as children and grandchildren come to pay tribute to the woman without whom their lives would not exist.
It’s also a sobering reminder that the best day to honor our mothers is any day we’re still breathing. Motherhood never has been tougher. A little gratitude goes a long way to make it easier.