Mother May I?

“When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness.” (Proverbs 31:26)

It’s hard to escape childhood without participating in at least one game of “Mother May I.”  More gender-neutral variations on the theme have included “father” or “captain” as the leader. The goal of the “Mother May I” game is for one of the players to be the first to reach the mother on the other side of the room or lawn. The mother faces away from a line of participants and distances far enough to make the game interesting but close enough that everyone can hear each other. Each participant asks a question starting with the phrase “Mother may I” followed with a statement of request for a suggested movement, such as, “Mother, may I take three steps forward?” The mother must reply “yes, you may” or “no, you may not” by providing another directive. If a child forgets to say “mother may I” before the question, they must return to the starting line.  The participant who reaches the mother first wins the game and is then designated as the leader for the next game. The child must do what the mother says, with the intention of leading them closer or farther away from the ultimate goal.

The premise of the game is fairly typical to what most of us experience in our growing up years. When we are determined to do something, it is often our mother who gives the go-ahead, makes an alternate suggestion, or shuts down our request entirely. Eventually we learn to ask permission, and she responds based on family values or out of consideration for what is socially acceptable or appropriately safe. While we do not always like her answer, we learn that mothers most often base their decision on what they consider to be right for us at the time. While the role of motherhood evolves over the life of a child – the love, care, and encouragement she gives never ceases. We know that mothers generally have our best interest at heart. Even when we are fully grown and she lends her unsolicited advice – we accept that fact that it comes from a good place. That is why a special occasion called Mother’s Day is set aside to honor, remember, and, if possible, to spend some time with her. It’s an opportunity to let her know just how much we appreciate all she has done for us. Regretfully, many grown children will have to visit remotely this year due to bans on travel, measures for social distancing, and government-imposed stay-at-home restrictions imposed by the Coronavirus. Many moms will only get a virtual hug.

When it comes right down to it – our mothers are one of those persons whom we take pride in pleasing. We all like to be recipients of caring, and for most of us – our moms are one of the best sources of doing so. There are all kinds of mothers: those who have given birth, those who have adopted, and those who have loved and supported the children of others. The gift of motherhood, therefore, isn’t necessarily a biological function; it comes from the heart and is placed there by God. God even described Himself as having a mother-like attribute. In Isaiah 66:13, we read: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” Likewise, Jesus told those who loved him that He would not leave them as orphans (John 14:18), but they would receive a Helper (John 14:26). When we affirm this relationship with His Holy Spirit, we can be like David who said: “I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content” (Psalm 131:2).

British novelist William Makepeace Thackeray once wrote: “Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” Following Jesus’ example – mothers often display an attitude of self-sacrifice in order that their children might everything they need. With incredible patience, they give of themselves in such a way that those whom they nurture are pointed toward God. Recognizing that there will be a time when she will be separated from us, mother trusts that our access to His Holy Comforter will always be without restraint, subject to no other authority. An effective mother understands that she must “start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old, they will not turn from it” (Proverbs 22:6). In doing so. they will never need to seek answers from any ‘Mother May I’ game. Their children will always be inherently guided, and each step they take will place them on the right path.

REFLECTION: Consider those persons who played important ‘mother roles’ in your life. How can you extend gratefulness to you mother when she appears to interfere with your wishes? In what ways do you learn to find great comfort from the Holy Spirit, knowing that separation from your mother is imminent?

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