3 Tips to Help you Embrace the Universal Call to Motherhood

This post is based on excerpts from Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” 

Mother’s day celebrates all the mother figures in our lives – mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, teachers and the list goes on. As I read Henri Nouwen’s book, I find myself thinking about motherhood. Regardless of vocation, we are all called to motherhood. Just as God fathers us as His beloved daughters, we are also meant to follow His example:                       

 “We need to welcome like the Father who understands our lostness, [and] the desolation of those who leave home. The Father sees and knows all things – He is all embracing. He mourns for the lost and yearns to bring us back home. His love offers us freedom to reject or accept His love. His compassion allows [our] sins to pierce His heart... From the deep place where love embraces all human grief, the Father reaches out to heal” (Nouwen). We too must embody a maternal love marked by compassion, hope and endless waiting.

The trouble is “we want to be loved in a certain way but the Father longs to love in a way that is beyond any comparison. In a world that compares others, ranking them as more or less successful, intelligent or attractive, it isn’t easy to believe in a love that does not do the same. All of God’s children are His favorites – but I cannot grasp this and I think of God as a scoreboard keeper and I am afraid of not making the grade. Those who have done only a little bit are as much loved as those who have done a great deal. Here lies hidden the great call to conversion: to look not with the eyes of my own low self- esteem but with God’s eyes.

 We don’t choose God, He chooses us. From all eternity, we are hidden and engraved on His palm. Before any human touches or decides about us, God forms us in secret and knits us together in our mother’s womb. He loves us with a first love. He invites us to love as He loves. Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time, God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not how am I to find God but how am I to let myself be found? How am I to let myself be known and loved by God? Can I accept that I am worth looking for and can I believe that God simply wants to be with me?” (Nouwen).

These 3 tips will help you embrace motherhood:

1.    Celebrate the hidden joys of others, of beauty, of love: “Many live their lives never fully sure that they are loved as they are. It is the love that always welcomes and celebrates the other. What I am called to is to enter into that joy. Somehow I have become accustomed to living with sadness, and so have lost the eyes to see the joy which is found in the hidden corners of the world. Claim joy and life will become a celebration. Your sadness will be transformed into a fertile soil for more joy” (Nouwen).

2.    Love limitlessly with compassion: “I am constantly concerned that I will not be forgotten, that somehow I will live on through others. I can choose to forgo power and control for love. Can I give without wanting anything in return and without any conditions? It will be a lifelong struggle but I am also convinced that each time I step over this need for recognition and [choose love], I can trust that my life [will] bear the fruits of God’s love. We are called to grieve with others, let them pierce our hearts and forgive them. It demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels wronged and wants to stay in control. It is a wall of fear of being used or hurt again – it is a wall of pride, and the desire to stay in control. Grief allows me to see beyond my wall and realize the immense suffering that results from human lostness. It opens my heart to a genuine solidarity with others. This self-giving is a discipline because it is something that doesn’t come spontaneously. [We are riddled] with fear, self-interest, greed and power, [we seek] survival and self-preservation. But as [we embody the] love that casts out all fear, it becomes possible to [be a gift] for others” (Nouwen).

3.    Have hope and believe in others: “It is very hard to wait for others and love the unlovable. It is a waiting in grief for those who have left God’s love and a waiting with hope to offer forgiveness and new life to those who return. There is a dreadful emptiness in this spiritual [mother]hood – no power, no success, no popularity, no easy satisfaction. But that same dreadful emptiness is the place of true freedom. It is the place where there is nothing left to lose – where love has no strings attached and where real spiritual strength is found. Every time I touch that dreadful but fruitful emptiness in myself, I know I can welcome anyone there without condemnation and offer hope. There I am free to receive the burdens of others without any need to evaluate, categorize or analyze. Another’s hardship, anguish, vulnerabilities and handicap unveils my own. I don’t want to go out of my comfort, I don’t want to stretch my hands out when there are so few who are willing to be embraced” (Nouwen).

Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. “So few claim [mother]hood for themselves as the pain is too obvious, the joys too hidden and still, but by not claiming it, I shirk my responsibility. True motherhood is sharing the poverty of God’s non- demanding love” (Nouwen).