When I think of May, I think of flowers and moms. And just as there are endless varieties of blooms, moms are pretty diverse, too. They come in all shapes, sizes, states of mind, levels of mom-skills, and more.
That variety means that even though everybody has a mother, not everybody shares similar experiences and memories of the iconic maternal influence.
Perhaps this is why Mother’s Day comes under fire now and again. We enjoy celebrating Donna-Reed-type moms, but what about critical or belittling moms? Absentee moms? Moms whose kids are still in therapy?
And what does Mother’s Day mean to women who long to be moms but have yet to conceive? Or moms of struggling kids? What about birth moms who gave life to a baby, then gave the baby to another family to raise and love? Adoptive moms or mom-like mentors whose wombs may not have given life, but who give life every day through their words and deeds? Spiritual moms through whom others are born again or discipled into maturity?
The mothers we read about in the Bible are like that. They were real women—weak and wise, fierce and flawed, stout-hearted and broken-hearted. Most were wildly protective of their children. Others made mistakes that created pain and dysfunction in their families.
Here are a few Bible moms that come to mind:
The woman who longed to be a mother.
For a very long time, Hannah struggled to conceive. She prayed for a baby with such angst and determination that she was mistaken for being drunk. She wanted a baby so badly that she made a promise to God: if she conceived, she would wait until her child was a toddler and then relinquish him to be raised in the Temple as a Nazarite. She kept her promise too, and Samuel grew to be a godly man and leader (1 Sam. 1).
The longing to have a child can be fierce, and infertility heartbreaking. There are many examples in the Bible of women becoming mothers after years of longing and waiting. What we know for certain is that if we belong to Him, we never walk through our pain alone, and His plans for us are always good and perfect.
The woman who gave her child a better life with someone else.
Hannah isn’t the only mom who gave her child to someone else to raise. In a desperate effort to save the life of her baby, Jochebed set in motion a series of events that culminated in the Pharaoh’s daughter raising Jochebed’s son as her own (Exodus 2:1-8). And do you remember the story of the two mothers fighting over the same baby? When King Solomon offered to cut the baby in half, the real mother immediately relinquished her rights so that the life of her baby would be spared (1 Kings 3:16-28). As we all know, that story had a happy ending when King Solomon, in his great wisdom, determined that woman to be the real mother due to her willingness to give up the child out of love.
These days, mothers who relinquish their babies to relatives or adoptive families aren’t usually doing so to avoid their child’s death by sword, but the fact remains that sometimes mothers make difficult choices to give their babies better options down the road.
The woman who adopted a child.
Pharaoh’s daughter may never have known the joys (ahem) of childbirth, but she was certainly in the right place at the right time to change the life of the baby she rescued from a basket in the Nile (Exodus 2:5). She named him Moses, raised him as her son, and gave him opportunities and connections that were instrumental in God’s plans for Moses and for the children of Israel.
The woman who was a single mom.
Hagar was a single mother. When the father of her baby sent Hagar and her son away to fend for themselves, she must have felt not only rejected but afraid. The Bible tells us that she and her son were wandering the desert without water when she burst into tears, and God heard her and rescued her. Then and today, God’s heart is tender towards women and children abandoned by the men in their lives. In fact, the Bible instructs believers in no uncertain words to care and provide for these (James 1:27).
The woman who buried one son and grieved the choices of another.
Eve was the first woman to give birth. She was the first mother of toddlers and then of teenagers. She was also the first mother to bury one of her children, and to grieve over another son—lost and rebellious enough to murder his own brother (Genesis 4:1-16).
How many mothers today grieve over tragedy in the lives of their children, or over children who have wandered far from God’s plan for their lives? Virtually every mother hurts when her children hurt. Broken-hearted moms are not far from the thoughts of our Heavenly Father (Psalm 34:18). His Word and presence really do comfort when nothing else helps.
The woman who made parenting mistakes.
Rebekah gave birth to twins, but loved one of her children far more than the other. In fact, she loved Jacob so much that she helped him deceive his father and steal something irreplaceable from his brother. (Imagine growing up as Esau did, knowing how much your mother loved and preferred your sibling over you!) Rebekah’s deception split up her family as her sons were sent away (in opposite directions, no doubt!) to prevent Esau from killing Jacob. Despite many beautiful chapters in Rebekah’s story, her flaws as a parent were real, and they caused great pain within her family.
Still, God is faithful, and He had a plan for Rebekah’s boys. They eventually made peace, and the Bible says that “Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept” (Gen. 33:4). Rebekah’s mistakes as a mom didn’t thwart God’s plans for Jacob, either—and what amazing plans they were! God changed Jacob’s name to Israel and established the entire nation of Israel through him and his children.
The privilege of investing one’s life into the life of a child is a sacred calling indeed. No wonder the Bible encourages us to remember the teachings of our mothers (Prov. 6:20). No wonder God promises good things to children who honor their parents (Eph. 6:1-3).
Yet motherhood isn’t for the faint of heart. Being a mother—and even having a mother—is not like a structured, formal garden, orderly and tame. It’s more like an overgrown cottage garden: a riot of life and color, imperfect and glorious and a little wild, all at the same time.
Whenever we embrace an assignment this daunting and divine, much grace is needed.
If you just celebrated Mother’s Day this past weekend with one of these women close to your heart, know there are many of you—and God sees you, knows you, and has put these stories in His Word so you can celebrate all of the moms around you.