“Before I was a Mom”
By Suzana Haertzen (Hart-zen)
Before I was a Mom…I made and ate hot meals. I had unstained clothing. I had quiet conversations on the phone.
Before I was a Mom… I slept as late as I wanted and never worried about how late I got into bed. I brushed my hair and my teeth every day.
Before I was a Mom… I cleaned my house each day. I never tripped over toys or forgot words to lullabies.
Before I was a Mom… I didn’t worry whether or not my plants were poisonous. I never thought about Immunizations.
Before I was a Mom… I had never been puked on, pooped on, spit on, chewed on, peed on or pinched by tiny fingers. I had complete control of my mind, my thoughts, and my body. I slept all night.
Before I was a Mom… I never held down a screaming child so that doctors could do tests or give shots. I never looked into teary eyes and cried. I never got gloriously happy over a simple grin. I never sat up late hours at night watching a baby sleep.
Before I was a Mom… I never held a sleeping baby just because I didn’t want to put it down. I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I couldn’t stop the hurt. I never knew that something so small could affect my life so much. I never knew that I could love someone so much. I never knew I would love being a Mom.
Before I was a Mom… I didn’t know the feeling of having my heart outside my body. I didn’t know how special it could feel to feed a hungry baby. I didn’t know that bond between a mother and her child. I didn’t know that something so small could make me feel so important.
Before I was a Mom… I had never gotten up in the middle of the night every 10 minutes to make sure all was okay. I had never known the warmth, the joy, the love, the heartache, the wonderment, or the satisfaction of being a Mom. I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so much before I was a Mom
The Persistent Love of God
I think I like that poem because it reminds me of the persistence of mothers. There are many words that we can use to describe moms. Words like loving, patient, compassionate… but of all of the words I think the word persistent is one that works the best. Movies and books are replete with stories about good guys who credit their mothers for how they turned out and bad guys who could always count on their mother loving them. That’s why I think we can safely say that a good word to describe a good Mother is persistent.
But if a mother’s love is persistent, then how much more is God’s for us? That’s what I want to talk about today: God’s persistent love. I believe that the perpetual, persistent, stubborn love a mother has for their child is part of how God designed them – and is mean to reflect and teach us something about God’s love for us. In scripture, God is presented as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the one in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:24-29; Psalm 104). He is persistently ensuring the existence of all things.
When Jesus was challenged about healing on the Sabbath, he looked at the Jews and said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17) meaning that even though God invented the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day, God was still upholding the universe – if He were to stop, everything would cease to exist.
God is the God who just won’t quit. Think of the nation of Israel who did everything they possibly could to offend and reject God, trying to thwart everything He was trying to do for them. They worshipped demons, killed the prophets, and turned their backs on His Word. At more than one point they were so far gone that they forgot about their miraculous deliverance from Egypt (Judges 2) and even lost the Book of the Law (2 Kings 22).
Yet, as much disrespect as God suffered, He continued to treat them with special care and persistent love. When one generation didn’t respond, He’d come back to the next generation and try again. When they went on their trip through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land, they whined about everything . It was like the world’s worst car trip! God’s taking them to Disneyworld and they spend the entire time complaining about the food, water, directions, view, signs, and kicking the seat of the one driving the car.
Yet, God continuously and persistently provided what they asked for and needed. A prophet would ask for a sign and God would give them one. A king would go into a foolhardy, selfish battle, and God would allow him to succeed. When the nation of Israel couldn’t get over their worship of idols, God treated them as children and sent them to their room – a whole generation into Babylonian captivity as a discipline – and then rescued them so they could be with Him again. God showed persistent devotion to His people.
Our Lack of Persistence
Most of us are lousy at being persistent. The divorce rate, even among Christians, hovers around 40%, and many aren’t even getting married in the first place – and more and more couples are refusing to have children. That makes you mothers very special.
But people don’t just drop their marriages, they also drop out of high-school and college at alarming rates – especially young men.
Most people can’t even keep the same job for more than a few years. According to a Workopolis report, 51% of people stay in their role for under 2 years, and only 30% stay at one job for over four. The average Canadian will have roughly 15 careers in their lifetime. And another statistic is that the average new, small business will last less than five years. And it’s not because of the financial crisis. 75% of the time it’s because they end up with too many personal problems that get in the way, so they have to shut down their successful small business.
I could go on, but I think that most of know that we have a problem with persistence, and the problem is getting worse. Our lack of tenacity is causing us all sorts of problems.
The Persistence of Jesus
As in all things, we would do well to model Jesus, who was doggedly persistent. Consider His disciples! His own disciples denied Him, sold Him out, and fled the Garden of Gethsemane, cowering in the dark as He died on the cross, but He loved them, forgave all who asked, restored them to Him, and gave them a new mission in His name. They kept asking the same dumb questions, doing the same dumb things, and Jesus kept forgiving them, repeating Himself, teaching them and loving them.
Our salvation was brought by a man persistent in his desire to win us back to His Father. He marched to the cross of His own will, despite the clueless disciples and abusive religious authorities. He obeyed His Father in the face of great temptation, so He could finish the work of salvation. He stood firm on the promises and the power of God. When everything looked the bleakest, He was able to say, “I trust you God. I won’t quit, and I know you won’t quit on me.”
My hope today, as we consider the persistent love of God, in Jesus, and seen in our good mothers, is that we will be able to say the same thing – “I won’t quit on God and God won’t quit on me.”
God Makes Strange Selections
“But”, we say, “I’m not like Peter, or Paul, or John, or Moses, or Elijah, or any of the other heroes of the Bible! They had special powers and special faith. I could never be like them!” Actually, yes, yes you are – maybe more than you know. What is awesome about the love of God is that He shows it most often in the strangest places, and to the weirdest people. Most often He doesn’t go for the best and brightest, but for the small, weak, dumb, pitiable, faltering, failing, down and out people that no one would pick.
Did you ever play dodge-ball as a kid? By the way, did you know that many schools have outlawed dodge-ball? One expert said, “We take the position that [dodgeball] is not an appropriate instructional activity because it eliminates children and it does not respect the needs of less-skilled children.” That guy sure wasn’t around when I was growing up! I was definitely one of the “less-skilled” children and had absolutely none of my “needs respected” during dodge-ball!
I absolutely remember what it was like when the teacher would yell out “DODGEBALL!” Fear immediately gripped my tiny heart. Except for a few of the girls, I was easily the smallest kid in my class. And we would always line up against the walls, the teacher would pick two “Captains” and then they would pick teams. Anyone else go through this?
They would go through the whole class and take turns picking the big kids, fast kids, kids that threw hard, the popular kids… and there would be me, the fat kid, and the kid the kid that got asthma attacks, standing against the wall as the kids fight over who had to take us. I hated that feeling – but I knew why: I wasn’t big, or strong, or fast, or popular.
Here’s my point: If God was picking the dodgeball team, He would do it differently. He would have picked me, the little girls, the fat kid, and the kid with the asthma attacks first, and then shown how He could win the game with us. To God be the glory!
1 Corinthians 1:26-31 is something I read often and it says:
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Isn’t that awesome?! God shows His persistent love by loving those who need it most. He chooses the weak things of the world to show His glory and work His purposes. Why?
God’s Overwhelming Optimism
I think it’s because God has an overwhelming amount of optimism in His people – not because of what we can do for Him, but because He knows what He can do through us! He knows what we’re like. It’s not like we can fool Him into believing we are better than we are. We can’t pad our resume before God. God knows – but He still has an overwhelming optimism that when He chooses us to do something, that we can get it done.
When He picks us, introduces us to Jesus, saves us from Hell, gives us the gift of His Spirit, and then gives us a mission in this world, He actually believes we can do it! Is it a strange thought to believe that God has faith that you can overcome temptation, overcome your addiction, overcome bitterness, overcome fear, and grow into a better image of Jesus? God knows what He can do, and so He knows that when you are depending on Him, you can do anything!
In Philippians 4:13 Paul says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” And in 2 Corinthians 12 Paul asks God to make him stronger by getting rid of a terrible malady he is facing, and God simply tells him “no”. Why? God says, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’” And Paul’s response was, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10)
J Oswald Sanders once said:
“There is an optimism in God which discerns the hidden possibilities in the unpromising character. He has a keen eye for hidden elements of nobility and promise in an unprepossessing life. He is the God of the difficult temperament, the God if the warped personality, the God of the misfit.”
We look at ourselves and that’s what we see: “the difficult temperament… the warped personality… the misfit.” We don’t see a person God could use – let doggedly persue with His persistent love. We see our sin and addictions and feel defeated all the time. We see our hang-ups and fears, and all the hidden things in our lives and minds that we think prevent us from being loved and used by God. We see our lack of ability, lack of holiness, lack of understanding, lack of courage – we are too afraid, too young, too old, to uneducated, too different, not different enough.
What I want to tell you this morning is that the persistent love of God covers that. God believes in You because He believes in Himself – and when you feel weak, all He requires is that you lean harder into Him. A life turned over to God will be imbued, infused, permeated, saturated with His amazing power and love.
God’s Relentless Pursuit
God believes in you because it is God Himself that is working through us, even despite our weakness and flaws. Just as a mother can’t forget her love for her child, but continues to love them no matter what they have done, even more-so does God relentlessly, persistently pursue us and love us. He can’t forget His love for us.
We have a book at home called “I Love You Stinky Face” which is about a child trying to see how far his mother’s love will go, coming up with all manner of terrible ways he thinks that he could make his mother not love him.
“But Mama, but mama! What if I were a big, scary ape? Would you still love me then? But Mama, but Mama, what if I were a swamp creature with slimy, smelly seaweed hanging from my body, and I couldn’t ever leave the swamp or I would die? Will you still love me then? But Mama, But Mama, what if I were a super smelly skink, and I smelled so bad that my name was Stinky Face?”
And the mother always sweetly responds, assuring her child that she will love him no matter what:
“The I would give you a bath and sprinkle you with sweet-smelling powder. And if you still smelled bad, I wouldn’t mind, and I would hug you tight and whisper in your ear, ‘I love you Stinky Face’.”
Psalm 23 is like that. Who is the active person in this relationship?
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
That idea of God being the one that pursues us with relentless love is found all over scripture. He stubbornly, tenaciously pursues us, inviting us over and over to turn more and more of our life over to Him because He knows that if we give our life to Him fully that we will finally know true joy and purpose. God won’t quit on you.
“But God, But God, What if I continuously work myself into a frenzy, anxious about almost everything in my life? Will you still love me then?” (“Yes, and I will lie you down in green pastures, beside still waters.”)
“But God, but God, what if I destroy my soul with sin, harden my heart with bitterness, and corrupt my spirit with lusts of the eye and the flesh? (“Yes, and then I will restore your soul, and I will lead you down the paths of righteousness.”)
“But God, but God, what if I go through a depression so bad that it’s like walking through a valley of the shadow of death? One so dark that I can’t even see you? Will you still love me then? (“Yes, and I will walk with you, and comfort and protect you every step of the way.”)
It is the devil preaches the message of despair. He’s the one that whispers in your ear that God doesn’t care about you, that you are beyond His grace and forgiveness, that you’ve finally gone too far, that you’ve reached the end of His patience, that you should just quit praying because He’s not listening, that God gave up on you, that God’s punishing you. That’s the voice of Satan lying to you, not God.
God will never quit on you, and will always love you. So long as you are still taking breaths in this world, you will always be loved and given the chance to come to Him – because he’s not just waiting on you, He is constantly, and relentlessly pursuing you with His love.
Push-ups and Doughnuts
I’d like to close with a (likely fictional) story that illustrates the passion of God’s relentlessly persistent love for us.
There was once a Professor of Religion who taught at a small college. The course he taught was a required that every student needed to take during his or her freshman year, regardless of their major.
The Professor tried hard to communicate the essence of the gospel in his class, but he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take it seriously.
One year the Professor came across a special student named Steve. Steve was a freshman studying with the intent of going into ministry. Steve was popular, well liked, and was an imposing physical specimen who quickly became the starting center on the school football team. He also happened to be the best student in the professor’s class. One day, the Professor asked Steve to stay after class to talk about an idea he had. After the brief chat, Steve said he’d be happy to help.
Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front row, and watched the professor pull out a huge box big, extra fancy doughnuts with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone who came in was pretty excited. The Professor announced that he had decided that today was going to be a class party! Everyone whooped and whistled, and when they calmed down, the Professor walked up to the girl in the first chair of the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?”
Cynthia said, “Yes, of course!”
The Professor turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?”
“Sure.” Steve jumped down from his desk, did a quick ten, and sat back in his desk. The Professor put a donut on Cynthia’s desk.
The Professor then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?” Joe said, “Yes.” The Professor asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”
Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.
Walking down the second aisle, The Professor came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team, and in nearly as good of condition as Steve. When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?” Scott’s reply was, “Sure, but can I do my own pushups?”
The Professor said, “No, Steve has to do them.”
Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”
The Professor shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?” With perfect obedience Steve hit the floor and started to do ten pushups.
Scott looked at the Professor and said, “HEY! I said I didn’t want one!”
The Professor said, “Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.
By this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. Instead of getting back in his desk, he just stayed on the floor between sets, and a little perspiration was starting to form on his brow.
As the Professor started down the third row the students were beginning to get a little upset. The Professor asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?”
Crossing her arms, Jenny sternly said, “No.”
The Professor looked at Steve, “Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten and Jenny got a donut.
By now, a sense of uneasiness had started to fill the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were many uneaten donuts sitting on the desks. Steve was tiring. He had to put forth a lot of extra effort to get the pushups done for each donut. A small pool of sweat had formed on the floor beneath his face, his arms had started to shake, and his face was turning red because of the physical effort.
The Professor sent Robert, one of the most vocal members of the class, over to watch Steve to make sure he did the full ten pushups, saying he couldn’t bear watch Steve’s work so hard for all those uneaten donuts.
The Professor started down the fourth row, and when he looked toward the door, some students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were now 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.
The doughnuts continued to be placed on the desks in front of the students. Steve was now having really having a hard time, taking a lot more time between sets, but the Professor went on.
A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, walked into the room and was about to sit down, when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO! Don’t come in! Stay out!” Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said through heavy breaths, “No, let him come.”
The Professor said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him?”
Steve said, “Yes, let him come in. Give him a donut.”
The Professor said, “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?”
Jason had no idea what was going on. “Sure,” he said, “give me a donut.”
“Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
The Professor finished the last row, and then started on the visitors seated on the steps. Steve’s arms were now violently shaking with each push-up, struggling to lift himself off the ground. Sweat was pouring off his face, and there was no sound in the room except his groans of pain and heavy breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.
The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular. The Professor came to Linda, the second to last, and asked quietly, “Linda, do you want a doughnut?” Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank you.”
The Professor sighed, and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?” Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda. He merely lay on the ground after he was done.
Finally, the Professor turned to the last girl and said, “Susan, do you want a donut?”
Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Professor, why can’t I help him?”
The Professor, with tears of his own, said, “Because Steve has to do it alone. I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not. When I decided to have a party today, I only wanted to give it to students who got a perfect score in my class. But looked my grade book and Steve here is the only student that achieved an A+ Grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he has to do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party, and he said that he would pay the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.”
“Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last push up, he knew he had accomplished all that was required of him, and his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
The Professor turned to the room and said. “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.” Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile.
“Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding “Not all sermons are preached in words.”
Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of the love, grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. God didn’t even spare His only Son, but gave Him up for all who would believe, now and forever. Nothing was going to stop Him from allowing you to be with Him. He would not, and will not, ever quit on you.”