Mother’s Day, according to Hallmark and the other greeting card companies, is a warm fuzzy kind of day filled with Disney-like moments, but the reality of Mother’s Day can’t be captured by a Hallmark card. The reality of Mother’s Day is this: Mother’s Day, like life, is complicated. First of all, there are mothers with us this morning who are experiencing a Hallmark kind of moment this Mother’s Day. Cherish it. Relish it. Drink in it in like a cool drink of water on a hot summer’s day. There are others among us for whom today is not such a festive occasion. There are mothers with us this morning who have lost a child. I don’t need to try and describe what they are feeling. There are also those among us who no longer have a mom present to honor and Mother’s Day can be very lonely and painful, a reminder of what we once had, but no longer can enjoy. Or, some whose mothers are no longer with us suffer the grief of knowing they failed to honor her while she was alive and now the opportunity is gone. There are also mothers who are with us, but who are not with their children because something has happened to break the relationship they once had with their son or daughter and today is a painful reminder of what once was. There are also people with us whose mom was never the storybook description of what a mom should be and this day is lonely, filled with sorrow, and for some, a deep, deep bitterness because they never got to experience what their friends did while they growing up. Mother’s Day is complicated.
I want to take the opportunity this morning to speak to those moms who are with us this morning. Regardless of what you’ve carried with you into the sanctuary this morning, a heavy heart or a heart spilling over with joy, God’s Word can encourage and strengthen you. Being a mother is a roller coaster ride.
In Madonna King’s book, “Being 14,” she tells a tale of two forty-something moms sitting in a cafe and talking about the crazy life of parenting a teenage girl. The conversation causes those who survived raising a teenager to let out a sigh of relief, but for those who are yet to navigate the teenage drama years of parenting, the conversation might make you want to turn back or wave the white flag of surrender. Ms. King writes,
Today, somewhere, a similar conversation will be playing out in a dozen coffee shops across the country as parents-and particularly mothers-travel the roller coaster ride of raising a teenage girl. The roller coaster analogy is a good one. Remember the last time you took the plunge and fastened the seatbelt on a theme-park ride? At the start, your expectations are high; you can do this: it almost looks easy. But you find yourself holding your breath as the roller coaster car chugs slowly up to an incredible height. Along the way, a fear begins to chill your bones. This could go either way. All of a sudden you don’t feel as though you have what it takes, but it’s too late to get off. You think of those headlines you saw once, about some cable car in some country, becoming stuck mid-ride. All of a sudden, that takes on enormous significance. The next time that happens could be any minute now. Then, as your car reaches the top, smiles kill the fear. You can see forever, over the hills and valleys, and into the next district. Everything is going to be okay. But that feeling is short-lived. Out of nowhere, the car takes off, fast and in a downward spiral. Faster and faster. The pace is furious as it reaches the first loop. And then another. And another. And another. You feel sick. Your stomach is churning. You want to get off, and you wonder how many more times you have to have your stomach turned inside out…before the ride finally pulls up, safely. (King, Madonna. Being 14.)
Being a mother is absolutely a roller coaster ride, filled with dips and twists, elation, and exasperation, and it doesn’t end when your kids move out of your house and begin a life on their own. God has placed incredible potential in the heart and hands of mothers. As you go through God’s Word you will find all kinds of mothers. There are women, like Hannah and Samson’s mother, who loved the Lord and their love for the Lord translated into a deep commitment to their children. There are other mothers who cause us to shake our heads in disbelief because we find some of the same faults in them that we see in ourselves. Women like Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, and how she showed favoritism towards her son Jacob, over her other son, Esau. Then there’s James and John’s mother who tried to work her magic to help her sons gain an inside track in the seating arrangement in the Kingdom of Heaven. She didn’t ask for the seat next to Jesus for herself, but she sure wanted it for her boys. Then there are mothers whose “bio” would lead us to believe that they were unfit and yet their story humbles us. Women like the prostitute found in 1 Kings 3:16-28. There were actually two prostitutes who lived in the same house. Both had babies, but one of the babies died in the middle of the night. The mother whose baby died switched the babies while the other mother was asleep and claimed the living baby as her own. When the one prostitute woke up and thought her son had died, she took a closer look and figured out that her son had been switched with the other baby who was now dead. They took their dispute to Solomon. The women were fighting in front of Solomon so he said, “Bring me a sword.” Let’s pick up the story at this point. Turn to 1 Kings 3:25 with me and let’s read together.
25 He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” 26 The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!” 27 Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.” 28 When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice. (1 Kings 3:25-28 NIV)
This story is often told to highlight the wisdom of Solomon, but I’m not so sure that it’s not also a great highlight of the deep, deep love of a mother. A wayward mother? No doubt about it. A mother who was making some really bad decisions in life? Absolutely! But, with all that being true, she was a mother who made the best decision in desiring for her son to live, even if it meant he wouldn’t live with her. Wow!
As I’ve been reading God’s Word this week, taking a look at mothers, and thinking about the mothers that I’ve known throughout my life, there are two things that have kept coming to mind—hope and heartache. They are the two rails of the roller coaster ride of motherhood. It’s not wise to speak in broad generalities when it comes to mothers because, as we’ve already seen from God’s Word, mothers are a diverse bunch. I can say this, the mothers I’ve known who really love their kids, whether they are Christians or not, know heartache and hope all too well.
Being a pastor opens doors for me that allow me into the most intense, wonderful, intimate, devastating, and glorious experiences that people have in life. Somewhere near the very top of the list of my favorite things is getting to be with new parents. Through the years I’ve had couples come to me and say, “Don’t tell anyone yet because we are waiting to make it public—we’re pregnant!! Please pray for us.” And I do.
I make it a point, when I know about it, to be at the hospital when the young couple arrives to have their baby. We hold hands, give thanks, and ask the Lord to give the doctors wisdom in the delivery. I’ve sat in hospital rooms and watched the smiles and unbridled joy light up the room as a wife becomes a “momma” and a husband becomes a “daddy.” The hopes they have for their son or daughter are limitless.
Being in one church as long as I have has also allowed me to watch kids grow from a baby into childhood, try and navigate the teen years, and become adults. I’ve learned some valuable lessons from my own family and the families I’ve known. There are no formulas to follow that will ensure that our kids will avoid the perils and pitfalls of life. There are no books to read, conferences to attend, or discipline to apply that will ensure that our kids will love the Lord and have a desire to follow Him. I’ve watched godly mothers and fathers almost lose their minds because of the devastatingly destructive decisions made by their kids. I’ve known parents who weren’t committed to the Lord at all, parents who had made a mess of their lives, who had some of the most godly kids I’ve known. All parents have hopes and dreams for their kids. Even those who’ve cried until the tears no longer fall continue to pray with hope for the Lord to act in the way in which only He can.
All of these experiences shared by so many parents that I’ve known through the years have led me to a man named Manoah and his wife. We find their story in Judges 13-16. You may have never heard of Manoah and his wife, but most everybody here this morning has heard of their son, Samson. Let’s read the opening of the story found in Judges 13:2-14.
2 A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was childless, unable to give birth. 3 The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, “You are barren and childless, but you are going to become pregnant and give birth to a son. 4 Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean. 5 You will become pregnant and have a son whose head is never to be touched by a razor because the boy is to be a Nazirite, dedicated to God from the womb. He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” 6 Then the woman went to her husband and told him, “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name. 7 But he said to me, ‘You will become pregnant and have a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from the womb until the day of his death.'” 8 Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: “Pardon your servant, Lord. I beg you to let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.” (Judges 13:2-9 NIV)
Throughout the story of Samson’s life, recorded in Judges 13-16, we never learn the name of Samson’s mother, but boy do we learn about her character and love for the Lord and her child. This is what we do know. Samson’s mother was barren. Like Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah in the Hebrew Bible and Elizabeth in the New Testament, Manoah’s wife, was barren. God’s Word tells us that Hannah prayed to the Lord to give her a son (1 Samuel 1:11), but God’s Word doesn’t record any of Samson’s mother’s prayers. I don’t think this is because she didn’t pray for the Lord to give her a child. I think it is because of when we are introduced to her. As soon as we are introduced to her, we read that the angel of the Lord appeared to her and announced that though she was sterile she was going to have a son. Her son wouldn’t be just any Jewish son born to a Jewish mother; he would “begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Now, you and I both know that you don’t have to be told such wonderful news as this to be overwhelmed with the thoughts of your child’s future when you hear the good news.
Well, Manoah and his wife not only had dreams for their son who would be born, but they were told that after suffering forty years of oppression under the thumb of the Philistines their son would begin the deliverance of God’s people. Can you imagine the conversations they had at night as Manoah and his wife lay in bed and watched her tummy grow? Can you imagine how their imagination ran wild as they remembered the words the angel of the Lord delivered to them?
Well, the day came when it was time for Manoah’s wife to deliver her son. We read in Judges 13:24-25.
24 The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, 25 and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol. (Judges 13:24-25 NIV)
So far so good. The baby arrived. He had ten fingers, ten toes, and the tears of gratitude wouldn’t stop flowing as Manoah and his wife held each other as they held their son. We’re told, “He grew and the LORD blessed him…” It only gets better when we read, “and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him…” Has there ever been a set a parents who wouldn’t wish the same things for their child?
Then we turn the page and come to Judges 14:1. All of the hopes and dreams of Manoah and his wife were brought to screeching halt when Samson came home one day and said, “I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” (Judges 14:2 NIV) It just didn’t make any sense to Manoah and his wife. They asked him, “Isn’t there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?” (Judges 14:3 NIV) They wondered, “What in the world is going on? Our son was supposed to deliver us from the hands of the Philistines, not become one of them!” Manoah and his wife could have never imagined that what was happening would have ever happened as they were dreaming about their son’s future when he was young. Yet, we read,
4 (His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.) (Judges 14:4 NIV)
If you would have asked Manoah and his wife how the Lord was working in their son’s life they would have both broken down in tears, but God was at work. There’s a great lesson in that for all of us parents. Have you worn your knees out in prayer for your daughter or your son? Does it appear that God is nowhere to be found when it comes to your kid? Hold on to this truth from Judges—even in Samson’s rebellion God was at work. That’s a tough pill to swallow isn’t it? Yet, I would say that for many of us here this morning, it was in the darkest times of our lives that God opened our eyes to our need for Him.
Things went from bad to worse for Manoah and his wife. Some would say that Samson’s Achilles heel was women. The truth of the matter is that Samson’s Achilles heel was Samson. He craved the company of women more than he craved the fellowship of God. He married that Philistine woman, but it didn’t work out. Then, in Judges 16, he spent the night with a prostitute and the Philistine’s wanted to kill him. Then, in Judges 16:4, he fell in love with Delilah and was finally captured by the Philistines when his hair was cut and he lost his strength.
The Philistines took him captive, gouged out his eyes, and took him to Gaza where he was hooked up to a millstone and was grinding grain in a prison. Eventually, they brought him out for entertainment on the day they were having a feast to Dagon, one of the Philistine gods. They put him between two pillars that supported the temple and Samson returned to the faith of his youth. We read in Judges 16 that Samson prayed. Read along with me beginning in verse 28.
28 Then Samson prayed to the LORD, “Sovereign LORD, remember me. Please, God, strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.” 29 Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, 30 Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. (Judges 16:28-30 NIV)
And this is how Samson began the deliverance of God’s people. That’s sure not the way that Manoah and his wife had envisioned it, but that’s the way it came about. The very next verse is the one of the saddest verses in all of God’s Word. Listen to this.
31 Then his brothers and his father’s whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel twenty years. (Judges 16:31 NIV)
Can you imagine how heavy Manoah’s heart was as he went to get his son’s body? He and his wife had had visions of Samson leading the children of Israel like Moses had led the children of Israel, but they never dreamed that he would die with his eyes gouged out and buried in a heap under a pagan temple.
Having a child changes things for us doesn’t it? Things that seemed important lose their importance and things that we had never given much thought to suddenly become very important. We want our kids to know Jesus. No, we want our kids to love Jesus, with all of their hearts, minds, and strength. We want them to walk with Him, seek Him, and serve Him all the days of their life. It doesn’t matter if they are a doctor or a ditch digger if they truly love Jesus. We can hope that happens, we can pray that happens, but we are not the scriptwriter for our children. I read something that really struck me this past week that I want to share with you. The piece is called, ”Reflection of a Mother” and I think it speaks truth with such power for you and me.
I gave you life, but cannot live it for you.
I can teach you things, but I cannot make you learn.
I can give you directions, but I cannot be there to lead you.
I can allow you freedom, but I cannot account for it.
I can take you to church, but I cannot make you believe.
I can teach you right from wrong, but I cannot always decide for you.
I can buy you beautiful clothes, but I cannot make you beautiful inside.
I can offer you advice, but I cannot accept it for you.
I can give you love, but I cannot force it upon you.
I can teach you to share, but I cannot make you unselfish.
I can teach you respect, but I cannot force you to show honor.
I can advise you about friends, but cannot choose them for you.
I can advise you about sex, but I cannot keep you pure.
I can tell you the facts of life, but I can’t build your reputation.
I can tell you about drink, but I can’t say “no” for you.
I can warn you about drugs, but I can’t prevent you from using them.
I can tell you about lofty goals, but I can’t achieve them for you.
I can teach you about kindness, but I can’t force you to be gracious.
I can warn you about sins, but I cannot make you moral.
I can love you as a child, but I cannot place you in God’s family.
I can pray for you, but I cannot make you walk with God.
I can teach you about Jesus, but I cannot make Jesus your Lord.
I can tell you how to live, but I cannot give you eternal life.
I can love you with unconditional love all of my life…and I will!
Mothers, those whose kids are grown, those who are brand new mothers, and those who are full of anticipation waiting for the day that they will get to hold their child in their arms—keep hoping, praying, and loving your kids. Know that heartache is written into the DNA of mothers, but don’t allow the heartache to rob you of the hope that the Lord has planted deep in your heart for your child. Love them with all of your heart and never give up on them. Those of you who are young mothers need to know this: you carried your child for nine months, but the truth of the matter is that you will carry that child for the rest of your life. Most importantly, regardless of the choices your kids make, be the woman God has called you to be in the life of your child. Pray diligently, love unconditionally, and always point them to the Lord through the hope and the heartaches of life.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 14, 2017