The Mothering Heart of God

In Minnesota the month of May welcomes the return of vivid color to our world on blooming trees and in spring flowers. It warms our skin for the first time in several months through celebrated sunrays. In our family it holds celebrations of birthdays, and contains the day when mothers are singled-out for honor.

As I blogged this past month, I’ve gained fresh insight about mothering. Important stuff, like …

Mothers must be learners
SAFE kids are more than a bundle of misbehaviors
Grandkids remind us of God’s love for us – not based on performance or achievement, but on simply being.

As we head into June I plan to blog about fathering. But today, being the last day of the month, I’d like to tie the two together in the personhood of God.

The Bible never represents God as mother – only as our heavenly Father. We can find many wonderful characteristics of God as we study Him as our Father. If that is so, then how do we learn to mother according to God’s heart?

There are many references in the Bible that hint at motherly characteristic of God.

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you … (Isaiah 66:13 NIV).

When Israel was a child, I loved him … It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms … I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them (Hosea 11:1-4 NIV).

Jesus Himself revealed his own maternal heart when he cried,

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, …” (Matthew 23:37 NIV).

The most significant revelation to me is from Genesis 1:27.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (NKJV).

If female humans are created in God’s image – and they are – then we women embody a part of God’s character that is just as significant as what our male counterparts offer.

What am I trying to say here? I think we women struggle greatly with our identities. We question our value often. I want to gently scream in your face,

“You reflect a part of God’s heart that only you can reveal!”

As mothers we have a divine privilege of presenting God to our children in a way no one else on earth can do.

Moms Reflect God's Heart

I hesitate to give examples because in our home I was the “bad cop,” and my husband the “good cop.” I was reactionary, and he was patient.

Sometimes, we have to do a little digging into our personalities to discover how we express the mothering part of God’s heart. But if we prayerfully take that time, He will show us.

For example, I homeschooled my kids for several years, but once they went to public school, I made it my goal to always be home when they arrived at the end of the day. I wanted to be available to welcome them home and hear how their days went. Though it wasn’t my main reason for doing so, this practice demonstrated God’s constant availability to His children.

So what about you? I encourage you to take a few moments and consider the specific, practical ways you show God’s heart to your kids.

Then please share with us. What you share might offer encouragement to some discouraged mom, allow us to celebrate God’s goodness in you, and maybe even cause you to rejoice at the realization of God’s life in you.


Mere Teenagers

How old do you suppose Jesus’ disciples were? Maybe young, like John? Or older, having left jobs? Old enough to be married, like Simon? Perhaps a contemporary of Jesus?

In New Testament times, most disciples – talmidim – left home to intern with a rabbi around the age of 15. By 18, they had already returned home to marry and pursue the family trade they had learned earlier in life (starting around the age of 10).

A rabbi, however, began teaching no sooner than the age of 30. So in order for there to be a rabbi/talmidim relationship, by definition, Jesus had to be quite a bit older.

Sometimes, a talmid could be a bit older. For example, we know Peter was married. But according to Matthew 17:24-27, only Jesus and Peter were old enough to pay the annual temple tax, which was required starting at age 20. Though it doesn’t explicitly state the others were too young, the amount Jesus instructed Peter to take from the fish’s mouth was only enough for two.

Now James and John, along with Peter and Andrew, were fishermen. But remember, James and John left their father in the boat. This could indicate their father owned the business, not them, and these two were possibly still learning the trade.

We also know that Matthew was a tax collector, but again, he could have still been in training. And he expected to return to that trade after his talmidic training was complete.

Since the purpose of being a talmid was to become a rabbi (which was not a vocation), then we can safely assume, none of Jesus’ disciples had even reached the age of 30.

Taking a close look at the norms of New Testament times presents a fairly clear case for the idea that the disciples were all significantly younger than I ever thought. Most of them were mere teenagers.*


That may explain some things, like why the disciples had such a hard time exorcising the demons out of the epileptic son; why they worried over where lunch was coming from; or why the four fishermen initially returned to fishing (for fish) after Jesus’ resurrection.

And can’t you just see Jesus’ exasperation when He asked, “How long do I have to be with you for you to get it?” Kind of like saying, “How many times do I have to tell you?” Ha!

Now I have a feeling many moms would find the idea of sending their teen sons to follow a rabbi for a few years rather appealing. But from our vantage point in history, we might question God’s sanity in this, particularly for Jesus’ talmidim.

Would He truly entrust the kingdom of God to these impulsive, illogical, hot-headed, heavily-testosteroned, pimple-faced youth? Really?


And in knowing this, I think there are some vital lessons for us moms to learn here.

♦First, Jesus saw potential when others didn’t.

Usually, talmidim were the cream of the crop. Once they had proven themselves, they usually approached a rabbi and asked to become a follower.

Yet, Jesus approached these guys – not while they were pouring over Jewish law, but while they were busy in their jobs. My guess is that most of these disciples never expected to be a part of such an elite group.

We must never underestimate the plans God has for our children.

♦Second, never overestimate God’s plans either.

We mustn’t be like James’s and John’s mother who tagged along and tried to promote them to high rank. Our children will be extremely embarrassed and it doesn’t work.

We must resist the temptation to speak for our children to professors and employers. We have to stay out of the way so they can do this for themselves. Yes, they will handle some things rather awkwardly, but they will learn.

♦Third, promotion is not what God is really after.

He’s not all that interested in mere knowledge either. If a child is not that great of a student, that’s not likely a concern to God. Even when he is performing far below his capabilities, God’s not nearly as interested in capabilities as He is character.

♦Fourth, we have to trust the Rabbi.

Much character formation happens away from home. It’s not up to us. We’re not the rabbi. And even if we fear we’ve a Judas in our midst, we can still trust Jesus with his life.

As for our daughters, had it been culturally appropriate to invite them to join the talmidim, Jesus would have. And who knows? Maybe some young ladies were there, assisting Jesus’ mother and other women in the group. These ideas apply to them as well.

It’s that raw, impressionable, idealistic exuberance that advances God’s kingdom.


He calls, teaches, and enables these pre-adults for that purpose. And, now that we have the Holy Spirit in our midst, God is not limited to a few. He can use thousands … millions … each and every one.

But moms, we have to let them go.

And when it looks like they aren’t following after the Master, be assured …

He’s following them.


©May 2016 by Cheri Johnson

I Could Never Measure Up to Her!

If I asked you to list mothers in the Bible, what are the first few names that would come to your mind?

• Eve, maybe, the mother of all mankind?
• Mary, the mother of God’s son?
• Hannah, who bargained with God for a child?
• Jochebed, who saved Moses by hiding him in a basket in the Nile?
• Sarah or Elizabeth, who birthed sons late in life?

Do you ever compare yourself to these mothers and say to yourself, “I’d never come close to being listed among the ranks of these”? Maybe you have a few Elizabeths or Marys in your life you’re trying to measure up to right now.

Personally, I’d be asking, how could I ever be like Eve? There’s no way I could remember all the names of my billions of offspring, much less have patience with their rebellious shenanigans.

But could I, like Mary, have such a willing and humble heart? Would I have stayed faithful as my son was charged, suffered 39 slashes of barbed whips, and died a criminal’s death?

Could I have been so grateful to have a child that I would return him to God after only the first few years of nursing him close to my heart?

Would I have trusted ‘elohiym to protect my son as his lived most of his years in a home of opulence, privilege, and paganism?

Would I laugh now if God said I would bear a child? At the age of 53, probably. But would I, like Elizabeth, rejoice? Uh, probably not.

I think I’d be more like Naomi, who after losing her husband and two sons, said, “Call me Mara, because I’m so bitter.”

Frankly, at times I’ve more identified with those parents who deserved to have a stone tied to their necks and dropped into a deep sea.

So what do we do, when failure and inadequacy shrink our confidence as moms to the size of a shriveled up grape? You know what? I think there’s still some sweetness we can chew on.

» First, consider, that though wonderful models, these women were not perfect. Eve’s big blunder is obvious. Hannah couldn’t keep her emotions in check. Sarah laughed in God’s face, gave her maid to her husband to procure a progeny, then grew so jealous she drove the poor maid and child into the desert. And Mary, well she tried to push Jesus into the spotlight before it was time.

» Second, look at what God did with the women who made obvious mistakes. Naomi, though overcome with grief, instructed her daughter-in-law, Ruth, in culturally acceptable ways to redeem their family name. Lo and behold, Ruth married into Jesus’ bloodline. Also in Jesus’ bloodline is Rahab, a former harlot who became Ruth’s second mother-in-law. How about Bathsheba? She’s in Jesus’ bloodline, too.

» Third, the story of the Bible is all about grace. Mothering is all about grace, too. Not just the grace we offer our children and husbands, but the grace we offer ourselves as well. It’s especially about the grace we offer ourselves, because we can’t give what we don’t have.

» Fourth, we receive grace into our lives by faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross. All of these women – no matter how perfect they look – all needed grace. Grace isn’t a reward for a stellar performance. It isn’t an inherent trait, randomly distributed at birth. Grace is the gift from God that prompts growth and promises beauty. It has to be chosen, accepted, and exercised. And we all know, we’re never lacking in opportunities to exercise grace.

Do you know what the word mother means in Hebrew? It’s spelled ame; pronounced em (like the letter M); and it means the bond of the family. Isn’t that beautiful? Not the perfect model; not the spiritual leader; and not the tidiest cleaner, smartest teacher, most energetic accomplisher, or blue-ribbon cook. M is the glue that holds the family together.

Mother in Hebrew means

M draws the hurting close; forgives and encourages the wayward; capitalizes on strengths; creates family activities. She may grow weary at times. She may respond hurtfully. But she rests and then runs to the Giver of grace to refill the vats of her heart.

How can you measure up? You regularly fill up and you ooze out God’s infinite supply of grace.

Biblical References:
The story of Eve – Genesis 2-4
The story of Mary – Luke 1:26-38; Luke 2:1-5
The story of Hannah – 1 Samuel 1-2:11, 2:18-21
The story of Jochebed – Exodus 2:1-10; 6:20, 26
The story of Sarah – Genesis 18:9-15 and 21:1-7; Genesis 16:1-4 and 21:9-16
The story of Elizabeth – Luke 1:5-25, 57
The story of Naomi – Book of Ruth
The story of Ruth – Book of Ruth, Matthew 1:5
The story of Rahab – Joshua 2, 6:17, 22-25; Matthew 1:5
The story of Bathsheba – 2 Samuel 11-12:26, Matthew 1:6
The mention of the sunken parents (not necessarily parents): Matthew 18:6

©May 2016 by Cheri Johnson

When Mothering Isn’t Fun

Mothering is often not fun. Most moms have figured out how to weather the un-fun times with grace. Not perfection. Grace. But since yesterday was Mother’s Day, and that particular day of honor can pack a punch to the gut for some moms, I thought a closer look might be in order.

What happens when . . .

〉 Mothering has left you feeling like a monster?
〉 Mothering has robbed you of your dreams?
〉 Mothering has drained your sense of identity?
〉 Mothering made you wish you could run far, far away?
〉 Mothering has been so painful your pillow cradles more tears than snoozes?

These are deep questions I don’t have specific answers to. But I do have some suggestions.

What would happen if . . .

† You believe what God’s Word says about you?
† You trust God’s promises for the future?
† You let God handle the impossible?
† You count your blessings?
† You worship God anyway?

This month in my Facebook posts I’ve been writing about each of my five children. I share what they were like when we first got them; the challenges they presented me; how they’ve grown into respectable adults; and what I learned because of them. The following are the key thoughts I have shared, or will share.

  • Jesus has no last name. When my child follows Jesus, he/she doesn’t necessarily have to look like me or my husband.
  • Moms are teachers but they also need to be learners. We need to listen carefully and learn from our children.
  • Moms need to have tender hearts but thick skin, and not let our children’s words or behaviors define our sense of success or failure.
  • Walking through fire with our children can cause our relationships with them to be purified and stronger.
  • Our children are more than a bundle of behaviors. Their feelings run deep, requiring a careful and gracious approach.


When Mothering isn't Fun

This is what we do when mothering isn’t fun.

This is what changes our . . .

♥ self-image from monster-ish into angel-ish
♥ dreams from nightmares into aspirations
♥ identity from waning into flourishing
♥ desire to run to excitement to stay, and
♥ private tears into public praise

In spite of my innumerable monster-ish, nightmarish, and heart-rending experiences as a mom, I can promise you today that eventually the sun does come out and you will again smile and sing and dance.

I received the following Mother’s Day greeting from one of my children yesterday:

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I thank you to this day for loving me and taking me and my hooligan brother into your life. We were your first tornadoes. Thank you for putting up with us all and teaching us life lessons as well as school. We learned more than most schools offer. We all tested you but you showed us love, the best love any little Russian boy could ever wish for. I can’t ever thank you enough for giving me a chance at life. I love you Mama!

None of my kids turned out as I hoped they would. But, I promise you, hurting and weary mom, in time you will have more good days than bad. You will feel pride in your children. The work of your hands will be established (Psalm 90:17), and God will say to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Luke 19:17).

Copyright May 2016 by Cheri Johnson


Boogers, Birthdays, and Beautiful Moments

“I eat my boogers!” our son announced to the camera, having been caught by his dad who was taping a birthday celebration. Years later our daughter rolled in laughter watching this scene from an old family video. I can still hear both his little voice and her teenage cackle. Two precious memories.

Fast forward another handful of years and that same daughter left home under less than pleasant circumstances. Not an endearing memory. I could hardly walk by the closed door to her room without battling pain and regret.

“Why did we adopt these children to have it end like this? What good did we accomplish? Would it have been better to have left them in orphanages on the other side of the world?”

The feelings of failure and resentment grew over the next several weeks until one day I bravely entered her vacated room. I discovered one item she had left behind: a trifold display board to which she had affixed photos of her growing-up years. This board had been exhibited on her high school graduation table at our church’s honor-the-grad night. As I gingerly opened the board a flood of memories greeted me.

Hiking in Bryce Canyon. Birthday celebrations. Camping expeditions. So many amazing moments of adventure and laughter. With the viewing of each picture, a smile slowly emerged on my face . . . and in my heart.

We had so many great times together. It wasn’t a waste after all.

Baptized in the waters of sweet remembrance, I arose with comfort and hope.

Family Fun

A handful of years later, I gave our now adult children personalized calendars containing pictures from their years in our home. I trusted that as they each perused those pictures they would be reassured they indeed belonged to us. They were not adrift in the world. They had parents who cherished them, believed in them, and had full confidence in their success as adults.

God wants us to build tangible reminders of His goodness in our lives.

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua,

“Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan . . . and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.”

. . . to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. . . . These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever (Joshua 4:1-7 NIV).

Other places in the Old Testament the Lord instructed the children of Israel to establish various feasts and festivals as a remembrance of the many ways He had cared for them. Passover is such a time, as is communion in the New Testament.

Why is God so emphatic that we establish multisensory road signs? Alina Tugend of The New York Times cites several studies on the weight of bad memories verses good memories. Bad memories have twice as much effect on us as do good memories because bad memories carry a stronger emotional impact and thus we tend to remember them in greater detail ( I can certainly attest to that. No wonder God wants us to monumentalize our good experiences. Our minds can’t easily recall them.

So dear mom, click, click, click your camera. Upload. Scrapbook. Journal in minute detail. Display artwork. Create new holidays.

If you’re like me, there will be plenty of times you will need “stones” to remind you that God is in control and all is well.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to see your picture of a cherished memory in the comments below.


Copyright May 2016 by Cheri Johnson