I spent my first Mother’s Day as a motherless child this year.
My dear old mother passed away in November last year and I wasn’t sure if Mother’s Day celebrations would affect me or not.
I braced myself for the onslaught of cheesy quotes about the wonders of mothering in my social media newsfeeds. I blanched when one ministry friend (who should have known better) posted on Facebook, “Don’t forget to text your mum for Mother’s Day,” to which came the sad reply from another friend, “Not able to. Texts don’t go to heaven”.
Sure enough, my feed was full of pictures of flowers and syrupy quotes.
But then I got a note from the minister of our church.
In the mail.
Delivered to the letterbox outside my house.
He wrote to acknowledge that this would be my first Mother’s Day without my Ma and to say he was thinking of me and that he hoped I would be comforted by “the ferocious motherly love of God” at this time.
The ferocious motherly love of God?
I’m in no doubt that the Bible uses mothering metaphors to describe God as well as fathering ones. God is described as a nursing mother (Isa 49:15; Num 11:12), a midwife (Ps 22:8-10), and as one who gives birth (Isa 42:14).
But the more you think about it, the more obvious it becomes that ferocity is one of the primary characteristics of mothers.
You don’t want to encounter a mother and her offspring in the wild, do you?
My daughter was telling us recently that she had possums nesting in the roof of her rental house in Melbourne. Her uninvited housemates were pretty noisy so she asked her landlord to have them removed. A guy arrived to install a metal grate over the hole in the roof where they were getting in. He came at night when the possums were out of the house searching for food, and sealed the cavity so they wouldn’t be able to return.
Until the next morning.
My daughter awoke to an almighty ruckus – the sound of banging and scraping and shaking. And there was this unearthly screeching.
The landlord sent the guy back to find out what had happened.
It turned out my daughter’s house guests were a mother possum and her new-born babies. The grate had been installed while the mother was foraging for food, leaving her offspring safe in the roof cavity. She returned to find herself cut off from her babies.
The man who inspected the grate told my daughter he couldn’t believe what he found. This ferocious possum mother had gnawed and scratched at the wood around the grate to get into the roof. It would have taken her hours. She would have torn her claws to shreds. But she made it. She was inside with her babies.
My daughter decided to leave her be.
What kind of ferocity is that? To claw at wood and metal for hours to get to your vulnerable babies!
On Mother’s Day there were plenty of references to mothers being kind and present, and about their wisdom and guidance and gentleness. No doubt all true.
But what about their ferocious, protective, unyielding love and loyalty?
In the animal kingdom that kind of protective love is primal, instinctual, unstoppable. The ferocious mother possum was mad with a primal force she was powerless to ignore. Nothing could stop her.
Elizabeth Lesser called it “a spirit of strong, fierce, protective energy”.
I know full well that God is not some primal creature, forced by unconscious instinct to protect us. I know God’s love is conscious, volitional, tender. But it is ferocious. It is unstoppable.
There’s a Hebrew word that’s often translated in English versions as “steadfast love.” It also appears as “faithful love”, “gracious love”, “mercy”, or even the quaint old-fashioned English term, “lovingkindness”.
The word is chesed.
It’s a tough word to translate into English because it refers to a deeper, unyielding kind of love, a love that knows no bounds, a love that never changes, never fails. A love that’s always promised, always true.
Like the ferocious love of a mother toward her offspring.
Not all mothers are perfect. Not all mothers follow that primal urge to protect their children. Plenty of our mothers have let us down. But the ferocious motherly love of God never ceases; God’s lovingkindness never comes to an end (Lamentations 3:22).
May the ferocious motherly love of God be your experience now and always.
Image Cheetah and Cubs by Nick Brandt.