I don’t normally come to church on Mother’s day, for years my husband and I would plan weeks ahead to make sure we had something else planned, something nice, something to make the day a little less painful.
You see, I didn’t feel as though my story belonged in church. After almost seven years of marriage and six miscarriages, it’s just been too painful to step into church and celebrate the one role I long to have but can’t. The story I was living out didn’t fit with the church’s celebration, I felt like I didn’t belong. I also struggled to see how God fitted into my story – my only experience of motherhood finding me repeatedly on my knees begging for God to save another life. But I know this story of isolation, of avoiding church on a day like today is not the only one. Across the country faithful church goers have chosen to stay at home rather than join their worshipping communities because it’s too painful, because they don’t believe their stories have a place in the services that have taken place today. It’s not just those longing for children who are absent, there are those who had children and lost them, those who’ve lost mothers, who had difficult relationships with mothers, who never knew their mothers, men who mother and father their children but never acknowledged.
There should not be a day when people avoid church because it’s too painful, it’s just not right and it doesn’t reflect the faith we share or the God we worship. In Christ our identities are changed forever, transformed, no longer bound by marital status or job titles whether in the home or outside the home. In Jesus we are part of a new story that says our value is no longer defined by what we have or don’t have, our value is found in Him. But this new story doesn’t just stop there, the Christian life isn’t just about including those who were once isolated, or inviting those who have little to now join the party. This new story doesn’t just transform the identity of those who once felt left out, Jesus came to transform everyone’s identity. The life of a disciple isn’t about what you have or don’t have, it’s about what you do with it. Which is what Jesus talking about in Matthew 10
“Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
These verses sound pretty harsh, especially for mother’s day. But Jesus isn’t saying family is bad,I mean God invented family, family is a good thing, but it’s not everything. If you love your family more than Him then you’re not worthy of being His disciple. Your life, your story must be about Him, centred around Him, focused on Him. He must be the hero of your story.
Throughout Matthew 10, Jesus is talking about what it means to follow him, not in a publicity stunt way focusing on the highlights, the fish dinners and the late night chats round a fire, but in an honest way. He wants the disciples to know what they’re letting themselves in for, to count the cost, because, as Jesus says in these verses unless you’re fully committed to Him, He won’t consider you worthy of being His disciples.
The problem is that’s not easy to do.
Our stories contain so much stuff, God can seem so distant at times and then we’re surround by people who need us, it can become so easy to get caught up in the immediacy of what’s going on around us and not look up. But something I’ve learnt is that whatever our story is about, whatever our lives are focused on ends up dictating where our value comes from – it defines our worthiness, our identity and how we feel about ourselves. If our lives are focused on family, a spouse, a career, a home, a pension, or if our lives are orientated around acquiring these things, even though they may be good in themselves, they can end up defining who we are. They become the things that give us value, define our worth, declaring us special or important in this world. In the short-term this may seems fine, but long-term it’s a really fragile thing on which to build our our identity.
When I had my fourth miscarriage my world ended. I was a mess. At that point in my life having a child was my answer. It was my solution to finally fitting in with my peers, to understanding God’s love from a parent’s perspective, it was the answer to my purpose, it would define my femininity, bless my marriage, provide a grandchild for our parents – it was everything and losing it broke me. In the middle of finding our way through the aftermath of our loss we went to Denver with some people from my husband, Dave’s college. One afternoon we were sat together in silence, praying and listening to God, when I heard Him, my father and my creator clearly speak to me. He told me to put my desire to have a child to one side and focus on Him. At first I was shocked, surely this wassn’t right, wanting to be a mother can’t be a bad thing, everyone in church bangs on about it all the time, surely this is a good desire to have. But slowly as I sat with those words I realised He was right, I had to lay my story down, the one where motherhood had become the focus, and I had to pick up another story, God’s story. God’s call to discipleship makes the disciple into an individual and in that moment I knew that my heart and my treasure needed to be found in God and not a baby.
In the verses in Matthew 10, Jesus’ famous line crops up again about taking up your cross and following Him. At first it doesn’t sound very appealing, the cross is not an easy image to take on, it implies suffering and rejection which is what Jesus tells His disciples they should come to expect if they follow Him, and it’s what we, as disciples of Jesus should still expect today. God’s kingdom doesn’t make sense and if you chose to live a story with God at the centre, your life won’t make sense to some people as well. But Jesus isn’t telling us to take on the cross on top of the burdens and the pressures we’re already carrying, he’s calling us to live a new story. Bearing our cross does not just bring misery and despair. It’s not the call to a miserable end to a religious life,
it’s the call to community with Christ. The call to follow Jesus is death and life – to die to ourselves leaving our stories behind, dying to the pressure we put on ourselves to perform and leaving behind the importance we place on what we have and what we do is also the place where we find life. Being a disciple is not about adding to a busy or difficult life, it’s about putting your story down and picking up God’s story and trust me it’s better!
Discipleship is joy.
Discipleship is freedom.
Jesus says he’s come to bring us life and life to the full and I can testify to that – I thought fullness meant having a lot, I had ideas of what fullness of life looked like –a husband, well-behaved children, unfrizzy hair, a house was always tidy, eating what I wanted but never getting fat and going on amazing holidays where we’d make beautiful memories to be shared on Facebook. But fullness isn’t about what you have. If it was then Jesus couldn’t have offered fullness of the life to the outcasts, the widows, the poor, the blind, the lame and the tax collectors he spent time with. If fullness of life was about what you have then surely Jesus would have just hung out with rich people.
Fullness is found in the story you’ve chosen to live.
I’m still not a mother, but I have a full life and I know it’s because I chose to not make having children the centre of my story, I chose God’s story. I have laughed so much in the last few years, yes I’ve cried a lot too but I have known true joy and I believe that’s because I’ve chosen to take part in God’s story, and it is a beautiful story. It’s a story where the weak and broken are accepted and blessed, it’s a story that says you don’t need what the world says you need to be special, to be loved, to be accepted. Instead of trying to distance myself from the parts of my life that didn’t fit with the story I thought I should be living, I’ve been able to embrace my struggles because God’s story takes on all of me, even the messy bits. More incredibly, it’s in doing this that I’ve found redemption – the pain of what was lost is not lessened by choosing God’s story over my own but God has created beauty from the pain. I’m actually living out that redemption today by sharing my story in church, instead of spending another Mothering Sunday at home.
The life of a disciple is not always easy, and I definitely don’t have everything sorted. Discipleship isn’t a one off decision that you make and that’s it – it’s a two-fold task of becoming aware of how deeply we hold onto our story, giving it up and discovering that when we live our life in God’s story we are really in sync with how God designed us to be.
Basically, it all comes down to whether you trust the author of this story, is he bad and what he’s telling us here will only lead to destruction. Or is he insanely good? Is he talking about a better way to live?
That’s the decision we need to make today, each one of us, as an individual. What or rather who do we want the story of our lives to be about?