Early this summer I was traveling solo for the first time in over a year-and-a-half when a woman sitting near me at the airport asked, “Will you watch my bags?” I nodded yes. There is a social contract that exists among women when we are by ourselves in places like airports. I’ll watch your bags if you need to go to the restroom or visit the convenience store, and you’ll watch mine in turn. When the woman came back, she sat down and said, “Thanks, mama.” I wondered if I’d heard her correctly. She was younger than me, but she wasn’t a kid. Instead of taking offense, though, I smiled behind my mask as I realized that I have taken on the persona of mama in my life, not just in relation to my own children, but with almost everyone.
My daughter dubbed me the “work mom” at the pool that we frequent because I try to get to know the young men and women who work there as lifeguards and servers. I want them to know that an adult other than their parents is interested in their well-being and what they plan to do with their lives. I’m a talker by nature, but I try to listen well so that I can follow up with them about high school and college or sometimes more personal matters like their family situations. My mama instincts are strong, and I’ve accepted my role as mama to many.
If you’d told me a few years ago that I would embrace this mama moniker for people other than my own children, I probably would’ve rolled my eyes and scoffed. When my children were little bitty and needed my undivided attention for every detail of their lives, I couldn’t see past my own circumstances. I didn’t have the time or energy to concentrate in depth on other children. But then my two oldest became teenagers, and I experienced a shift in my perspective. I was around teenagers and young adults a lot more. I could try to be a positive influence without the pressure and anxiety of raising them. I really want to pour out love and attention to these young people. My mama outlook became less self-centered and more community focused.
Most of the imagery we associate with God is linked to fatherhood, but God is a mother too. In one instance, Jesus himself spoke about God’s mothering side when he lamented the people of Jerusalem’s failure to follow God. Jesus said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matt 23:37; Luke 13:34). Even though Jesus scolded the people in this verse, God incarnate compared himself to a mother who longs to gather her children together and protect them. I can see and feel the direct connection between Jesus’ words and the hearts of the mamas I know.
God’s desire to bring people together extends beyond the citizens of ancient Jerusalem. God longs to pull all of us into God’s community where we, as the people of God, can love and support one another. We can serve God and extend the positive qualities of parenting, especially mothering, to those beyond our immediate families to reach all of God’s people. We are God’s family. Let’s take care of one another as if we believe it.