In his most raw and revealing song, John Lennon sang plaintively the words, “Mother, you had me, but I never had you, I, I wanted you, but you didn’t want me...” It’s jarring to watch a grown man at the peak of his fame, sitting alone at a piano crying as much as he is singing over the mother he never truly had. All that Beatle bravado, the cockiness, the contrived confidence, is washed away, and what is left is a little boy grieving for his mum.
Arguably the greatest atheist apologist of our time, Christopher Hitchens, was also marked for life by the double loss of his mother. She tragically died in a suicide pact with her illicit lover, a former Anglican priest. It isn’t a long leap from her suicide with a clergyman in 1973, to Hitchens’ life-long anger against the church. Earlier this year Hitchens succumbed to cancer—likely caused by his chain-smoking and incessant drinking—an atheist, or so it’s reported, to the very end.
It turns out that no matter what height we scale, no matter what level of success we taste, no matter who comes along the way to fill our lives, there is an unbreakable bond of love between children and their mums. And even in the tragic cases where things go horribly awry—estrangement, death, illness or addiction—the bonds of love live on.
Just like every child ever born in this world, Jesus had a yearning love for his mum. The mystery of Christ’s dual nature is maybe best revealed in His relationship with her. Mary’s life, from the point of the Annunciation on, must have been a bewildering sequence of almost incomprehensible highs, lows, tragedies and mysteries. But we get hints all the way through the gospels that Mary deeply loved her boy, and that He had a deep love for her. In His last moment of life, while hanging on the cross in intense agony, Christ was still thinking of Mary. What a powerful moment that helps us glimpse into His humanity, even as He was on the cusp of revealing His divinity in the most profound way.
Mary’s life as a mother had unique challenges, but there is no mum who has an easy road. Being a mother is a very tough job. No union would permit its members to work the kind of hours involved. Occupational Health and Safety officials would outlaw everything from the heavy lifting through to contact with bodily biohazard materials. There are no weekend breaks or long service leaves. And it’s a job that means you are on call 24/7/365 for the rest of your life. It’s amazing anyone signs up for it. That they do is something every breathing person on earth must be deeply grateful for.
Next week is Mother’s Day, which reminds us—if we needed a reminder—to focus on the love God puts in our hearts for our mums. For those of us lucky enough to have our mum near us, it’s time to shower her with the things she loves most. For others, who are a distance away, it might be a phone call or flowers delivered by a florist. For some, it may be the perfect opportunity to reach out across an emotional chasm filled with pain to express the love in their hearts, even if by so doing it creates enormous emotional vulnerability. No doubt for many, it’s a visit to a cemetery to spend time remembering what it felt like to be held in their mum’s arms. Whatever the circumstance, Mother’s Day gives us permission to give into every impulse of affection, generosity and uninhibited love.
Since returning to Australia last year, I’ve been asked many times what brought us back. Of course, there are a thousand reasons to return to the South Pacific. But in my case, the answer is quite simple: my mum. Chances to spend time together don’t come twice in this life. I learned that the hard way when my father died instantly in a car crash in Mildura. Now is the time I have been blessed with to spend precious moments with my mum, my wife and my girls. It won’t last forever, and maybe this makes every minute all the more precious. This Mother’s Day, I’m going to soak it up! I hope you will too.
James Standish is communication director for the South Pacific Division.