[The following sermon transcript has been edited for this blog. The original video recording and slides can be viewed here.]
When I was asked to preach on Mother's Day, I became curious about why we all love our moms. So I conducted a survey, and I think some of you (including my FB friends and blog readers) also completed it too! What I had meant to be a simple informal survey of friends and people I know turned into an international survey covering hundreds of people from more than 10 countries and every continent in the world!!! That’s the power of social media! Anyway, the survey respondents also consisted of both genders as well as a spread of different age groups. Well, here are the results of the survey.
Why we love our moms
Firstly, we love our moms because they feed us! Regardless of which country or continent we come from, moms are more likely to be the ones to make sure there’s food on the table for the family. I’m sure that for many of us, even after we’ve grown up and got married, our moms will still make sure we are well-fed whenever we visit them. In fact, whenever we attend any meetings or gatherings, who are the ones who would bring food for everyone? The moms, of course! Secondly, we also love our moms because they clothe us. More than ¾ of those who responded to the survey said that when they were kids, their moms would make sure there were bigger clothes on standby even before they had outgrown the ones they could wear.
Not only do our moms feed and clothe us, they also take care of us when we are hurt or injured. The person who stays up through the night to monitor a feverish child’s temperature and administer medicine is most probably mom. Other than physical wounds, moms are also the ones more likely to comfort us when we are emotionally hurt or feeling down. And this seems to come naturally to moms because they have been gifted by God with a sense of empathy. That’s why more than half of the respondents said that their moms would be the first to cry during a sad movie. In real life, moms are also the ones who’ll feel sorry for those who are in pain or suffering. Like when we see a little child fall down, we are the ones who would fuss over the child to make sure he or she is alright.
We also love our moms because they teach us basic skills like how to brush our teeth and tie our shoelaces, and other much-needed skills for us to get on in life! Last but definitely not least, moms, sometimes together with dads, teach us values and beliefs through modelling and explaining them to us, in other words, by mentoring us.
How our moms love us
I grouped my survey results into three main categories – Nourish, Nurse and Nurture – three N’s! To nourish is basically to provide all that is necessary for someone’s physical health and growth. To nurse is to care for someone when something goes wrong. And to nurture is to teach and equip someone. Now we know some reasons why we love our moms. But do we know why moms do all this for us? Because of love! Mothers instinctively express their love for their children in these ways.
Of course I must qualify that I am not saying fathers don’t love their children by nourishing, nursing and nurturing them. In fact, some of the respondents indicated that their dads, rather than their moms, were the ones more likely to do so. But I’m generalising here as moms do tend to be more predisposed to showing their love in these ways. Dads may express their love for their families in other ways but that’s the topic for another sermon, perhaps on Father’s Day. 😉
How we should love others
As we look at why we love our moms and how moms express their love, let us not forget that God has explicitly told all of us to love one another (John 13:34) and to love our neighbours (Matt 22:39). That means, moms, we not only have to love our own families but we are to love the families around us and also those who are without families. And these instruction aren’t just for moms, so regardless of whether we are moms or dads or neither, all of us as the body of Christ and the expression of His love for the world, also have to do the same! In fact, we can easily find instructions for us to show love to others through these three N’s - Nourish, Nurse, Nurture - all over the Bible. Let me just list a few of these to explain what I mean.
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matt 25:37-40
If we want to be counted among the righteous at the day of judgement, then we should be feeding the hungry and caring for the needy. That’s why we have community outreach by the church to reach out to the poor and needy in the community and to help meet some of their needs. This could also be something we do in our daily lives like for example, helping to cook a meal for our neighbours’ children when their parents are unable to for whatever reason.
But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. Luke 10:33-34
Jesus also told the parable of the good Samaritan to illustrate what it means to love our neighbours. And in the parable the Samaritan nursed the wounds of the man who had been attacked by robbers.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Cor 1:3-4
We are also called upon to nurse the emotional wounds of those who are in any kind of affliction. So it could be comforting someone who has just lost a loved one or encouraging someone who’s unemployed to keep looking for another job.
These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deut 6:6-7
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Prov 22:6
Finally, we are also to nurture the next generation by teaching them to know God and to follow His way. This is not just the job of the parents and the Sunday school teachers or youth mentors, it is the responsibility of all of us in the faith community because we model to the young ones what it means to worship and serve God through what we do and say.
Jesus Himself exemplified what it means to love. Let’s look at what Jesus did and His demonstrations of love in the following video clip. As His disciples, we should then imitate Him and love like He did.
So just as Jesus fed the crowds (nourished), healed the sick (nursed), and taught others about the kingdom of God (nurtured), we are also expected to do all that and even greater things (John 14:12)! But it would be impossible for us to do all that with our own strength. It is only possible for us to love and serve others in the same way He did because He first loved us. It is only by the power of His love in and through us that we can also love those around us.
How He loves us
So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matt 6:31-33
When we have experienced how God feeds and clothes us and provides for all our needs then we can also feed and clothe others.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matt 11:28
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Is 40:29
And when we are tired and weak, He nourishes us so we can nourish others.
He said, "If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you." Exod 15:36
Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. Ps 30:2
God also heals us so we can have the confidence to minister to those who are sick.
The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Ps 34:18
Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Is 49:13
And when He nurses us lovingly during our times of heartbreak, we will also have the strength to comfort and minister to others who are suffering or in pain.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Is 30:21
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you. Ps 32:8
Finally, when we have received His teaching and instruction through His word as well as through the guidance and prompting of His Holy Spirit, then we will be equipped to teach and nurture others in the faith.
At this point, I'd like to share a story which had ministered to me greatly in the past - A Tale of Two Pails (adapted from http://morningglorylights.blogspot.sg/2011/02/tale-of-two-pails.html).
The Master carried two pails of water each day to the people in his community. Day after day he made the trek. One day the pail on the right side of the pole fell off and cracked. But the Master didn't throw the pail away; he continued to use the broken pail to carry water to the people.
Every day he made the trek with the two pails of water.
Every day the broken pail dripped water along the path.
When the Master arrived at the people's homes, the bucket on the left was full and had plenty of water to share. The pail on the right had only a small portion of water left because it had dripped water along the journey.
One day the broken pail said to the Master, "Master, I am no good to you. I am broken. Please, just throw me away."
And the Master replied, "Don't you know how good the world has become because of your brokenness? Please, come with me. Let me show you how beautiful the world is because you hung from my pole on the right side of the road, right where I put you. Do you see the flowers there? Every place you dripped through your brokenness, I planted a seed. Because you were broken, the dry, barren ground was watered and the flowers bloomed."
Let’s look more closely at the pail that didn’t have any holes and wasn’t leaking water. Because it wasn’t watering the ground on the left side of the path, the ground remained dry and barren. Perhaps some of us are like this first pail, somehow you can’t shower love on others. You just don’t have the desire nor motivation and find it difficult to do so. Then I would say that what you need to is to ask for and receive more of God’s love. Only when you know His love and are filled to overflowing can that love then flow out of you onto others. Once you are moved and touched by His love, loving others will come naturally.
However, I suspect that more of us are like the broken pail. You have been giving and serving the people around you so much so that you are drained and emptied. I just read a few days ago an article on parental burnout, which quoted a study published in the Frontiers of Psychology journal: 12.9% of mothers and 11.6% of fathers, had what the researchers called "high burnout." That meant they felt exhausted, less productive and competent, and emotionally withdrawn - qualities that are similar to professional burnout - at least once a week.
Another article also discussed the findings of a Yale psychiatrist's research that showed how new mothers often suffer from post-partum depression because they feel that they will never be able to live up to the image of the perfect mother often seen on social media: a nurturing, organized, sexy-but-modest multitasker who glows during prenatal yoga and seems unfazed by the challenges of leaking breasts, dirty laundry and sleep training.
And sadly, a new mom in Singapore had jumped out of her flat with her infant baby because she had been struggling to cope with the demands of motherhood and pursuing a career. I have ministered to many stay-home moms and they already carry heavy, sometimes unbearable, burdens on their backs. So for working moms, it must be many times worse!
Remember that the broken pail had to be refilled over and over again in order to be able to water the seeds in the ground and bring forth the blossoming of flowers. Similarly, we must be continually filled with God’s love so that we can continue to love and serve the people around us. We need to take some time out regularly to soak in His presence and His love and be filled up before we can go out to the world to give that love away.
The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with joy. He will calm you in his love. He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17
How He loved Elijah
Let us now consider a classic case of burnout and depression in the Bible (1 Kings 19) - when the prophet Elijah was escaping from Jezebel who was after his life. He had just witnessed God’s dramatic power and defeated the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Yet he wanted his life to end as he felt there was no way out for him now that Jezebel was determined to kill him.
But God knew what he really needed was some food and a good rest. So He sent an angel to feed him and get him to sleep. After the nourishment, Elijah was very much strengthened, so much so that he could get up and walk for forty days and forty nights to Horeb.
There, he met with God and the first thing he did was complain about how lonely and discouraged he felt. But God in His love and mercy, spoke to Elijah gently in a still, small voice and nursed his bruised emotions and encouraged him with news that he was not alone after all, but that 7000 other Godly men had been preserved. God also gave him specific instructions of what to do next.
As we can see, at a time when Elijah was feeling absolutely drained from serving God, even to the point of being depressed and suicidal, God showed up and nourished and nursed him back to health, then continued nurturing him for the work ahead. But let us not wait till we get to the end of our limits like Elijah to take a break and get refilled with His love. Let’s learn to go to God daily for our daily dose of His love just like the broken pail was refilled with water daily.
We love because...
So let all of us who are busy serving people like Martha, remember to spend time regularly at Jesus’ feet like Mary did. We must allow Him to keep filling us with His love so we can keep loving and serving others. No matter how tired and weak we may be, He is sure to provide for all our needs and nourish us with His rest and His strength. Regardless of what we’ve suffered and the hurts that we carry, He is always ready to soothe our wounds and comfort us, and nurse us back to health.
And even when we’re feeling lost and hopeless, He will shine a light on our paths and direct our steps as He continues to build and nurture our faith. The key is to first be loved by Him, the God of love.
We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19
Maybe you are someone who finds it hard to love others or perhaps you’re feeling drained from loving and serving others - be it as a stay-home or busy working mom or a burnt-out dad or someone who is overloaded from serving in a few ministries on top of your regular job. We all need to first receive His love and keep coming back to Him for more of it! So practise soaking in Him regularly on your own, at home or wherever, to make sure your love pail is filled up.
For instance, you could play the songs in this list, then meditate on the meaning of the lyrics, or you could pray silently and cast your cares on Him, you could also just wait quietly upon the Lord and listen out for His voice, or imagine Him singing over you as a mother would sing over her child to soothe and calm, or you could do a combination of all that. The main thing is to allow His love to fill you and touch you where you need it the most.