God Is a Mother to the Motherless

When I was 14, I lost my mother. Not to death or divorce, but to schizophrenia, a disease that robs a person of the moorings of reality itself. Mom had always been fragile and often strangely distant, and as a child I had sensed that I needed to protect her. She was gentle and kind, but she was not strong and she moved through the world with a hesitancy that suggested constant threat. When I was a teenager, she completely lost touch with reality and started a journey our family was not prepared for.

Like most cases of schizophrenia, Mom’s illness is treatable, but at first the treatments themselves impaired her functioning in even basic ways. We hoped for full recovery, but the following decades of hospitalizations, delusions, medications, relapses, and fragility made clear what we had already guessed: the mom we knew and had hoped to see again was gone. Although physically present, emotionally and mentally she was effectively absent much of the time. With Dad preoccupied, my younger sister and I cared for Mom and raised ourselves–with some help from our older siblings–from that point on.

I lived in survival mode during those teenage years. When I left home and finally had a safe distance, I began to feel acute grief for my mom and for myself. During college, I began working with counselors and bringing my grief before God. The process of healing began, but I continued to feel a sharp sadness as a young woman, a longing for what my friends had–a new sense of closeness to their mothers (and respect for their mothers’ wisdom) as they came of age.

One Mother’s Day, I sat through another sermon that idealized moms, and I responded as usual: an acidic mix of anger, grief, and longing boiled to the surface. I had some time to myself, and perhaps for the first time, I opened the floodgates and let that wave come pouring out before God. When my sobs had settled into a quiet ache, I told God what I longed for: a mother who could guide me, pass along what she has learned about life around the next corner, cheer me on, soothe me with reminders of her love, and occasionally let me rest in her wisdom and strength. I asked God to deaden my longing or to bring someone into my life who could partially fill that role.

As I was praying, suddenly the phrase from Psalm 68:5 came to mind: “Father to the fatherless.” Then the thought, Mother to the motherless. This was a possibility I had not considered: that God himself could fulfill my need for a mother.

Until that point, I had unconsciously thought of God as a bearded man in the clouds, even though I knew he was not a person like us. The masculine presentation of God was so ingrained in my thinking, I had missed all the ways God wants to be like a mother to us. I felt as if he was longing to do that for me, so I gave myself over to God’s nurture–and found comfort.

God is not a woman, nor is he a man (Numbers 23:19). He has chosen to reveal himself through the Bible largely in masculine terms, and I am not rejecting this revelation. God is my perfect heavenly Father. But as the only complete being, perfection itself, God also contains and demonstrates all the traits of a perfect mother.

A study of Scripture shows us many ways God is like a perfect mother: God is described as a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14) and as having given birth to his people (Deuteronomy 32:18). He is compared to a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15), to a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13; Psalm 131:2), and to a mother teaching her child to walk (Hosea 11:3). God is described as a mother bear whose cubs have been taken away, as a hungry lioness (Hosea 13:8), as a mother eagle caring for her young (Deuteronomy 32:11-12), and as a mother hen (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34). David compared God to a woman (Psalm 123:2-3), and Jesus himself likened God to a woman cleaning her house to find a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10).

God provided just enough healthy food for his people (Exodus 16:11-18), and he provides for us as well (Philippians 4:19). He urged his disciples to rest (Mark 6:31). He bandages our wounds (Psalm 147:3) and will wipe away our tears (Isaiah 25:8). He comforts us (Isaiah 51:12) and carries us close to his heart (Isaiah 40:11).

I don’t think of myself as motherless anymore. I still grieve, still feel the ache of missing what I wish I had in this life. But now I take that ache straight to God and find what I need in his love and nurture. For “even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close” (Psalm 27:10).

 

This article first appeared here, in Today’s Christian Woman.

31 Comments
  1. Beautiful and I am so grateful for this reality.

  2. This is so great, Amy, and so needed. As a mom who fights major depressive disorder, and who does it for her kids. Thanks.

  3. heather says:

    beautiful amy. i love this. thanks for sharing.

  4. Pam Shoup says:

    Thanks, Amy, for this comforting post. Spoke right to my heart, as I lost my mother as a young adult and have always been sad that she knew my children only as babies.

  5. Thanks, Amy. I deeply resonate with your longing for a mother’s love, and the search that has led you to God to fill the void left by your human mother’s absence. I can relate. My experience with my mother runs parallel to your own it seems, though my own story is quite different in some ways. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Kirk says:

    I say “ditto” to Michael’s post. I just discovered you and the important work you are doing. My sister shared an article written by you and I am grateful that she passed it along.

    As I read the article and scanned some of your blog entries, there was just one small thing that troubled me: the consistent use of masculine pronouns for God. I searched your site and found your statement about the Biblical material appearing to reveal God in masculine terms for the most part — and it left me wondering if you have ever done any exegetical work regarding the depiction of the Spirit in the original languages?

    The part of my life that greatly differs from your experience was that my pastor/father perpetrated sexual and physical abuse. Both my sister and I were his victims. For years, I had tremendous difficulty relating to “God the Father”. However, with the help of my late wife and a number of courses taken as I was earning my M.Div., (cross-registering at as many of the Chicago-area seminaries as I could!), I began to realize that Scripture is full of images and words that speak of God in the feminine.

    As my wife and I were completing our seminary educations, we began what became a life-long journey with the Mennonite/Anabaptist followers of Jesus. In that context, we were graced with the opportunity to hear consistent preaching and worship leading in which no gender-related pronouns are used for God in most instances — but in which Jesus is always spoken of as “he or him”. On some occasions, speakers (both lay and “clergy” preach in our branch of the Anabaptist tradition) do use gender-related pronouns in sermons, readings and prayers — but almost always with great care and balance. Encountering these sensitive references to the Divine in worship since 1989 has been a very positive and helpful experience for me.

    Accordingly, I can bear witness to the freedom this experience has given me over nearly a quarter of a century. Moreover, when my wife died suddenly and unexpectedly 7 years ago — and I was left to bring up my 2 sons (ages 5 and 9 at the time) alone — my immediate cry to God was toward the feminine, and the comfort that began to touch my shocked, broken heart was also immediately experienced as a mother’s tender care. Although the journey has been very difficult at times, the Wisdom and Spirit that are essential characteristics of the Divine in the Bible have accompanied and strengthened me in ways unimaginable had I remained immersed in a language-world permeated with rigid use of masculine pronouns for the One who is beyond all human comprehension.

    So, in sharing these thoughts, it is my hope that you find this small testimony useful at some level. You are a gifted writer and I am sure that you must be an eloquent and engaging public speaker as well. Using gender-neutral and/or a blend of female and male pronouns in your communication could expand your reach and touch many persons who, like me, have been so damaged by the excessively masculine portrayal of God within contemporary evangelical culture.

    May God continue to bless your wonderful efforts to bring understanding and healing to those who suffer!

  7. Jenn says:

    Hi Amy, I have never seen your site before, but I’ll tell you how I found it. I was reading a small article about St Teresa Avila, who became a nun in her teenage years after her mom passed away, and she found great comfort in the Holy Mother Mary. I thought to myself, I wish I had that. As a Protestant however, I don?t pray to Mary of course. Then I thought, well, if Jesus is greater than the Virgin Mary, and if He created man in His image male and female, He could be a Mother to the motherless. So the next day, I typed into google a search for verses on this topic. Your post here came up as one of the first. When I read it, I wept because I felt that God saw me and He understands. My own mom is a very sweet person and still alive, but she suffers severely from Schiztoaffective Disorder. She started displaying symptoms around the time I was an infant. Throughout my life I’ve cried to God that I need a mom, and I am now in my 20’s. He has given an enormous amount of grace, but it still is a huge loss and grief that is hard to explain. Thank you for sharing and also for spreading a healthy awareness on the issue of mental illness. God bless you.

    • Amy says:

      You made my day, Jenn. It’s magnificent when God orchestrates these connections and uses even our pain to do his good, loving work.

      God bless you and your mom.

  8. Jenn says:

    pardon my spelling and typos

  9. Grace says:

    Thank you, Amy. I was just doing some research on Motherless children. Your site has blessed me in more ways than one. I hope it will be alright if I use some of your information when I go out to speak. My mother died when I was about five and you addressed some of the issues that I often think about. May God continue to bless you.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks, Grace. I’m glad this resonated for you and your experience. Please feel free to quote me or share what you’ve picked up from my work, just giving me credit for what comes from my work. God bless your ministry as well, and may you see your loss redeemed for the sake of others and for God’s glory!

  10. Tina says:

    I so needed to hear this, this very day. My mother has borderline personality disorder, never wanted children and reminded us often “I wish you were never born”. She couldn’t express love because there was no love or emotion in her. When mother’s day comes around it’s painful. I call her in respect to honor her as a mother. I won’t share more, but thank you, from me to you, thank you and God bless you beautifully!

  11. m says:

    great article . love you 🙂

  12. Jodi Bell Burrell says:

    I can agree with this. I too lost my mother at 12 years old and God has been my help and defender.

  13. Peaches Dean says:

    This article is so good! I needed to read this today! It seems the older I get the more I miss my mom and desire greatly to have a mentor/mommy figure in my life. I pray for one often but still do not have it! God always reminds me that He is the one I really need and to lean into Him! I even have a children’s book titled a Memories of My Mommy to help the little ones cling to God as they grieve. Always easier said than done, but it can be done!

  14. Hi Amy
    We met at the conference in Coburg yesterday I just wanted to reach out.
    I register for this conference with full intentions of learning more about mental health, and being able to bring this information back to the parents at the group I facilitate.
    Your life story trigger a lot of sad lost memories in me, and I wasn’t prepared for this yesterday. I didn’t go there for me, I guess God had another plans. I feel the need to apologize. I was in a space where I needed to be a support for others, and it was me who needed that support.
    One thing I did learn is that I need to give that life over to God.
    Thank you for sharing your inspiring journey.

    Denise Vanden Engel

    • Amy says:

      Denise, I’m so glad you encountered God in a way you needed to this weekend–even if you didn’t know what you needed! Absolutely no apology required for honoring your own needs and the way God is drawing you toward healing and living in his love. This process will only make you better a ministering to others.

  15. misty says:

    I too thank you. My mother hasnt been diagnosed, but she is definately a paranoid schizophrenic and has been gone for a very long time….although her body is present. Its hard to explain, but i needed this. Thank you!

  16. franklyn says:

    Very touching story. I identify with you and understand.i lost my father at age 3 and my mother to cancer as a grown man in 2015 a day before Christmas. This was my best friend and the person I shared everything with. I did not know how to move on but god had been giving me strength and I speak to god now as my mother and father. I depend on his advice and comfort and protection and love. I am lost without God. So your story encourages me while I find strength in my own circumstances of experiencing god. It is not easy but god told us that he will be there and never leave us. We are his children.

    Franklin.

    • Amy says:

      Thanks for your comment, Franklin. I’m so glad you have this experience too, finding and receiving what God offers us through endless grace and love.

  17. Corey Jahn says:

    To anyone who has gone through heart ache because of a situation with their mother I am deeply sorry let me say however that God is fully capable of filling any role you need just as He revealed himself in scripture.

    I’d like to say I am deeply grieved by your statement: “God is not a woman, nor is he a man (Numbers 23:19). He has chosen to reveal himself through the Bible largely in masculine terms, and I am not rejecting this revelation.” End quote …. But you have rejected this revelation of The almighty has chosen in His providence to reveal Himself as male than straight out saying God is not a man is s rejection of that. Do you know that they are removing gender from the new bibles left and right ? It’s this kind of feministic ideology that is bringing about blasphemous abominations in the text of Holy Scriptures. Tell me how many female angels in the bible and Jesus was a male and in your own words God himself defined Himself that way. Now in the Hebrew the words always have a masculine or feminine attatched. The verse you cited in Numbers 23 doesn’t not have one (I’m being fair). It does not have one but God solved that by identifying Himself. It would do the author of this article well to go study the queen of heaven mentioned in Jeremiah 44 and than conduct a quick study on the occult and its use of the queen of heaven. Perhaps than she and others will see the insidious direction things are going and will be more careful. I love my Father and I do not say you do not, I love you as well readers but I and you have a responsibility to be seekers of truth and not just truth that is convenient.

    • Amy says:

      Corey, as much as you may want to believe I have made a dangerous feminist statement about God’s gender, or twisted Scripture to meet my own ideology, I have not. I have simply affirmed that while God generally reveals himself to us in masculine terms, he sometimes uses feminine imagery as well, and I find great comfort in that (as I believe he intended us to find). I am perfectly comfortable with God as “he,” although I do not think of God as a man because to be a man is to be like Adam–a created being, a human. My assertion that God is not a man does not reject God’s revelation in Scripture; it is affirmed by the most basic things we know about God. God may be masculine, for all I know, but God definitely is not human (with the exception of Jesus incarnate).

      • Corey Jahn says:

        As I said I believe it would do you a great service in doing some research on the queen of heaven and its occultism origins. I did not expect to change your mind but rather left my post for future readers. I do not think nor did I say you twisted scriptures to my memory I fully believe you love our Father as I stated. I just believe that you could say exactly what you said without attaching a feminin to a clearly male revealed God by saying this. ” Oir Fayher is so large and in charge He fills all roles while mantaining His revealed self.
        You will likely think I’m splitting hairs I’m not the occult has been and is liberal translators also are blurring the line on this topic. I’m only cautioning against that.
        Much love in Jesus name

  18. Andrew says:

    Thank you so much for this article. It is beautiful and gives me assurance about that which the LORD has been doing in my life as well. May God bless you abundantly!

  19. Cheryel Lemley-McRoy says:

    Amy, this touches my heart. I was eleven when I realized something was very wrong with my mother. She had fled her family and isolated my younger sister and myself. It would be years until I found that she was a paranoid schizophrenic. From eleven on, I felt solely responsible for her and my sister. And I felt so motherless. And I had no other family to turn to. I harbored feelings of fear, anger, and abandonment for decades.
    What healed me was studying biblical Hebrew. In it I learned that the word we translate God, Elohim, is the very rare Hebrew word that is both masculine and feminine. This explains Genesis 1: 26-27.
    You see Hebrew is a language in which everything is either masculine or feminine, and if a person is masculine then their verbs are masculine also, and the same for feminine persons.
    And the next thing you learn is that all the names and attributes of God are either masculine or feminine.
    Then I learned the all the feminine names and attributes of God are largely embodied in the Holy Spirit, who is feminine in Hebrew, including Her verbs.
    And then when I read that the first century Christians called Her God the Mother or Mother God, I realized I had a mother all along. When I realized that, She showed me my mother as she really was, and suddenly all the bitterness was gone. I’m telling you all this in the hope that it comforts and enlightens.

  20. Terri-Ann says:

    I also lost my mother at 14, she died and I was abandoned by the rest of my family to care for my sick father shortly after. I have this devastating lonely feeling now that I’m 29 and lost my father at about 21. I hurt almost everyday but thank God each time I smile because with all the things I’m facing in life, only God could have made a smile for me even possible. Thank u for this testimony, it spoke to my heart.

    • Amy says:

      You’re welcome, Terri-Ann. I’m sorry for the terrible losses you have suffered. And like you, I thank God for the ways you have grown closer through your suffering.

© 2013 Amy Simpson.