Modeling the Power of Sacrificial Love

Two years ago, i wrote of the Feminine Genius of Motherhood in honor of Mother’s Day. The post centered on Pope St. John Paul II’s concept of “feminine genius” and how motherhood captures it:

Motherhood is one gloriously distinct way we encounter the feminine genius and today we celebrate our mothers. For most of us, our first experience of feminine genius came from the sacrificial love of our mother. Though it would take us years to recognize it, our mother’s selfless, nurturing love in our infancy formed the foundation for everything that followed. Moving toward our first memories, our mother’s presence is likely one of the first and, if we focus just a bit, we might be able to tune-in to the warm, safe sensation of her in those early days.

Waking this morning to Mother’s Day, the expression “sacrificial love” has continued to roll around in my mind. Having just returned from a week-long vacation with four of my grandchildren (ages 5 to 8 months) and their parents, images of sacrificial love cascade across my mind. As a high school and collegiate basketball player, Madison was a fierce competitor. I never imagined that her ferocity could apply to acts of pure, sustained, selflessness. Though “fierce” does’t seem to apply well to love or sacrifice, I would argue that it powerfully captures the intention, will, and perseverance necessary for the sacrificial love of motherhood.

During out week together, I watched as she stayed behind during pool or beach trips due to tired, hungry, or napping babies. I watched as she patiently loved through the pains of skinned toes, the disappointments when it was time to leave the pool, the sleepless nights, the early mornings, the food preferences, the dirty diapers, not to mention the incessant demands for food, comfort, and whatever else was wanted or needed in any particular moment. From the food on her plate to her time to her own preferences, and on to anything else necessary to the occasion, it was all laid down on behalf of her children.

And the kids were fantastic all week. That is motherhood and, no matter how much help is provided, there are many, many, things that only mom is good enough to do, be, or offer. It is sacrificial love.

I realize that I’ve seen it before. Her mother modeled it before her, and her grandmother and nana before that. I stand in awe before the sacrificial call of motherhood. From infancy, we are completely dependent upon our mother: food, protection, nurturing. She is our first love, our protector – our ever-present anchor amid the uncertainty of a big, unknown, world. No matter the hour, the weariness, or the particular need, she shows up again and again and again. Silently. Patiently. Lovingly. Sacrificially.

Even as we move from complete dependency to full independence, the sacrificial love of motherhood never goes away. Mom never stops loving, caring, hoping, or fearing, for her children. I watch as Sally continues to live such sacrifice lovingly, patiently, willingly, and even fiercely. I watch as my mom does the same and her mom does the same. Motherhood is a vocation that never ends and the importance of its example goes on as well.

Some may think, yeah, yeah, yeah – of course motherhood is about sacrifice. It is worth admiring. It is necessary. Many do it. So what?

For one thing, we need to pause, acknowledge, and celebrate it. So often, it disappears into the chaos of living and becomes grossly under-appreciated. Day’s like today are great reasons to take a moment to remember and intentionally celebrate it.

But our world forgets the importance of sacrificial love. We might say the right things about it but so often our lives reflect something different. Our lives become about ourselves. I become my center. We become focused on what we want, what we have, and what we like. We avoid the things that take away from our own desires or remove us from the center. Why delay getting married or having children? I have things I want to do. I have places I want to go. I don’t want to be tied down. I, I, I, I.

We need to look at our powerful models of self-sacrifice: our mothers. We need to remember that they made a choice to bring us into the world. We need to see that we were not made to simply serve self, but to give ourselves fully to others. The power IS in the self-sacrifice because it detaches us from the chains of our own desires and brings us fully alive through what we give and who we become in the giving.

Motherhood is an act of self-sacrifice and a powerful model for how we’re called to live. It is not easy. It is tiring. It is humbling. It is also fulfilling, beautiful, miraculous, and divine. We cannot all be mothers but we can recognize the sacrifice of our own mothers and see it as an example for our own calling in this world.

For those of us past the days when it was just a blur of necessity, the thought of going back is more than a bit overwhelming. We can’t imagine how we did it and may even wonder what we were thinking when we jumped-in. Today, I watch the young mothers all around me and live in awe of their strength, courage, and commitment. But mostly, I admire their love – a selfless, self-giving, pure, complete, and glorious love. The love we are meant to live no matter where we find ourselves or what our vocation may be.

And, I hear my own call to emulate their sacrificial love. No matter how comfortable I might be in my own little bubble.

Today, I wish all the brave, selfless, loving, mother’s of this world a Happy Mother’s Day! Thank you for your powerfully beautiful example of sacrificial love and the feminine genius you share with all of us.

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