Beautiful Vocation: The Awesome Call of Motherhood

Each poke, each pull, each tear that dripped, I could only smile at him and breathe.

Madison Choiniere, Sickness and Stitches

One of the great gifts, and great challenges, of grandparenthood is watching your own children’s parenthood. The soaring moments of profundity are only equaled by the difficulties that sometimes seem like slow-moving train wrecks happening on life’s moving screen in front of you. Our oldest daughter recently wrote about several weeks of household sickness culminating in an urgent care trip for stitches in her three year old’s chin. You can read her moving reflection here.

As we discussed little Fulton’s special gift of “taking it on the chin,” Sally reminded me of a stitches trip for our Kellen when he busted his knee open. Ironically, an incident involving Fulton’s mother. Curiously, she said little about the injury, number of stitches, or cause. Sally’s memory focused on “the most beautiful tears ever,” as she described the courageous, undramatic, way our son looked at her as they cleaned and stitched his knee. Sitting in the exam room with him, she leaned close, cupped his face, and looked into his eyes as his brave tears formed and dropped from their corners.

“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” So said Simeon to Mary as she presented Jesus at the Temple, described in Luke Chapter 2. Simeon’s prophecy has particular importance to the Christian faith but is also offers powerful insight into the beautiful vocation of motherhood. A call that will, at times, result in the piercing of every mother’s heart.

Motherhood is a journey of self-sacrifice. From the beautiful moment of conception, her life is no longer just about her. The morning sickness gives way to the outward changing of her body and its accompanying discomforts, then on to the painfully glorious delivery of her baby. And that’s just the ante to the game. Mom is baby’s first love and her life is forever entwined with that human being.

Now 55 years into her motherhood, my mom still tells stories of the exploits of her children. That bike wreck when I was 14? She regales it like it happened yesterday. The time I played with matches? Yep, she’s got a bag full of stories ready to roll. From the soul-crushing defeats to the moments of soaring glory, she recounts the joys and the pains beautifully, sharing them as mine…and as hers. All these years later, the wins can still bring a smile, just as the sword can still pierce.

In 2004’s Shall We Dance, Susan Sarandon’s character describes marriage with this: “you’re promising to care about everything. The good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things… all of it, all of the time, every day. You’re saying ‘Your life will not go unnoticed because I will notice it. Your life will not go un-witnessed because I will be your witness’.” As I considered motherhood this morning, her quotation returned to me as a perfect description of the inspiring mothers in my life and the high call of motherhood.

Motherhood does not stop with the raising of our children, it is a lifelong vocation. Mommy turns to Mom, then to Mother, and then to Matriarch. The bandaged knees and tears of childhood turn to the emotional angst of youth, the difficulties of adulting, the transition to parent, and grand-parenthood, all amid life’s persistent joys and sorrows. Motherhood is nurturing, caring, feeding, leading, mentoring, accompanying, listening, and loving. Always loving.

Our mother must hold it all together, as we grow with her and beyond her. She sets our patterns on health and faith and food. Motherhood is active and passive: it is saying and doing, as well as leaving things unsaid and undone, in a way that only the feminine genius of the maternal seems able to master. Mother is justice and mercy, wisdom and patience. She is comfort and conviction, the model for how to love and live in a world that can be so painfully indifferent.

The high call remains until the mother’s final breath. She will always feel our losses acutely, and even in our most thankless moments, love us for who we are. She will follow as witness to our life and believer in our unique specialness…no matter the distance or indifference. Her instinct to self-sacrifice will never end, no matter how many times we ask her to stop. She can’t stop.

Considering the mothers in my own life, I see the beautiful design of the feminine and its unique aptitude for this most special vocation. From where does such capacity to love spring? I can only see it as Divine gift, a charism of spirit and heart that surpasses my understanding. Motherhood is a glorious mystery. From life bearing to love giving, it is an awesome call and a most beautiful vocation.

Showing 2 comments
  • Jaime Borkowski

    What an eloquent description of this most noble and humbling of vocations. Could barley finish reading through my tears.

  • Jerry Berry

    Beautifully written tribute to motherhood … the best I have ever read or heard.

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