Some years ago, I stood in the bedroom of a friend in need.
Her body had been carried out only moments prior, and all that was left was a few sticks of furniture, a pile of clothes, stacks of paperwork and a cell phone.
I had little more than a date of birth to offer the men from the funeral home who carried her away. There were no next of kin to my knowledge, and I couldn’t be sure that anyone would even step forward to bury her.
As I bagged up her things and scanned her papers for some indication of a connection, I stopped for a moment and decided to check her cell phone.
Where the memorized digits of everyone she knew should have been, there were just two numbers. I recognized one, belonging to a boyfriend who was also part of our community. The other was unknown.
So, I called it.
The sweet young voice that answered the phone was hardly suspecting of the news I had to share, but she thanked me for my call, took my name and number and said she had some calls to make.
By the time I arrived back at my office, there were visitors waiting. Three beautiful women—two adults and one about to graduate high school—and their father, my friend’s ex-husband, sat at the table with me and began to complete the parts of her story that I did not know.
If it had not been clear to me to this point, I now faced a sobering reality that my friend was also someone’s mother.
Even though my friend’s family had been estranged for many years, not knowing where she was most of the time, holding many memories of her struggles and even resenting some of the ways she had behaved, there was no doubt that they loved her and acknowledged her important role in giving them life.
Much of the time, our biblical studies focus on the lives of those who set out to fulfill or defy God’s will, but if you look carefully there is often a mother behind the scenes orchestrating critical details of the story.
Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob, Moses, even Jesus did not make entrance into the world without a mother. Each of them, through their actions, laid a foundation for who their sons would become.
Hagar became mother to Ishmael after sleeping with a married man whose wife was thought incapable of bearing children.
Rebekkah orchestrated a deception that robbed her eldest son of his inheritance in favor of a younger Jacob.
Jochebed sent her baby Moses up the river into the hands of Pharoh’s daughter to raise, as it was the only way to spare his life.
And let’s not forget Mary. Her son broke the law, was executed for it and as a result turned the whole world upside down.
As we are reminded in 1 Peter, all of us start out in much the same way. Don’t forget what it is to be “like newborn infants,” he tells us. Once weaned from a mother’s milk, there is still a “spiritual milk” we will always need to nourish and grow in support of our journey. A mother’s love for her child and a child’s longing or desire for the one who brought them into the world is an image of how God, the creator, the giver of life, also wants to be in relationship.
So, when Peter says, “Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice and all guile, insincerity, envy and all slander,” he is pointing out that we cannot say that we love God if we discriminate in how we distribute our love for one another.
All of us come into the world the same way, born of a mother tasked with the same amazing job of nurturing, grooming and raising up another human being. Whether we are the product of a super mom or one whose limitations presented us with challenges, God uses mothers to get us here. They are the foundation, on which He can then do his work
As we learn from biblical mothers since the very beginning, ordinary women cannot alone raise a child to be all that God intends.
Hagar and her newborn may have died in the desert had God not led them to a well. It was “God [who] was with the boy,” we read in Genesis 21:20.
Rebekkah, in her service to God, defied the hierarchal custom of the day to alter the course of history. It was the younger Jacob, not the elder Esau, who became the family heir and father to the Israelites, simply because God had instructed his mother during her pregnancy on how it was to play out.
Jochebed’s baby would have easily been murdered under Pharaoh’s efforts to keep the Hebrew population from outnumbering the Egyptians. Not only did God protect Jochebed’s baby by giving her the vision to send him up river into the arms of Pharoah’s daughter, he used the circumstances to strategically position our Moses to free ALL of his people from Egypt and lead them into the promised land.
Then there’s Mary. She was but a young unmarried girl visited in a dream and told of the kingdom to which she would give birth. “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus,” the angel Gabriel told her in Luke 1:31. God made her a mother in order to bring the most special blessing into the world. She was the foundation on which God could use our Lord Jesus to save us all.
These are but a few of the ways that God partners up with the mothers of the world to build His kingdom. Created by God, born of a mother and saved by Jesus Christ, we each have a unique purpose in the collective pursuit of that vision.
It is critical to realize that Peter describes each of our existence relative to that of one another. Each of us, as a child of God, is like a living stone, he says in verse four. Stones on their own are just rocks, lying around waiting to be useful, but when strategically bound together imagine the architecture; picture the fortresses; envision the temples that can be created—all in the honor of God. Therefore, Peter goes on, “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
No person, no mother can achieve that on his or her own. The ultimate spiritual sacrifice is when we bind together in the name of God and act as the village he intended us to be for all those who ever had a mother. Not one of us could have come into the world on our own and neither did God intended for us to journey through it unaccompanied. He never wanted us to function in silo from one another, and he certainly didn’t expect that we would try to do what we do most of the time without the cornerstone—the most important block in the building, the connector of walls, or as Peter says, “the one rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.”
How then, in world of living stones, do we decide which ones are worthy of the magnificent structure intended by God, and which ones are too broken and misshapen to be used?
I struggle with this every day.
My world says the criminal has offended too deeply to participate, the addict is too difficult to be loved and the poor have made too many unsavory choices to be deserving; but my Bible tells me that inclusion is the only thing that will heal us all.
By verse 9, Peter explains that we are all chosen, “a holy nation, God’s own people,” all of which who were saved from the darkness and tossed into the light at the moment of Christ’s resurrection. The new covenant offered forth in that great act was God’s message to the world that we all belong to Him. And no matter how ordinary or insignificant the living stones of this world may be, God’s word is that we all have a place in the construction of his kingdom.
When in doubt of whether your neighbor has a role in building up the spiritual house of God, consider my friend and ask yourself this question—are they someone’s mother who partnered with God to bring another living stone into the world?
If you wonder how the broken among you could possibly meet the standards for creation of the holy priesthood, remember that the intended sacrifice will never be complete if any one stone is left out.
You see, there is a choice we make each and every day. Do we accept God’s love and try not to mess it up for ourselves or do we return the favor, loving the world as God loves us?
I’ve spent many a late night with a young woman who has been hospitalized 18 times since January. Sometimes, her visits are so frequent that I’m not even sure I should respond. But I do.
Because she has a mother.
There’s a man who walks our streets who is paralyzed on the left side of his body. He’s so angry about his circumstances that he won’t let anyone help him. But we keep trying.
Because he has a mother.
I lay awake at night and watch my own son breathe. A thousand things run through my head that might go wrong should I let him out of sight. But I do.
Because I am merely a mother—a mother of a living stone, created in partnership with God for a great purpose. I am not alone in that pursuit and neither is he. Should he ever struggle without me, my hope is that someone would recognize his important role in holding up the walls of the spiritual house and love him enough to get him there.