Mother’s Day

Do you find yourself grappling with disappointment in your relationships? Join us this Mother’s Day to find hope and encouragement as we delve into the struggles of parenthood and discover how God’s holiness forms the foundation of His love for us, no matter our failings.

Happy Mother’s Day!

I hope this is a great day for you if you’re a mom, but I’m really aware that this is one of the most complex holidays we celebrate.

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There are some people where Mother’s Day is just kind of real simple, unrestrained joy and gratitude.

Then there will be other people where you wanted to become a mom, but it hasn’t happened. So this day can feel heavy.

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For some moms, you have a child, but that relationship has turned out to be real painful. There’s distance, and that makes it awkward.

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Maybe you chose not to be a mom, and this is one of those days where you kind of feel like society or culture is telling you you’re a second-class person.

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Maybe you terminated a pregnancy, and there can be all kinds of weight attached to that.

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Maybe you’ve lost a mom, so this is a bittersweet day.

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Maybe you have a relationship with a child that’s real difficult.

Or maybe you’ve lost a child and Mother’s Day is one of those days when you’re unsure about attending church for fear of what might be said.

I just want to say to you on this day, we want Blue Oaks to be home, with the idea that Jesus really did come to start a new family for us.

So I just want to say I’m really glad you’re here.

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And I have to say — even if you’re a young mom and really optimistic about launching a family, being a parent is not a Hallmark card kind of experience.

There’s a lot of social science research around this. When you become a parent, it does not lead to higher levels of happiness in your life.

It’s meaningful. It can be wonderful, but it’s not easy.

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On average, marital satisfaction actually goes down when you start having children.

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In a classic study, they asked parents (especially young moms) to rate 19 different common household activities, including caring for children.

Childcare was not first on that list. It was not second on that list. It was actually sixteenth on that list.

It was behind exercising, food preparation, talking on the phone, watching TV, even behind housecleaning.

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I know when our firstborn came along, I had all of these kind of romanticized, idealized pictures in my mind of what it was going to be like to care for this little life.

She was so tiny. When we took her home from the hospital, I put her in the car seat. It was like it swallowed her up, and I had to put in towels and blankets and pillows just to prop her up to take care of her.

I drove from the hospital in San Diego on the 15 freeway all the way home driving 25 miles an hour in the slow lane with the hazard lights flashing, because I thought, “I’m going to take such good care of this little baby.”

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I just pictured rocking her, watching her sleep, feeding her, listening to those amazing tiny, little noises babies make, seeing her smile, holding her little hand as she learned how to walk, and teaching her how to talk.

She would just say over and over again, “I love you, Daddy. Thank you for being my daddy.”

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It didn’t end up like that at all.

I had no idea how selfish I was until I was a parent.

I can remember just being desperate for sleep, like, “Man, I’d do anything for sleep.”

I’d hear that cry in the middle of the night, and I would lie there and pretend like I was still sleeping until my wife committed to getting out of bed.

Then I would kind of pretend groggily that I would be willing to get up, but, “Oh, you’re already up, so I’ll just stay here” so I could get credit for good intentions but get more sleep.

I was not like Jesus at all.

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My wife was home full-time for a while with the baby. It wasn’t this serene happiness.

I asked her, “You don’t seem to be serenely happy. Why not?”

She wasn’t even happy with that question. She said, “You have no idea what it’s like to have someone you constantly have to clean up after, who you always have to feed, where you’re nonstop at their beck and call.

“Now in addition to you, I have to take care of this baby. It’s exhausting.”

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Then kids grow up, and they don’t tell you this when you start out — it’s not just when they’re able to walk, or when they go off to school, or when they hit 18 — you never stop being a parent and carrying this burden.

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When I was getting ready for this message, I actually Googled, “The most disappointed parent,” and it took me to a guy in Great Britain who was disappointed in his adult children.

He actually wrote them a letter. Apparently, it’s not an unusual experience to be disappointed with kids, because that letter went viral. I want to read a little bit of it to you today.

I’m not making this up. This is the real deal.

Dear all three, it is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realize how we feel. I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan. I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed. Dad

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Now that you’ve heard those words, how many of you feel a little better about your own family experience?

Of course, I know, I know — with this many of us, there will be people where those words are just like a knife in the heart because, “Yeah, I got that” or something worse.

“I heard words from a parent that you wouldn’t want to hear.”

Or, “I never heard the words I longed to hear.”

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Where do you go with a heart that’s disappointed?

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We live in a world where hearts get broken all the time. We’re always disappointed in relationships.

We’re here today to find out where to go.

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The Bible is the story of a parent who has really good reason to be disappointed in his children.

I mean, this letter we just read is a dad who is disappointed for really pretty superficial reasons and responds in a terribly hurtful way.

The Bible is a story of God who is our creator and heavenly Father, and he has profound reasons to be disappointed in his children.

Yet he responds in a way that is beyond comprehension.

And if you’ll let it, it can be the foundation out of which you can love people in your disappointing world.

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These are the words of God in the Bible. This is in a book by the prophet Hosea, but God is trying to talk about his relationship with the human race, with his people.

He uses this picture of a parent and the child and disappointment.

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When Israel was a child, I loved him, [Every parent knows that feeling.] and out of Egypt I called my son. [You might remember the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt, and God led them out.] But the more they were called, the more they went away from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, [Parents will sometimes have little nicknames, terms of endearment, for their children. Ephraim is one of those for God’s children, for Israel.] It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them.
Will they not return to Egypt and will not Assyria rule over them [In other words, “Will they not experience judgment now? Are they not going to experience the cost of rejecting me?”] because they refuse to repent? A sword will flash in their cities; [“Their cities will become places of violence because they disobey me.”] it will devour their false prophets and put an end to their plans. My people are determined to turn from me. Even though they call me God Most High, I will by no means exalt them. (Hosea 11:1-7)

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This is an extraordinary insight into the heart of the God of the universe, and he is (or kind of ought to be) the most disappointed parent who ever existed.

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He wants you and me to understand this is God’s heart toward us.

“When I called my little child, Israel, they were nothing special. They were just a bunch of ragged slaves, but I just loved them.” This is God’s heart toward you.

“I taught them how to walk. I’d pick them up to hold them in my arms. I’d cuddled them the way a parent does. I would bend down to feed them, but they didn’t know. How could they not know? How could they not know it was me?”

Every time you wake up in the morning, when there’s anyone in your life to love, when your body is working, when you get sleep at night, when you have food to eat, how can you not know this is God?

“My children don’t, and they run after these other gods maybe called Baal, maybe called success, maybe called ego, self, money, sex, pleasure. My kid has gone bad.

“You know, I thought our relationship was going to look so different. I thought they were going to be straight-A students. I thought they were going to play varsity. I thought they were going to get into Harvard. I thought I’d have wonderful bumper stickers talking about my kids. It doesn’t look like that at all.”

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God just pours out the disappointment of a parent who is heartbroken.

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By the way, if I’m a parent, why would I think I’m above disappointment when God himself is not?

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We read this extraordinary letter and wonder what he’s going to say to his children.

Is he going to say, “I want to hear no more from you till you have a plan, till there’s some achievement?”

God goes on.

This is the turning point. This is kind of the hinge of the passage.

How can I give up on you, Ephraim? [Every parent’s heart knows this.] How can I hand you over, Israel? [How can I leave you to be ruined? I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. This is God talking.]

My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I devastate Ephraim again.

And why? Because I think my children are going to get way better because they’re so well-behaved?

Nope.

For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you. (Hosea 11:8-9)

It’s an amazing passage where we see this struggle, only it’s not between God and some other force. It’s not even between God and his children.

It’s going on inside God. — “My heart is changed within me.”

He knows the pain of rejection.

The way that usually works in our lives is, “You reject me; I’ll reject you.”

He says, “This I cannot do because I’m God, because I’m the Holy One of Israel.”

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It’s so interesting. That word holy is a largely lost word in our day. Most people don’t understand it.

They think of it as a weird word or a churchy word or it makes God remote, or strict, or severe — that it might keep him from just being a loving God.

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Actually, in this passage it says, “Holiness is not an obstacle to my love. It’s actually the foundation of my love. It’s because I am holy.”

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See in this world, the way it works is:

You please me; then I’ll love you.
You make me feel good about who I am; I’ll give you the good stuff.
You hurt me; I’ll hurt you back.

It’s precisely the fact that God is holy, that his goodness is unstoppable, that does not allow him to do that.

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He says, “I can’t stop loving my children because I promised. Love is not a feeling. Love is not this warm glow when you do things that make me feel good about myself. Love is a promise, and the promise is — I will will your good. I will work for your good. I will devote myself for your good, no matter how you treat me.”

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He says, “For I am God, and not a man—the Holy One among you.”

Love is a promise.

Sometimes that promise might be wonderful to experience and might be comforting.
Sometimes that love will be painful, and it will be challenging.

But God promised.

And we do too.

We promise to love, and yet none of us can keep that promise on our own. There’s this wonder and pain around it.

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Some of you have young children that you read to. You may be familiar with a children’s book about the promise of love between a mom and a child. It’s called Love You Forever.

I want to read it because there’s a story behind it.

So just bear with me.

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A mother held her new baby and very slowly rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she held him, she sang: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living My baby you’ll be.

The baby grew. He grew, and he grew, and he grew. He grew until he was two years old, and he ran all around the house. He pulled all the books off the shelves. He pulled all the food out of the refrigerator, and he took his mother’s watch and flushed it down the toilet. Sometimes his mother would say, ‘This kid is driving me CRAZY!’

But at night time, when that two-year-old was quiet, she opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor, looked up over the side of his bed; and if he was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

While she rocked him she sang: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living My baby you’ll be.

The little boy grew. He grew, and he grew, and he grew. He grew until he was nine years old. And he never wanted to come in for dinner, he never wanted to take a bath, and when Grandma visited he always said bad words. Sometimes his mother wanted to sell him to the zoo!

But at night time, when he was asleep, the mother quietly opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor and looked up over the side of the bed. If he was really asleep, she picked up that nine-year-old boy and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while she rocked him she sang: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living My baby you’ll be.

The boy grew. He grew, and he grew, and he grew. He grew until he was a teenager. He had strange friends, and he wore strange clothes, and he listened to strange music. Sometimes the mother felt like she was in a zoo!

But at night time, when that teenager was asleep, the mother opened the door to his room, crawled across the floor and looked up over the side of the bed. If he was really asleep she picked up that great big boy and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. While she rocked him she sang: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living My baby you’ll be.

That teenager grew. He grew, and he grew, and he grew. He grew until he was a grown-up man. He left home and got a house across town. But sometimes on dark nights the mother got into her car and drove across town. If all the lights in her son’s house were out, she opened his bedroom window, crawled across the floor, and looked up over the side of his bed. If that great big man was really asleep she picked him up and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

[Mom is getting a little carried away here. The story gets a little creepy.]

And while she rocked him she sang: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living My baby you’ll be.

Well, that mother, she got older. She got older and older and older. One day she called up her son and said, “You’d better come see me because I’m very old and sick.” So her son came to see her. When he came to the door she tried to sing the song. She sang:
I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always…

But she couldn’t finish because she was too old and sick. The son went to his mother. He picked her up and rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And he sang this song: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living My Mommy you’ll be.

When the son came home that night, he stood for a long time at the top of the stairs.

Then he went into the room where his very new baby daughter was sleeping. He picked her up in his arms and very slowly rocked her back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And while he rocked her he sang: I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living My baby you’ll be.

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And the song goes on. Generations come; generations go. People are born; people die. The song goes on.

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I don’t know. It might sound kind of sentimental to you. It is, I know.

But there’s a story behind the story.

The guy who wrote it is an author named Robert Munsch.

His life is not a Hallmark card kind of life. He was diagnosed quite young with bipolar disorder.

He writes about how when he was in the fifth grade, he can remember being depressed, like, “I don’t think I want to live” depressed, in the fifth grade.

Then he was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and some of you know the agony of that.

Then maybe partly to medicate himself, he ended up becoming an alcoholic, so he joined AA.

When he was a young man, he studied seven years to become a Jesuit priest, but he found himself, given all he’d experienced, filled with doubts and darkness. He ended up not doing that.

He got married, and his wife got pregnant. She gave birth to a little baby, but the little baby was stillborn.

Then she got pregnant again. She gave birth to another little baby, and that little baby was stillborn.

Then she didn’t get pregnant anymore, and he never got to see or hold these little babies, to be a dad.

He’s a really good writer of children’s books. This little song came into his head, “I’ll love you forever…”

That’s where that song came from for those two little children he would never get to raise.

Then a thought came: “I could write a story better than life. In the story, love would be stronger than death.”

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It’s a funny thing. When you’re a parent, you get this idea. —

It’s just in you that if you just love your kids enough, if you just tell them enough, you could somehow fill up their little tanks, and they’d never be anxious, they’d never be afraid, and they’d grow up strong, confident, successful, make great choices, lead great lives, and raise great families.

Then you can’t.

You come to the top of the stairs, and there’s some kind of stupid conflict.

There’s estrangement.
There’s loss.
There’s betrayal.
There’s disappointment.

What do you do when you stand at the top of the stairs, and your love is not enough anymore? You know you failed.

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That’s why we’re here. This is a place where disappointed, brokenhearted people (because we all experience it) come to a disappointed, brokenhearted God who says, “I know. I’ll love you forever.”

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I want to give you just three thoughts in the moments that remain about how you bring a disappointed heart to God.

Because we’re just broken people trying to love each other. And we need love of another kind. We can’t do it ourselves.

So just three thoughts today.

Number one:

Bring your disappointment to God.

What’s in our heart has a way of leaking out of us. When we try to hide it, it usually doesn’t work so well.

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There was a mom who was writing about a day when (every mom knows this) it was just a meltdown.

The kids were badly behaved.
There were spills.
There was stuff that got broken.
The place was a mess.
They were throwing tantrums, and she was screaming at them.
She was mad at them, and she was mad and guilty at herself.

She said, “Everyone has to go outside and play.”

Her little 4-year-old son looked up at her and said, “Are you angry at me, Mommy?”

She said, “No! I’m not angry at you. I’m happy you’re outside. See my smile?”

He said, “Why are your eyebrows angry?” You can’t manage your eyebrows.

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Sometimes people think about the church as a place where we go and we’re supposed to manage our outsides.

“This is a place where strong, healthy, put-together people with strong, healthy, put-together families go. There’s not supposed to be any depression here, any alcohol problems here, any conflict problems here, or any estrangement problems here.”

No, no, no.

This is a place where no one is perfect. This is a place for people to just say, “Apart from God, my life is a train wreck. Apart from God, my way is a mess. I know that, and I never get beyond being one bad choice away from just having a train wreck.”

This is a place where we come, and we bring our disappointed hearts.

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If you find yourself disappointed today, bring that to God.

Grieve it.
Talk to God about it.
Cry over it.

And then dry your tears. Embrace this life, this day, these people, because this is the only life you’re ever going to get. These are the only people you’re ever going to be able to love.

Bring your disappointment to God.

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Alright, number two:

Don’t base the wellbeing of your heart on the outcome of someone else’s life.

Not even someone you love, not even your child.

I want to spend a little time on this, because it’s so important.

There’s an old saying — I remember hearing it a number of years ago — about the way a mother’s heart works:

“A mother can be no happier than her least happy child.”

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Now that sounds tender, but I want to say that’s the dumbest saying I’ve ever heard in my life.

In the pantheon of great, stupid, human sayings, that’s at the very top echelon.

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God does not run the universe that way, and thank God he doesn’t.

God doesn’t say, “Well, as long as there’s one human being that’s running down the wrong path, one prodigal son, one prodigal daughter, making stupid choices, doing bad things, living in misery, I’ll just get down there and be miserable along with them.”

God does not say that, and thank God he doesn’t. Who wants to live in a universe with a miserable God?

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I was talking to a mom not long ago, and she has a daughter. It’s a really hard relationship right now. It’s like, “I’m at the end of my rope. I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what to do.”

This mom has a mother-in-law who likes to give her a lot of advice, because she (the mother-in-law) raised three children, and they were all perfect.

They were so perfect that she didn’t even need to use all of her wisdom on them. She has excess wisdom, so she’s giving it to her daughter-in-law.

This daughter-in-law was praying and saying, “God, I don’t even know why you gave me this daughter. You probably should have given her to my mother-in-law, because she would be a better mom. She would know what to do.”

Then God said, “But I didn’t want her to be her mom. I chose you to be her mom. I gave you what this little child needs. You are this child’s mom because I want you to be this child’s mom.”

You are who you are, and you’re where you are because God made you.

God chose you, and God loves you.

And God will work in you, and God will use you.

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Your well-being and your connection to God in your life do not rest on the outcome of your child’s life. People get really confused about this.

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I was reading a book not long ago that said in our day, we’ve done a really strange thing. We’ve taken the word parent, which is a wonderful word, which is a wonderful noun, and we’ve turned it into a verb.

We talk about parenting:

How well am I parenting?
How well are you parenting?
Are you parenting well enough?
Are you parenting badly?

We put this huge outcome on our kids.

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Parent is a good noun, but it’s a bad verb.

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God never does that.

God never looks at his own existence based on how his children are turning out.

God doesn’t say, “Well, my kids are doing badly, so I must not have ‘God-ed’ them well enough. I should have ‘God-ed’ my kids better. Maybe I was too lenient, or maybe I was too strict. Maybe they would have done better with another god like Baal, Moloch, or Zeus.”

God doesn’t do that, and thank God he doesn’t.

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Now when it comes to my children, I can love them.

Will I mess them up?

Absolutely, I will mess them up because I’m a sinner.

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Is there some kind of formula where if I just do the right thing and say the right thing all the time, it will guarantee my kids will grow up wise, strong, confident, and lead great lives?

There is no formula.

There’s wisdom, and there’s folly, but there’s no formula, and there’s no guarantee.

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If I have a child that’s miserable, will it help if I get miserable with them?

No! This is so misunderstood.

I wanted to put this in a sentence we could all remember, and here it is:

Love doesn’t mean putting my well-being in the hands of my emotionally unhealthy relatives.

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For some of you, this is why you came here today — to hear that.

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Now, I don’t mean to be callous, and empathy is a good thing, but I’ll tell you a little secret.

You’ll be (generally speaking) a much better mom, dad, friend, brother, sister, child, coworker if you’re basically happy in your life with God — if you live in the joy of the Lord.

You actually have more to give that way.

Just crawling into the miserable space because someone you love is in the miserable space will not be a gift, not even to them.

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There’s a real interesting statement in the Bible.

A lot of you know King David. He was kind of a train wreck in his family life. He was a really bad husband in a lot of ways, and a pretty bad dad in a lot of ways.

One time when he was at his lowest and everyone had deserted him — he had no place else to turn.

There’s this great statement.

But David found strength in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)

It’s so painful to know I am a sinner. I am selfish. I am inadequate. My ego gets in the way, and it hurts my kids.

I don’t think there’s any area where I’m more aware of my need for grace than as a parent.

Then I go to God, and I remember God loves me. I don’t know why. He is holy, and he forgives me. He is with me, and he’ll help me.

Live in that.

Don’t live in the misery of anyone whose life is hard. Find strength in the Lord your God.

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Alright, number three:

Don’t let disappointment somewhere blind you to good elsewhere.

In everyone, there will be something that will disappoint you.

The danger is I can start looking at you, and all I see is that part in you that disappoints me, and I think that’s all there is to you.

This can happen in a family. It can also happen at work, or wherever relationships start to go south.

I just see you as the one who is inflicting pain on me.

All I can see is:

Here’s where you disagree with me, and I think you’re wrong.
Here’s where you’re messing up.
Here’s the stuff I don’t like about you.
Here are your character defects.
Here’s where I think you’re failing.

Once I start communicating to you, “You are a disappointment to me,” our relationship starts dying.

Nothing else can make up for that.

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You can eat meals with gourmet food on fine china. It doesn’t matter.

You can live in a beautiful, very expensive home, but if you live there in isolation, coldness, withdrawal, resentment and grudges (and some of you are), it’s just a really nicely decorated tomb.

Part of what love does is it seeks and asks God’s help.

“God, help me look at this person and see what you see and see beyond just what disappoints me.”

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The apostle Paul put it so wonderfully. Just a really simple phrase — “Love always looks for the best.”

It doesn’t mean live in denial. It just means, “God, help me to see what you see in this person.”

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It can be so easy to do this. It can be as simple as:

I love your smile.
I love your sense of humor.
I love the way you care for people.
I love your eyes.
I love your creativity.
I love how organized you are.

You can do this. You can do this today. You can go look for the best.

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If you feel like you can’t, if you feel like you just don’t have any love inside you to give, if you’re at the top of the stairs, then just come to God.

You can do this right now, because he knows what it is to be a disappointed parent, rejected by his children.

This song came to him.

“I’ll love you forever. I’ll love you forever! I’m the Holy One. I’ll write a story where love is stronger than death.”

He did, and it’s called the gospel. We read it at the cross.

Alright, let me pray for you.