Motherhood: On Prophets and Gardening

Whether you are a mother or have a mother — or both — this week you’re likely thinking about what Mother’s Day means for you. On a Sunday set apart for honoring mothers, many of us carry around a mixed bag of emotions. (I’ve written about that here.) I have buried two mothers and I’ve birthed four sons. Grief, sadness and loss are intermingled with joy, expectation, pride and even a little fear as I consider both the past and the future of my experience with motherhood.

A few years ago, I jotted down a quote from an author who was speaking at a writing conference. Rachel Held Evans, pregnant with her second child, spoke to us about Hagar, the servant of Sarah whose story is told in the book of Genesis. When Hagar and her son Ishmael were rejected by Sarah, God ministered to them as they wandered in the desert. The author’s message was powerful, but the words that stood out most were these:

“Every Mama is something of a prophet.”

Rachel died unexpectedly just a year ago. Memories and comments about this young woman’s impact on believers and on those searching for belief have popped up around the internet, both then and now. One writer portrayed Rachel as a “prophet with a pen.” 

A prophet is “a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God” ( Rachel Held Evans both declared and lived this truth. Certainly her writing and her life pointed others toward God. But, her statement to an audience of writers in Holland, Michigan, and recorded in my journal three years ago has been a gift to this mother/daughter. The timing of that declaration served to carry me through a painful and challenging season of motherhood. As a prophet, I declared God’s healing over progeny who needed His covering. Voicing the future truth I spoke as a mother clinging to hope empowered me to continue claiming God’s promises for our children. Because I’m a Mama and because I believe that I can.

Isn’t motherhood akin to “gardening in the dark”?

On the heels of that reflection on a mother’s identity as a prophet, I listened to a podcast that features both a favorite author and a beloved folk singer — The Growing Edge with Parker J. Palmer and Carrie Newcomer.

In their conversation, Palmer talks about his friend and mentor Joel Elkes, a doctor and scientist. Parker called him “a steady source of light and life to all who knew him.” Elkes died in 2015 at the age of 101. In 2003, Elkes commented that enduring Hitler’s assault on the world had given him wisdom for navigating the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. “Night is falling fast in our world,” said Elkes. “We must learn to garden in the dark.”

Palmer posed this question to his podcast audience in light of the ongoing pandemic:

“What seeds of hope and new life can we plant as we endure darkness in this world?”

It struck me that in my role as mother I often find myself gardening in the dark. I’m making decisions, taking action, offering counsel to my children perhaps without knowing how my efforts will be received and whether they will take root. I sink in my hoe and drop my seeds, cover them with a warm hug and words of encouragement then step back into the dark to await the work of rain and sunshine, hoping for growth and for safety.

In my role as mother I often find myself 'gardening in the dark.' Click To Tweet

This Sunday, we’ll be called to hold back the warm hugs and forgo the family gatherings with the hope that the COVID-19 virus can be abated. Such retraint goes against our nature; God created us for community and for human contact. And for some of us, connecting via Zoom, FaceTime and other friendly technology may feel a bit like gardening in the dark. But we’ll do it anyway because we’re still mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and gardeners, planting seeds of hope and new life as we prophesy a brighter future.


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