Motherhood as a Case Study in Sacrifice

We all have mother’s, but beyond that fact I’m not sure how much universal commonality we can really find on the topic.  All of our motherhood situations are different, and that makes giving a talk on such a broad topic fairly challenging.  So I’m going to be a little bit deviant  The topic of my talk is not actually motherhood.  The topic of my talk is sacrifice, using mothers as a kind of case study.   I know that we typically think of it as “giving up something good for something better”, but I want to invite you to try and see sacrifice through a slightly different lens, the idea that sacrifice is a manifestation of our love of God and our love of others, and that that love is the ruling motivator in our lives.


First, the woman who, sacrificed more, and for more than perhaps any other woman who has ever lived.   We know that it was Eve who first partook of the fruit, and that is was she who bid Adam to do the same, so I don’t feel like I am being too radical in suggesting that just as much as in Adams case, Eve fell that men might be and men are that they might have joy.  She had the courage to leave her comfortable and peaceful home in the garden of Eden, where she was immortal and walked and talked with God, to fall into mortality, to labor by the sweat of her brow, and to bring forth children in sorrow for a few hundred years on earth before dying and returning to dust from whence she came.  And this she did so that she could fulfill her role as the mother of all living, and that, through her, we would all have the opportunity to realize our potential through the experience of mortality.


The next mother I would like to talk about is not a literal mother at all.  Mother Teresa is best known for her work among the orphans, the elderly, the sick, and the impoverished in the slums of Calcutta.   She came from a rich family who were known for their philanthropy, and enjoyed many of the privileges of being well-educated and well-cultured, but took upon herself a vow of poverty when she became a nun.  She once said, “ ”I will be a saint” means I will despoil myself of all that is not God; I will strip my heart of all created things; I will live in poverty and detachment; I will renounce my will, my inclinations, my whims and fancies, and make myself a willing slave to the will of God.”  Her language may sound severe, but surely it was this fierce dedication to God that gave her the desire and the ability to leave behind her worldly riches and devote herself to the kind of life that would earn her a place in the memories of billions of people as literally the kindest and most peaceful woman who has ever lived.  She has done a lot for people, but so has Oprah Winfrey, and for some reason the phrase “Mother Oprah” feels a bit awkward.  They are both very giving, and very generous, but I wonder if its the fact that Mother Teresa sacrificed so much so tirelessly that it just feels natural to people everywhere, both rich and poor, catholic and not catholic, religious and irreligious, to refer to her as “mother”.   She said, ““A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, and must empty ourselves. Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness.”

A few years ago I flew from Salt Lake City where I had been working to Tuscon to be with my sister Megan for the birth of her first child.   She started labor at around 3pm, and labored long into the night.  She was in one of the bedrooms of the birthing center, and I was waiting restlessly outside in the hallway where there was a noisy heater that kept switching on and off- I preferred having it on, because it muffled the sound of my sisters moaning and groaning, which honestly made me kind of queasy.  But after several hours of listening to this, probably around 2 or 3 am, I thought to myself, “Wow, this baby she is about to have should live his life every day with so much confidence, happiness, and gratitude.  If he only knew what this poor woman was going through to give him life, he would would think of himself as the most worthy, most important, and most loved person on the face of the earth.”  I then realized that what I was thinking about this baby was true of myself, and also every person. Some woman went through a great amount of pain and struggle to bring each of us into the world, not to mention physical and emotional sacrifice that mothers usually make for their children for the entirety of their lives.  Just as a side note, my amazing sister labored until the sun came up, and until the sun went down again, totalling 30 hours of labor, 24 of which were without medicinal pain relief.


In matters of sacrifice, Jesus Christ is our exemplar. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”  My interpretation of this scripture is that we were the joy that was set before him.  Christ knows us, loves us, and desires to be with us forever.  The agony of the atonement was unimaginable and inexpressible, but his love for us is even more so.    he suffered the grief of the garden and the cruelty of the cross because he sees us as a worthy reward for his pain.  Jesus is the love of my life and I am trying to be perpetually satisfied in him.

It may seem strange that up until now I have made no mention of my own mother. Many of you know that my mom was recently diagnosed with 4th stage brain cancer.  But, honestly, no matter what happens, I know that I am still one of the lucky ones, because I got the best mom in the world for at least 27 years.  I was a sensitive and preoccupied child, who grew up to be a sensitive and preoccupied adult, and my mom has constantly sacrificed for me.  She forgives me for my weakness, and loves me for my eccentricity.   Truly, as abraham lincoln said, everything that i am, or ever hope to be, i owe to my angel mother.  And in the words of Maya angelou, I am her baby, and that is better than being anybody else in the world.


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