“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Matthew 26:6-13
“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.” Luke 24:1-3
When I first became a mother, I became obsessed with photos of my infant. I would take pictures, upload them to my laptop, and when my bundle of joy woke from her morning nap—if she wasn’t too demanding—I’d make her wait while I finished looking through my Kodak gallery.
One day when I caught myself doing this, not in a casual way, but aching to see them like water, I had a disconcerting thought: why did I like looking at pictures more than I liked holding my child? Revelation: the photos only required me to sit and greet beauty. To soak in all the lines of her smile and the curls of her hair. But the real child, the child who had now stopped cooing and was screaming to be fed and changed and given her favorite blankey—that child called forth movement and aching and sacrifice.
I’m not sure why this surprised me so much–my obsession with beauty and like aversion to sacrifice. Perhaps some of the reason is that mothers, for all their importance in the Redemption Story, have always been overshadowed in my mind by the ideal of the bride. From Eve to Esther, Ruth, and the bride of the Song of Solomon, the Bride has always seemed the pinnacle of feminine beauty and grace. I must have watched hundreds of movies about brides and brides-to-be, from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte to Emma Thompson and Jennifer Anniston, but I’m not sure I really had much of an ideal for motherhood, save my own mother and the other moms I knew who made it seem so easy.
My daughter loves anything princess, and I allowed her to watch a little of the recent marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton. (Yes, we were already up.) Surprisingly, I was really moved by the Biblical picture it spoke forth—the picture of Christ and His church. How tender the groom’s touch as he led her to kneel down, how she knelt adorned in all her youth and gentility, which of course is true at nearly every wedding I’ve been to. But the scale of this wedding and the richness of the place and the dress—in many ways, it was the grandest picture of the church’s marriage to Christ that I’ve ever seen.
But what about after the wedding? What is a woman on the other side of the altar?
It’s been nice to have Mother’s Day come so closely on the heels of Easter this year. As I have thought about my own mother and my mothering these days, I have thought a lot about the three Mary’s who came to Jesus’ tomb. Straining to see them in my mind’s eye, hurried, burdened, perhaps moving dumbly in the early dark…holding jars of spices mixed in mourning to anoint in death the One they loved.
I wrote earlier this week in my God’s Little Princess post that women have been entrusted with beauty in a special way in this world. From the simple glory we are told that is a woman’s hair, to Christ’s description of Mary’s anointing him for burial as “a beautiful thing,” in the center of God’s History, at the center of everything from eternity past and still to come, the story and with it the world seems to stop and bend its knee with these women, to care for the body of Christ.
Decades after the triumph of feminism and Modernism, women are still doing this today. Caring for the suffering, for the dying, for the dead. (That pretty much covers everybody, right?) Mothers are no different than other women in this, except that motherhood perhaps forces some of us to take on this role a little sooner. Certainly for me, I felt I had come across a nearly infinite chasm when I passed from bride to mother.
A good husband makes a woman feel she can do anything. A good husband lifts his bride up and displays her like a trembling flower of Eden. But a baby. A baby comes and a good mother knows she is undone. How can she possibly meet its needs? How can she know what to say, what to give and when to take? How can she teach this precious thing clutching her breast to die?
But I know that in that empty space, in that humbling of my own life He has worked mightily. And as I think about my own inability to love and keep my children, as I think about my mother’s heroic attempts to give me grace and beauty in my own life despite my sin and obliviousness—I can’t help but hold onto the way Jesus allowed Mary’s “beautiful thing.” When I think about my own attempts to keep the kitchen floor mopped or the sick child entertained or the love of God paramount in every event of our day…I feel how useless it all is without the empty tomb. Useless without the friend calling Mary’s name in the garden, and the hope that one day our own alabaster jars will drop and our all our attempts at beauty will be made unnecessary, made finally True.
Against the pride and despair of our human efforts of beauty, against our desire to live picture-perfect lives, may we find hope this Mother’s Day in His condescension to our efforts at beauty–and may He “confirm the works of our hands.”
I wrote a song a few years ago about my own Mom. And since she’s just about the most beautiful woman I know, I thought I’d share it below.
Further Redeemed Reading: You can meet other mom readers of our blog at Announcing Our Mom with a Blog Contest, or just check out these posts with parenting themes: Jane! Jane! (a post on Jane Eyre), Is Your Daughter God’s Little Princess? , What Ginger Plowman Taught me About Kids’ Books, and True Grit and True Grace. And Don’t forget to check back on Saturday for Janie’s second post on Good Christian Girls, as well as Sunday to find out who won the Mom with a Blog Contest!