Twenty years ago, in 1996, I wrote an essay in a little book entitled Mom to Mom: Confessions of a Mother Inferior. Today it is as true as it ever was and remains my classic “mothering mantra.”
Embroidered on a pillow that once lay in my daughter’s crib are words from 1 Samuel 1:27-28:
“I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.”
As a new parent, I can remember tracing my finger along the stitches of that pillow and wondering when I’d first mouth these words for my child, for my children.
The words belonged to a woman named Hannah, who had been childless for years. That’s the Bible’s sole description of Hannah: She was childless. In a day when a woman’s worth was determined by her fertility, Hannah appeared to be worthless. Paired with Fertile Myrtle – Peninnah, her husband’s other wife – Hannah faced her inadequacy day in and day out. Peninnah, the mother of many, paraded her children in front of Hannah, gloating over her tribe.
One year, when Hannah and her husband journeyed to the central sanctuary at Shiloh, where many Jews gathered to worship, Hannah begged God for a child in “bitterness of soul.” The priest, Eli, told her that God would answer her request. And indeed, God did. After raising and weaning her son, Samuel, Hannah took him to Eli. Fulfilling her promise to God, she offered Samuel back to God.
“So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:28)
I first met Hannah during the years when my husband, Evan and I waited for a child through adoption. Because we had known at marriage that we would be unable to bear children naturally and were convinced that we would one day want a family, we began the adoption process immediately. Four and half long years later, we finally received Eva, our first child. Ethan came, more quickly than expected, two and half years later through adoption as well.
In bitterness of soul, I had waited, Hannah-like, for children. While I often doubted my adequacy to mother, I was completed secure in my desire. So when I ran across this Old Testament friend, I took her example into my heart and held it there. Her prayer became a nursery theme, embroidered on a pillow, calligraphied on a plaque.
But I had never really prayed it.
One night when Eva was almost four years old, I put her to bed in haste. I was worn out from the challenge of her incessant needs along with those of her toddler brother. Like any good mother of preschoolers, I prayed with her and kissed her good night. Then seconds later, she was up, begging for a drink of water, for another book, for a sixteenth kiss, for more of me. But I didn’t have ay more of me to give.
So I did what any good mother of preschoolers would do. I gritted my teeth and got through the moment, but not without a bit of impatience and struggle.
Back in my own room, tucked into my covers with the lights out, I cried. Will I ever be enough as a mother? Will I ruin my children because of the perennial shortage of me? Hannah’s prayer echoed through my mind: So now I give her to the Lord. For her whole life she will be given over to the Lord. And for the first time, I mouthed Hannah’s words as my own. Oh, God, please take Eva. I give her over to you. I trust you. But I don’t trust me.
As I lay there in my inadequacy, God’s response surprised me. Okay. I’ll take responsibility for Eva. She is my precious child, and I love her more than you ever could. But do you really trust me with her?
Sure! I responded.
Do you trust me to oversee her schooling?
Do you trust me with her health?
Do you trust me to select her husband – or to care for her if she remains single?
Well then, do you trust me to select the very best mother for her and for who I want her to become?
Good question. Did I?
With the covers pulled up tight up under my chin, I came to grips with the core question of motherhood. Will I be an adequate mother for my child? For my children? Am I what they need?
God’s response to me, in question form, has become my answer. There is a sovereign dimension to the creation-selection of our children for our families and of ourselves for their mothers. When God gives children to mothers, he gives them with an eye to who they can become for his glory.
We can be the mothers our children need because each of us is divinely chosen to be the mother of each child under our care. That’s the truth God spoke to me in the wee hours of the night and in the stark light of the day. Between the lines of the prayer embroidered on a pillow that once lay in my baby’s room is a truth that has come to rule my mothering.
For additional mom inspiration, see the Mom's Devotional Bible.