I’ve Been Thinking … Motherhood and Faith
This essay by Savannah Guthrie was adapted from a recent speech she gave at a Catholic luncheon.
Motherhood and faith go together. I couldn’t do one without the other. You need faith to get through motherhood. Wine helps. But faith is crucial.
Motherhood tells us everything we need to know about faith. Being a parent teaches us in the clearest terms how God, our Father in heaven, relates to us. His love, his frustrations, his compassion for us… The way we feel about our kids is about as close as we can get to grasping how God feels about us, His children.
My mother says people often ask her, “How did your kids turn out okay? What did you do?” I guess they figure we all turned out alright because none of us went to jail. Actually, two of us did, but that’s another story for another time.
Anyway, she always says, “a lot of knee time.” In other words, for her, being a good mother came down to praying her heart out for her kids. Sometimes it literally meant getting down on her knees and praying for God’s protection. Because, there comes a moment in every mother’s life when you know that there’s nothing you can do to protect your child. Maybe that’s true from the second they are born.
I remember when my daughter Vale was born. I have never felt such exquisite joy, such relief, such ecstasy — to see her beautiful round face, to hold her cheek to cheek in her very first moments as the tears rolled down mine. I have said this before; I cried tears I didn’t know I had, a wail and release from deep inside me that welled up and poured out. They were tears that were always, only, just for her.
One of the first things I started feeling as I began my journey as a mother was an incredible and terrifying sense of vulnerability. I had never felt so exposed. I came to motherhood late in life. I was 41 years old. By that time, you learn to be strong, to get some scar tissue, to toughen up. You think, “Breakups, job disappointments, loss… They’re hard, but I could handle them if I had to.” Now, holding this little baby, having this precious child out in the world, I had never felt so vulnerable. I think often of that old saying, “to have a child is to go through life with your heart walking around outside your body.” That was me. My child was my everything. And I felt so acutely that to lose her would crush me. I felt so very, very afraid and again, vulnerable. I wasn’t used to that feeling and I didn’t know what to do.
So, I prayed. And that’s when I realized one of the most important and crucial aspects of motherhood: knowing and believing and trusting that God holds my child in His hands. This doesn’t mean that no harm will come to our children. Oh, how I wish. That’s not how life works. I wish I understood pain and suffering and harm and why terrible things happen. But for me, for now, the best response — the only response to the vulnerability I feel having my children, my very heart, out in the world — is to give it to God, to entrust Him and to trust Him. Because between the two of us — what I can do to protect them, and what HE can do — well, my money’s on HIM. Only one of us is God of the universe, after all. I return to him again and again with the same prayer: please, God, protect my babies. Hold them in your hands. Watch them when I cannot. Give me your wisdom, share your insights.
PASS THE FAITH
I also believe in teaching faith. In fact, I think one of my most important duties, maybe even more important than teaching them please and thank you and make your bed and don’t pick your nose (at least not in public), is to give them the gift of faith. I cannot and would not want to control what they’ll ultimately believe as adults. But for the moment, I believe it is my role to give them the building blocks and to expose them to faith. Most crucially (and challengingly), that means I must try to model faith and show them what it looks like to love God and count on Him every day.
Now, this could get complicated in our house because my faith is different than my husband’s. He is Jewish; I am Christian. And, I grew up Baptist. In my family, we went to church three times a week. We didn’t kid around!
So here is what my husband and I have decided together: we are going to share and expose our children to faith, and when they grow up, it will be theirs to choose what their relationship with God looks like for them.
I don’t mean I’m holding a religious studies seminar, giving my kids some kind of daily lecture about the great religions of the world. They’re too little to understand, and also, that does them a disservice. I’m not talking about giving my kids religion. On the contrary, my greatest hope is that they would have a friendship with God. I want them to know the God that I know: kind and compassionate, merciful and good. Slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness (Psalm 103).
I will admit, I hope they follow the path that I know, because my relationship with God has been the most important one of my life. It has carried me and sustained me. It is so precious to me. And it is only natural that you want your children to have the very best this life has to offer. But on this, like everything, I must put my trust in God. I will do my part; He will do his. I will expose them and tell them about the God who loves us. And I believe that He will meet them at the moment that they are ready and able to see him and understand.
FAITH AND DOUBT
This is not to stay I pass my days stoically, without doubt or fear. On the contrary, it is because of my fear that faith is so essential. Like any mother, when I read stories of tragedy, especially involving children, I am shaken to my core. To imagine that pain is unbearable. And selfishly, inevitably, I worry that this fate could one day be mine.
There is literally not a day goes by that I don’t worry that my children will be taken from me. It is a thought I simultaneously cannot bear and cannot put away. I pray my way through it. Or I push it down. Or I tell God (I think as a warning), “If I lost them, that would be the end of me. I would not and could not survive it.” I know it is not right for me to challenge God in this way; it is not for me to test or push. I close my eyes and hope and trust that God will not allow this to happen to me. But I’m haunted by the good, kind, much better souls than me who have known that crushing pain. I have no answers or explanation for their grief. The fact that such loss occurs is, quite frankly, the greatest challenge to my faith.
But then I remember the words I once heard from a grieving Newtown mother. It is the most powerful and profound example of faith and motherhood I ever have witnessed.
Ana Marquez-Greene was a student at Newtown. Her mother, Nelba Marquez-Greene, was interviewed on 60 Minutes four years after her daughter was killed. She is a woman of deep spiritual belief. When asked how the loss of her daughter affected her faith, she said the most powerful sermon she had ever heard was at her own daughter’s funeral. The pastor spoke of how Jesus is present with us even through a long and hard winter season. And that winter would be made better with faith and family and friends. “Will it ever be springtime again?” the interviewer asked.
“I can’t imagine a day that it will be spring,” she replied. She then spoke of the moment she passed from this life into heaven. “The moment I’m reunited with her, I want to hear two things. I want to hear, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’ And I want to hear, ‘Hi, Mom.’”
I cannot recount this story without gulping back rivers of tears. This beautiful, faithful mother is the very picture of God’s grace.
This essay was featured in the Mother’s Day edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.