One Sunday in May each year is set aside as a national holiday to celebrate motherhood. It is fitting that our nation dedicates a day to celebrate and honor our mothers. Motherhood is a most beautiful vocation–one that can be compared with that of the martyrs, monastics, and teachers of the Faith. In motherhood, aspects of all three of these vocations are required if one is to fulfill the awesome responsibility of bringing a new life into the world, nurturing it and guiding it towards the Kingdom of God. This kind of motherhood is a means to salvation: it is hard work, and offers endless opportunities to practice the Christian virtues of selflessness, patience, perseverance and love.
From the beginning, motherhood is about sacrifice. When a child is conceived, the mother sacrifices her body to bear the child as it grows and develops. She eats what is most healthy, what will benefit the child in her womb, and leaves the things that could harm the development of her child behind. She begins to nurture the child by talking sweetly to it, by frequenting the services of the Church and receiving the Holy Mysteries often. She experiences the pain and travail of giving birth. Then she gives up her sleep, and offers up, in self-sacrificial love, her energy, her free time, most of her hobbies and interests–her whole life–to care for the newborn child.
For almost every new mother, this is a drastic change of lifestyle, which requires a major adjustment. The new schedule, the sudden isolation from the adult-world, the physical exhaustion, in addition to the total dependence of a precious little person can be overwhelming. Some mothers have said that they didn’t know what selflessness meant until they had their first child. Motherhood makes it easier to understand what “denying oneself” means. Monastics place a high degree of importance on obedience in their ascetic life. Mothers are also called to be obedient their duties: taking care of the needs of their children, always placing the needs of their family above their own. “My life is not my own” – a mother is always living and working for her children, and in this way she is like the martyrs, who willingly gave up their lives as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to God.
This is why, when approached as an opportunity, motherhood can be of great spiritual benefit. There is no higher calling on this earth than martyrdom, no greater proof of love than one should give up one’s life for his friends (John 15:13). A mother gives up her life at every turn and so fulfills the calling of the martyrs through these words of Christ.
Mothers are also called to be teachers – to instruct their children in the Faith, to help form their souls in a way that will incline them towards love of God and the Church. A good mother will read to her children from the lives of the Saints, she will teach them about God’s love and the gift of repentance. But it is not only by her words that she will teach the young souls entrusted to her. Through her everyday actions and deeds she models the Faith to her children. When she stays up late or gets up early in order to prepare food for her children or to clean up after them, she provides a lasting image of sacrificial love.
Motherhood, like all things that offer us opportunities for spiritual growth, also come with potential frustrations. Often all of this selflessness and hard work is taken for granted. Especially when the children are young, they do not understand the amount of time, energy, and sacrifice that has been made for them – they expect their mother to always be there for them, to take care of their needs according to their sense of time. This is yet another opportunity for mothers to grow closer to Christ, by imitating His love and patience. Through their unconditional love of their children, mothers can better understand how God feels when we are ungrateful to Him, when we are disobedient to Him, when we whine and complain as if He has not been caring for our needs. Mothers model God’s steadfast love when they continue to practice patience and continue to love and care for their children even in the face of temper-tantrums and whiney voices.
For all of these opportunities and more, motherhood is a blessed vocation, and beautiful opportunity to live the martyric life of unconditional love for others. May we all honor our mothers, as is their due, and may those of us who practice this vocation do so with increasing peace and joy, knowing that we have been given the opportunity to live a blessed life inspired by the examples of the martyrs, monastics, and teachers of the Faith.
~ Vasili (now Father) and Maria (now Presbytera) Hillhouse