It was asurprise today to be reminded that it is now 17 years since my mother diied. I wrote this article at the time.
New year celebrations were coloured for me by my mother’s death last November (1999), cancer having been diagnosed last May. It is good to reflect on unsought providences. With a sense of God’s goodness my mind has been on lessons he has taught me through her.
It’s good to put the spotlight on motherhood, something on which the Bible places a high value. 1 Timothy 2:15 (Women will be saved through childbearing …) we can paraphrase as ‘Woman’s role is not preaching or other things some men do but bearing and bringing up children (domestic activities). In such roles Christian women should live and receive salvation’.
Any good I do as a preacher is due greatly to my mother’s nurture. We must never think motherhood a lowly calling. It is crucial. What impact mothers have. My mother had many jobs, perhaps too many. However, she never looked at these as her career. When she was asked to be London buyer for a boutique she refused as it would harm her career - as housewife and mother!
My mother taught me many helpful lessons as I grew up but was not converted until I had grown up. Some things I learned were unhelpful and she failed to teach me things I needed to know. She never taught me how to pray, for example. When very young she encouraged bedtime prayers but there was no real teaching or encouragement as until in her fifties she did not know how. By the time she began praying I had been long converted. Though unbelievers can do nothing truly good they can do relative good and in certain areas she encouraged me greatly in the right direction until I was converted. A Salvationist grandfather and a local Brethren Assembly were positive influences on her. Although converted after me, her influence in leading me to Christ and to the ministry was crucial.
- Most obviously there is the lesson of grace. I prayed many years for her conversion and at last God answered. It seemed impossible, yet it happened. I saw changes in my mother I hardly imagined. They could have come only by God’s grace.
- She taught me to believe in God. But What may be known about God is plain … because God has made it plain … Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities … have been clearly seen …. However, by nature we deny the facts and attempt to suppress our knowledge. The fool’s There is no God is less unbelief and more refusal to accept facts. Although we know God we neither glorify him as God nor give thanks to him. I am so thankful that even before my mother was converted she believed in God and encouraged me to believe. She had plenty of the usual excuses for unbelief – she grew up in war time; a younger brother fell into an open fire; her nearest sister died at 19. By God’s grace she did not make these things excuses for unbelief. She did nothing to undermine belief in God so much so that I have never had serious doubts.
- When I was a boy, if I did wrong I was reprimanded, smacked with a wooden spoon or sent to bed. I was always encouraged to do right. The idea of no difference between right and wrong was never encouraged. This was, of course, something my own soul told me but my mother did everything to encourage that attitude. I wanted to be good not naughty – partly to please her. Isaiah 5:20 pronounces woe on those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light … light for darkness, …. In the 1960s many efforts were made to blur distinctions but my mother stood firmly against that. There is such thing as right and wrong. I am thankful to have known that from a baby.
- Further, she taught me the Ten Commandments – not formally but I was brought up on the basis of this Law. She wanted me to obey and honour her and my dad. It is one reason I have lived so long. I had friends who shouted at their mothers in the street, something I never dreamt of. I was encouraged to turn from all forms of hatred. Her lifelong devotion to my father bore its own testimony. When I was five my best friend’s mother ‘ran off’. Attempts were made to steal my mother from my father too but it was not something she would even contemplate. Stealing was again alien. Even petty pilfering was beyond her. I was the same. I remember coming home from school with a piece of wax crayon in my pocket. I was horrified at having stolen! For my parents, lying was a great sin. Coveting and greed were again outlawed. The standard answer to ‘So-and-so has got one’? ‘I don’t care what anyone else has – you’re not having one’. My parents bought us good things but we were taught to keep our desires for things within bounds. She not only encouraged me to believe in God but opposed idolatry and bad language too. I remember being called from play once for saying ‘Shurrup’. For some time I thought it was one word and swearing at that. God’s name was certainly not to be used that way. I was encouraged to keep Sunday special too. Sundays were for playing ‘out the back’ not in the street. I remember children calling in the vain hope I would be allowed out. Sunday was special, not boring but special – hair washed, special food, special pastimes, usually a family day. When very young indeed I remember being sent to Sunday School. I still remember having Bible stories in the nursery with paper figures in a sand tray and take home leaflets with biblical scenes. For many years my mother did not attend church herself but was keen to send my sister and I. I grew to loathe Sunday School and finally she agreed I could stop. Her non-attendance undercut her argument. It is a mark of this country’s decline that so few keep Sunday special today.
- My mother was never one to sit down. When she eventually did, she would fall asleep. She instinctively agreed with Proverbs 10:4 Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth and Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might … and, perhaps, New Testament verses about self-control. She was determined to make every day count – up early, working hard, being diligent. Her attitude was a workmanlike one. She would say things like ‘You’ve got to make your brain work’, ‘You need to keep at it’. She would attack me for my ‘Couldn’t care less attitude’. A favourite rejoinder to laziness was a sarcastic ‘Lay down there and I’ll fan you!’. (I dod once as a joke). The downside was scepticism about illness and weakness but we all need to recognise the wickedness of laziness, the nobility of hard work, the importance of self-control.
- I must balance that by saying that my mother was good at enjoying life too. There was a liveliness, a zest for life that was attractive. She loved sport as a youngster and dancing all her life. Her face enjoying a Chopin etude was a picture. She would love verses like 1 Timothy 4:4 For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, Some of us tend to be morbid and depressive – we need to be reminded that God intended us to enjoy life. At first my mother did not see how she could live to God’s glory and still enjoy life. The idea of giving certain things up did not appeal. However, when she came to Christ she saw that life in Christ is not so much about giving things up but more about abundant life to God’s glory. Her sins troubled her. It is difficult married to an unbeliever, especially when he can say with justification ‘It’s you that’s changed, not me’.
- Another thing she gave me was thirst for knowledge. She left school at 14 and found facts difficult to memorise. However, she was convinced of the importance of education. From my youngest days she did all she could to fill my head with facts. She was a bit of a Gradgrind but that was partly due to ignorance. Her philosophy of children was ‘they are like sponges’; you need to feed their young minds. She would buy general knowledge quiz books to test me and always loved University Challenge. (I still watch it, partly as an homage to her memory), She encouraged me to read, though no great reader herself. The negative side for me has been a head full of trivia but when I was converted I began to see that she was right about the need to thirst for right knowledge. See Proverbs 4:1-13. With that thirst for knowledge came an emphasis on the power of words. A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Like the teacher of Ecclesiastes she liked the idea of searching to find just the right words. I rebelled at first against speaking nicely, etc, but I got hooked on things like Readers Digest’s ‘Expand your vocabulary’ so that I have come to love words. It is one element in the way the Lord has led me to become a preacher (and editor).
- The last lesson was in her death. She is now in heaven, safe forever. To have someone so close in heaven brings its own blessings, despite the pain – something I never knew before.
Not every lesson was positive. My mother’s zeal and drive meant she was sometimes slow to give praise, afraid of feeding pride. God has his ways of humbling people – it is not our job. She was not a great example of patience and at times was perhaps too slow to express emotion. Yet how thankful I am to God to have had such a mother. May these words about her be a blessing to others.
The original article appeared in Grace Magazine