March 2012
“Get up, make the beds, wash up and put away.” Andrew, my brother, was about 7 when he laboriously made our mother a Mother’s Day Card. He drew a house and cut around the windows and door, so that they would reveal a message. He carefully and lovingly wrote the most loving message he could imagine, freely offering to do the household chores. He wrote “I will get up, make the beds, wash up and put away.”  He carefully placed the card where Mum would see it and waited. Unfortunately, when she opened the windows and door, the house had been glued down to cover the words “I will”, leaving her with a imperative, rather than the intended offer. Mum was somewhat surprised to be told imperially to ‘get up, make the beds, etc’ – being a Mum, she soon guessed there were missing words (Mum’s are good at that!), and after a good deal of laughing, gave Andrew a hug. Of course, with hindsight, it says where we were as small boys that doing these chores would be considered a treat for our Mum.

A few years later, at that age when girls stopped being game spoilers and were magically transformed into incomprehensible but achingly attractive and desirable goddesses – and you didn’t remember it happening – I was very drawn to a girl called Penny. I had bought my Mum a porcelain trinket holder, and it had been well received, so I bought one for Penny. However, Penny’s was, at least to my mind, more attractive than Mum’s, so I offered Mum the opportunity of having the nicer one. Discerning readers will immediately understand where my 16 year old heart really lay, and why the relationship with Penny was doomed to fail. Nonetheless, and to my surprise (then, but not now), Mum gently declined to swop, “I like the one you’ve given me. Even if it were ugly, it would be beautiful to me because it was freely given with love.”

Even at a human level, we can’t buy love; Andrew did not think that Mum would love him more if he did the chores, and indeed, you could make a good case that we should have been doing at least some of the chores as a matter of duty. In what way would doing (briefly) what we should already be doing encourage our Mum to love us?  If Mum had calculated what we ‘owed’ as a common duty as part of the household, she would have found us severely wanting. Mum was able to take the offer to do what should have been done anyway as a sign of love. Andrew loved Mum, because he understood she loved him first. In one sense, Andrew’s ‘gift’ could be described as ugly, the giving of what was already owed as duty, but Mum read the gift through the eyes of love. Like the porcelain trinket holder, the gift was read with the eyes of love and accepted with a heart of love.

I would be very surprised if this was not the common experience of the majority of us. Notwithstanding the appalling commercialisation of Mothering Sunday, it naturally gravitated from a celebration of ‘Mother Church’ to a celebration of Mother’s love. We want to say thank you to our Mum for the love given freely, day in, day out, and it is appropriate to have a day to mark our thanks. As children, we received unmerited love; as parents and grandparents, we learnt to give it.

How surprising that we should adopt a wholly different approach to our heavenly Father. Like the worst kind of sibling rivalry, we suspect He really favours someone, almost everyone, over me. We determine to live our lives in a way to earn His respect. We make the occasional trip to church; we try to keep (most) of the moral laws (most of the time); we give some change to church and good causes, occasionally going a little ‘over the top’; we live ‘good’ lives (at least by the standard of those around us) – surely now God shall love us and bless us, perhaps with a pay rise, a promotion, a partner…

Tragically, we should be doing all that – and more – all the time anyway!If we think it will buy God’s pleasure, we just can’t see how ugly that kind of legalistic approach is to the One who loved us first – and it makes us obnoxiously self-righteous, judging that we are better than all those around us. The only reason God asks us to keep His laws, to give, to enjoy church fellowship is because ultimately it is the very best way to live our lives – we find His love and ourselves in His way.

St Paul sums it up in the words “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” ( The Bible Romans 5. 8).

Praying that you may find in Christ Jesus the unmerited and overflowing love of God, and so delight to serve Him in love and joy and peace.

Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Simon Cox.