I’ve never been sure how I feel about Mother’s Day. As a daughter, it always snuck up on me and sat so close to my mother’s birthday that she used to let it slide. As a mum though, I was keen—bring on the sleep-in, heartfelt cards and intentional appreciation, yes, please!

But also, just the one day, really?

Truthfully before I became one, the way our culture talked about mothers was confusing to me. There seemed a lot of contradiction in the equation of motherhood. Is it the highest calling on a woman’s life, or is it a role subservient to the needs and dreams of others? Or both? Working mothers can feel questioned about their priorities, stay-at-home mothers about their ambitions, while childless women can feel judged about both.

The confusion didn’t lift for me after giving birth to my daughters either. But in wrestling with our culture’s design for motherhood, I discovered more of God’s heart for mothers, and his mother-heart for all his children.

A Mother’s Heart

In Job 38:29, when God asks Job, ‘from whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?’ the imagery powerfully links God to motherhood. Gestation, labour and birth are God’s creative process. And later in Job 39:1 God asks another question—’Do you know when the mountain goats give birth? Do you observe the calving of the does?’—which conveys a deep, intimate attention to maternal activity.

I’ve come to realise that there’s freedom in exploring the maternal character of God. For instance, you don’t need to be a mother at all to ‘mother’ others or display so-called maternal instincts. All people can be maternal, exhibiting qualities often equated to mothering such as compassion and hospitality, because God is more than male or female.  Jesus, after all, fed the hungry and tenderly cared for the sick.

Yes, God is far more than our perception of him as a heavenly father; he exhibits all the qualities of Father and Mother—unconditionally accepting, sacrificially loving, singularly committed to each of his children. And we, all of us, are made in his image.

The Concept Of ‘Imago Dei’

When God said, ‘let us create them in our image’ in Genesis 1:26, he uttered a mystery we’ve been trying to fathom for millennia. What does it mean to be made in God’s image? Surely this concept of Imago dei  includes the likeness and characteristics of both men and women?

What does it mean to be made in God’s image? Surely this concept of Imago dei  includes the likeness and characteristics of both men and women?

As we celebrate Mother’s Day—and give our mum’s some well-deserved rest and appreciation—we can also spend a moment meeting with God who is motherly. When we see God as Father—as well as God as Mother, we recognize more of his character and better understand the many attributes of ourselves in his image.

Yes, God invites us to become more like him in his fullness, including his maternal nature.

Even the Apostle Paul used maternal imagery in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 as an analogy for his ministry, and his feeling towards those God has given him to disciple, ‘Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.’ It’s an image of committed nourishing love. And in Galatians 4:18, Paul also describes his longing for maturity in the Galatian church as one of a mother in childbirth.

The Mother’s Heart For The World

And so, I wonder, what would our world look like if the values we praise in mothers—kindness, empathy, compassion, sacrificial love, generosity, gracious forgiveness—were pursued in global politics, or shaped our economies, or pervaded our communities? If they were qualities not exclusive to being a mother, but essential to being human? Filling hungry bellies, settling disputes, welcoming ‘outsiders’ might all be perceived as maternal qualities, but they are also the acts of justice that echo God the Father’s heart and calling.

Perhaps a more biblical way of thinking about Mother’s Day would be that God is everywhere—in the hands and hearts of his people—women and men committed to loving our world as human beings, caring for all his children as if they were our own.

This article first appeared in Sight Magazine on 5 May 2022.