What does it mean to be a mother?
The Lord is my Shepherd
He lets me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me to quiet waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me on true paths
that bear witness to his name.
Even when I wander in a dark valley,
I fear no harm for You are with me;
Your Rod and Your staff
— they give me courage.
You set a table before my very eyes
— in full view of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil
and my cup is full to the brim.
Goodness and mercy will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will remain in the Lord’s house
for as long as I shall live.
Psalm 23 is probably the best-known and best-loved of all the sacred songs or hymns found in the Bible, and it is a wonderful image where we are the sheep and God is the shepherd.
Christian missionary, author, and speaker, Elisabeth Elliot told the story of a little girl who was very ill but who had learned to recite the 23rd Psalm on her fingers. Starting with her little finger, she would grab a finger as she said each word of ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’ As she said the word ‘shepherd’, she would clasp her thumb — wrapping her fingers around it — in recognition of the care God had for her, and this is a wonderful exercise to teach our children or even to do ourselves.
Shepherds do three things: they preside, provide, and protect. Firstly, they preside or lead us. The Psalmist says that the Shepherd leads us to green pastures, still waters, and on true paths that enable us to bear witness to the abilities and character of God. Secondly, the Shepherd provides for our deepest needs. The Psalmist says ‘He restores my soul’ which literally means to be brought back to full healthiness of life. And finally, the Shepherd protects us, defends us, and provides safety. The Psalmist says that even when we walk through dark valleys — literally the ‘valley of death’s shadows’ — we can have courage because God is with us.
This reminds me of the story of an elderly woman who was out walking with her young grandson and asked him, “How far do you think we are from home?” Shrugging, the boy replied, “Grandma, I don’t know.” Looking the boy in the eye the old woman asked, “Well, do you know where we are?” The boy seemed unflustered by the question and replied, “No, I don’t.” The old woman raised her eyebrows, “Sounds to me as if you’re lost!” The young boy smiled, “Oh Grandma, I can’t be lost. I’m with you!”
This past Sunday, in the Anglican Church, we celebrated Mothering Sunday — not to be confused with the American Mother’s Day celebrated on 14th May — and it struck me that mothers do those same three things as the Shepherd in Psalm 23; they guide, they nurture, and they protect. In this sense, we all need mothering do we not? It matters not how old we are, for we all need guidance, we all need nurturing, and we all need protection.
It saddens me to hear little boys in the school playground being told, in a derogatory manner, that they are behaving or acting like a girl. What greater compliment could there be than to be compared with the qualities of a woman?! The Bible is very clear on the strengths of women who guide with wisdom, nurture with compassion, and protect with fierceness. We are reminded in the Bible that they raise and teach kings, protect and deliver the people, deal with tyrants, and reign with Christ!
This week, on Twitter, I read this AI-generated summary of how the Bible describes women: “The Bible speaks highly of women, recognizing them as bearing God’s image, speaking His name, protecting His leaders, saving His servants, and leading His people in worship.” How great is that? A computer algorithm has interpreted the Bible better than many Bible teachers I have read or listened to!
Women are the bearers of the image of God — a God who presides, provides, and protects — just as the Psalmist describes in Psalm 23. When you think of women, and for that matter, all those that ‘mother’ others, remember this. We are never lost with the Shepherd by our side and that all who ‘mother’ are the embodiment of the Shepherd.
Psalm 23 is for our whole lives, and is also read at just about every Anglican funeral. It provides comfort for those who are struggling, those who are dying, and those who are bereaved. Remember the story of the little girl told by Elisabeth Elliot? One morning, after a long and hard fight against her illness, the little girl was found dead with one hand clasped around the other thumb. Elisabeth wrote of her, “The Lord is her shepherd. He has made her lie down in green pastures. He has led her to quiet waters. Surely she will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
This week, as you mother others and also allow yourself to be mothered, may you be reminded of the mothering love of God, the great Shepherd of the flock; your leader, your provider, and your protector.