Monday, April 3, 2017

The model of perfect motherhood—and we know so little about her

When I was working at an evangelical university, there were countless devotions and sermons about the Proverbs 31 woman. She was the source of inspiration for wives and mothers, while Mary was presented (if at all) simply as a woman that let God work through her, just as He does through us all.

Before coming to the faith, that made sense. My husband once suggested that Mary was more worthy of imitation, to which I responded, “But there’s almost nothing about her in the Bible.”

How can you venerate someone about whom you know so little? There’s nothing but the yes, the Magnificat, anxiety over losing Jesus, and do whatever he tells you. But how did she care for her husband? Her son? Did she make things and sell them? Did she rise before dawn? I wanted particulars.

After giving birth to a cantankerous baby, I really wanted particulars. At that point I did desire conversion, and found myself wishing I knew more about Mary. What would Mary do? Was Jesus a good sleeper? He must have been. What was her response to criticism, to people wondering why she didn’t have more children?

But we don’t know those particulars about her. She points always and only to God, to her Son.


Madonna im Rosenhag, Stefan Lochner, (1448)

Her “transparency is probably for our own good, because particulars irritate. Knowing someone has money is different than finding out they buy $375 t-shirts. Just like the Pinterest mom with the made-from-scratch sunflower cupcakes and banners made of bunting: the details annoy us.

And certainly knowing the particulars of how God’s most perfect creature navigated her vocation would inspire nothing short of frustration and irritation in us imperfect, struggling mothers, with our equally imperfect children.

Instead, God has given us the aspects of the Virgin Mary’s life that we need to focus on: her fiat, and her constant obedience to God.

That is all we need, because that is more than enough to grapple with. It outshines anything the internet offers by way of perfectly imagined motherhood. And we know, through the life of her Son, exactly what that yes” entailed. We can read His story, and know the incredible cost of her obedience, and of our own.


And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more. Luke 12:48

Blessings often come with a corresponding sacrifice, a reality we’re all too aware of—which is why it is so irritating when someone seems to have skipped out on the hard stuff of life and still received so much. But with Mary there is no question. Her perfection was necessary for her to accept her blessing—one that came with swords and left her standing at the foot of the Cross.

We are not jealous of her; we do not desire to be her. It’s enough to desire to be like her, in the smallest of ways, in our everyday moments of surrender to God.

The Blessed Virgin Mary is loved and venerated because she accepted all of it, graciously, thankfully—an interior disposition that is elusive at best for most of us. It’s easy to imagine what we might do with money or fame, but nothing short of awe-inspiring to try—in the smallest of ways—to be like Our Lady, to imagine what it was like to be her.


Even while living in the world, the heart of Mary was so filled with motherly tenderness and compassion for men that no-one ever suffered so much for their own pains, as Mary suffered for the pains of her children.  —Saint Jerome