Friends, anticipating Mother's Day, let’s muse about mothers. The Greek word for “female” is “thelys” – literally, “one nurturing the next generation.” Let me introduce you to two trailblazing mothers who helped “raise” my wife and me.
“Edith” (“blessings/riches related to war”)
When Edith Schaeffer (1914-2013) died, she had four children, 15 grandchildren 35 great-grandchildren, two great-great-grandchildren – and countless spiritual heirs.
Born to missionaries in China, in 1935 Edith married Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984). Edith met Francis, a seminarian, at a Philadelphia church meeting. Eventually, they founded L’Abri, “The Shelter,” in Switzerland.
Among those traveling to Europe to “find themselves,” some beat a path to L’Abri. Christ found many who came. Good listeners, Edith and Francis respected the dignity of the person in their presence. And Edith and Francis spoke widely, especially at L’Abri Conferences. During my wife’s college years, these greatly benefited her. Many read Edith’s and Francis’ 30-plus books or saw their documentaries.
During L’Abri’s early years, Os Guinness (1941-), born in China to medical missionaries, was great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, Dublin brewer. Os loved the way the Schaeffers understood life. Today, Os is a leading Christian author/thinker. Toward the end of Edith’s life death, Os wrote: “Now in her mid-nineties, with her failing memory, I recall her younger years. I have never met such a great heart of love, and such indomitable faith, tireless prayer, boundless energy, passionate love for life and beauty, lavish hospitality, irrepressible laughter, and seemingly limitless time for people — all in a single person. A force of nature, her turbo-personality left many people, particularly young women who tried to copy her, gasping in her slipstream. To many of us she was a second mother, and in many ways, she was the secret of L'Abri.”
“Elisabeth” (“my God makes covenants”)
Elisabeth Howard Elliott Leitch Gren (1926-2015), born in Belgium – also to missionary parents – as a baby moved to Philadelphia so her father, Phillip, could edit the popular “Sunday School Times.” An amateur ornithologist, Philip had a specific bird song for each of his six children. Once, a son heard “his” song on a busy downtown Philadelphia street. Dad was a block away – waving at him!
Elisabeth met Jim Elliot (1927-1956) at Wheaton College where she was studying Classical Greek – hoping, someday, to translate the Bible into other languages. Jim too focused on missions. After a five-year, long-distance courtship, Elisabeth and Jim were married in Ecuador, 1953.
In Ecuador, Jim and missionary friends attempted contacting Auca Indians. Dangerous Aucas killed Jim and his compatriots, 1956.
In an uncanny, courageous providence, Elisabeth and another widow contacted the Aucas – lived with them – learned their language and showed them Christ. The 2005 award winning movie, End of the Spear, tells that story and more.
“More” includes the 1955 birth of Valerie to Jim and Elisabeth. Val eventually married Pastor Walt Shepard. They gave Elisabeth eight grandchildren – and, at the time of her death, four great grandchildren.
In 1969, Elisabeth married Addison Leitch (1908-1973), theology professor.
Years after cancer took Leitch, Lars Gren proposed to her in 1977.
Elisabeth tells how she humbly reconsidered her “No” to Lars. “God was saying to me: ‘You have not asked Me one thing about this. You made up your mind to be single.’ I got down on my knees and repented: ‘Lord, I want to do what You want me to do.’ I then opened my Bible. Astonishingly — well, before I tell you that, I was constantly comparing Jim, Addison and Lars — I was making odious comparisons -- my open Bible read (1 Corinthians 12:4): ‘Men have different gifts, but the same Lord accomplishes His purposes through them all.’”
Married several months later, the Grens worked and traveled together. From 1988-2001, Elisabeth opened her daily radio program, “Gateway to Joy,” with: "'You are loved with an everlasting love,' -- that's what the Bible says -- 'and underneath are the everlasting arms.' This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot ..."
Edith and Elisabeth, two remarkable women/mothers who bore life and chose life. Thanks be to God – they “raised” us.
Now, the Fifth Commandment
Os Guinness mentioned Edith’s mid-nineties struggles. Jim Howard, Elisabeth’s youngest brother, at one time also a fellow Helena pastor, told me Elisabeth suffered from dementia for ten years. She who was so sharp, so dynamic – became debilitated. What is God teaching us?
As children, we range from being distracted to rebellious. As children, each of us depends upon our mother’s ability to love and discipline us.
Likewise, our mothers depend upon God. God instructs: “Honor your father and mother.” Every time God directs us to honor our fathers, God bids us to honor our mothers. Once, God puts mothers first, Leviticus 19:3: “Fear your mother and your father.”
Fear? We and our mothers can be manipulated by many ungodly fears. But Jesus delighted in the “fear of the LORD.” The LORD’s unabridged holiness awes us -- his deep compassion draws us near. By the Spirit of Christ, a mother learns the centrifugal/centripetal dynamics of the “fear of the LORD.” Proverbs 31:30 -- “A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” When God’s Spirit calls us to “fear” such women, his word goes to our hearts.
God also knows the struggles we have honoring dishonorable mothers. Still, God calls us to seek to honor them -- or at least their God-authorized position. If our mothers prove dishonorable, we may need to appeal to a higher authority. But, let’s not tear down their statutes/legacies to accommodate our own self-righteous preoccupations.
Older children, Jesus quotes the Fifth Commandment to adult children. His hearers defiantly, deliberately, hard-heartedly, sanctimoniously refused to honor elderly parents.
What if, as parents aged, they kept getting faster and stronger -- they had no wrinkles -- no aches and pains -- their memories sharper than ever, then they might try to compel honor. Instead, even in their weakness, God asks that we look past entrenched superficialities by deeply honoring aging parents. Let’s ask for grace -- joining his cause! Happy Mother's Day!
Steve Bostrom, a descendant of Swedish homesteaders, husband of Via, father of eight, and grandfather of 13, loves Helena and serves here as a pastor at large. He is ordained by the Presbyterian Church in America. To contact him, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.