“… I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her” (Gen. 17:16b NIV).
Every now and then an unusual but heartwarming story is reported about an animal becoming a surrogate parent to an animal of a different species. I once read the story and saw pictures of a dog “mothering” and nursing baby kittens. Then there was the story of a cat “mothering” orphaned baby squirrels.
In a Pittsburgh Courier article entitled “Maternal Instinct Takes Over,” Dr. William Sheperd, veterinarian for Camelot Veterinary Services in Uniontown, PA says, “In the animal kingdom it’s not at all unusual to have a surrogate mother nurse another animal, even if it’s from another species. It’s their maternal instincts.”
The year before my husband and I officially became empty nesters, the Lord began impressing upon me the necessity of seeing myself as a mother. This came as a surprise, considering the fact that I’d been a mother for almost 20 years. I soon learned, however, that the Lord was not referring to my relationship with our children, Alicia and Aaron, but to His children—the members of our church.
Alicia was half-way through college and Aaron was about to enter. As the day of his departure neared I found myself clinging emotionally to the past. Without children who was I? Somehow they had become my reason for being and without them I felt unfulfilled and insignificant. And I didn’t even want to think about being “Mother” to a church full of grown people. Besides, back then I thought of them as my husband’s “children”. Have you ever felt that way—like the people at your church were your husband’s and not yours? Many years ago that’s how I felt, and it wasn’t until my children’s college years that this truth came to light. Ever so gently and patiently God dealt with this delicate area of my life using the story of Abraham and Sarah.
I was fairly familiar with their story but somehow I’d never taken note of the fact that God made a specific proclamation regarding Sarah. “God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai, her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of people will come from her” (Gen. 17:15-16 NIV). This passage makes two significant points, Sarai’s name change and God’s promotion of her to purpose and prominence.
According to Jewish commentaries, Abram means “exalted father” and Sarai means “my woman of high rank,” indicating her relationship to her husband. Abraham means “father of many.” Sarah means “princess.”
Before Sarah’s name change she was barren, unfruitful, and unfulfilled.
“Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar, so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” He slept with [Hagar] and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress… Then Sarai mistreated Hagar…” (Gen. 16:1b-2, 4, 6b NIV).
In the book Free to Soar*, pastor’s wife, author, and speaker Melanie Stockstill writes, “This name change is of great significance… In this remarkable changing of her name, we see God elevating Sarai to an exalted position beside her husband, Abraham. That’s because she was just as important in God’s plan as was Abraham himself.” Stockstill goes on to say, “When Sarai’s faith in God’s promise weakened, she became hopeless… She didn’t think she could be the person needed to fulfill the call, so instead of pressing on in faith, she found a “solution” to her feeling of inadequacy. She presented Hagar to Abram, that Hagar might bear him a son. In so doing and thinking, Sarai abdicated her place beside her husband and gave it to another woman… Sarai was contentious because she was unfruitful and couldn’t find her place. She was hard to get along with, and so are we as pastors’ wives until we find that place of fruitfulness and fulfillment beside our husbands… God said that He would make Sarah the “mother of nations.” That is also His ultimate aim for you—a place of fruitfulness and fulfillment. He wants you to have a multitude of spiritual children in eternity.”
Initially I was reluctant in realizing my role. Over time, however, my heart began to soften and yield to God’s mandate to mother. Surprisingly, and without any provocation, members began to refer to me as such. Not long thereafter I went to visit a member who had given birth that morning. When I entered their hospital room her husband exclaimed, “Mama’s here!”
Perhaps you too struggle with seeing yourself as “mother” to your congregation. Pray and believe God to soften your heart and give you maternal instincts. He will, after all they’re His children, and Father knows best!
*Free to Soar, by Global Pastors’ Wives Network ©️ 2005, Regal Books, Ventura, CA 93003