It’s Mother’s Day, and my reflections today were mainly about a mother’s love for her children. I was reminded of Jesus’s words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” The analogy He makes between Himself and a mother hen intrigues me. Of all the types of love for Jerusalem He could have described here, He chooses a maternal picture of care, attachment, and protection. It makes me realize that the love we moms feel for our young ones is truly akin to the love God has for us humans, His children.
This got me thinking about the ways God loves us, and the ways that we moms in turn love (and sometimes don’t love) our own kids. In a talk called “Loving my Children,” Carolyn Maheny speaks about maternal love with special emphasis on the type of love the Bible commends to mothers. She focuses on Titus 2:4 in which Paul tells Titus to teach the older women to “train the younger women to love their… children.” The teaching centers on this word “love,” because Paul chooses an expected form of the Greek word for love; he uses “phileo” rather than “agape.” “Agape” love – which Paul doesn’t use – refers to sacrificial, selfless love. “Phileo” love, on the other hand, refers to warm affection and tenderness. Thus the instruction here is for moms to tenderly, affectionately love their kids. Maheny says;
“I found it interesting that Paul didn’t use ‘agape’ love, sacrificial love. Instead he used ‘phileo.’ Of course we know that we are to love our children with a sacrificial and selfless love, but I believe that Paul encouraged the older women to teach the younger women to love their children with a tender, affectionate love rather than a sacrificial love may attest to the fact that women are generally weaker in exhibiting phileo love than they are at showing agape love. I mean think about it with me: isn’t it a rare experience to meet a woman who doesn’t sacrifice for her children and daily lay down her life to serve them? Women are good at that kind of love.
But what is more uncommon is to meet a woman who thoroughly enjoys her children. She takes pleasure in being with her children; she loves being a mother. She relates to them with a tender, loving affection. Isn’t it uncommon to meet a woman like that? When was the last time you saw a woman like that at your grocery store, a woman who was really enjoying her children? Probably not recently.
Aren’t there days where, if someone was observing what was going on at our house, that they might see an unhappy, irritated, exasperated mom? Yet all the time- sacrificing for her family, doing the laundry, cooking the meals. We’re good at that kind of love, are we not? It’s loving our children (and our husband) with a tender, warm, passionate love, amidst all the sacrifice that is harder for us to achieve. That’s why I think it was phileo love rather than agape love that Paul exhorted Titus to have the older women teach the younger women. So let’s take time to consider how we can grow in this tender, affectionate love for our children.”
Maheny’s words strike a chord because they’re certainly true for me. I find it much easier to “get it done” loving my children – feed them, change their diapers, wash their clothes – than to enjoy and relish them. I don’t find that delighting in and savoring moments with them come particularly easily. Correction: they come exceptionally easily with my 8-month old baby – who’s adoarable and sweet and smiley, whose sin is yet largely hidden, who basically asks very little of me beyond the basics. But with my older children – whose needs and requests are more consistent, whose sins are more obvious – it’s much harder. I have to prioritize the tender moments. I have to lay aside my annoyance, get over whatever the latest infraction was. Sometimes, depending on how frazzled I’m feeling, I have to intentionally work up the affection. And – you guessed it – at times I just skip it. Phileo gets the back burner.
Amazing, isn’t it, that God’s love for us is both agape and phileo at the same time? He is sacrificial and selfless toward us – unspeakably so – and yet also loves us affectionately. Forever He keeps a soft, “let me gather you under my wing” heart toward us. His tenderness toward us doesn’t abate, however much we may rebel, sin, or have proverbial snotty noses. Hard to believe, almost, from the vantage point of a mother short on phileo. Conviction and inspiration both for me to ponder…