First off: I am not making an argument toward God’s femininity. This is not that post. I refer to God as Him, and when I pray I address Him as Father. Because Jesus refers to Him as Father in Scriptures; I do as well!
Why explore God-as-mother, then? Because this post is personal. I had a lot of abandonment and abuse from both my father AND my mother. Self-help materials and other forms of support ABOUND, in terms of overcoming a broken father-bond.
The term ‘Daddy Issues’ needs little explanation in our culture. It’s widely acknowledged. It is frequently implied, in a church setting, that someone with ‘daddy issues’ (an absent or aloof father, abusive, an addict, etc.) ends up having ‘trust issues with their Heavenly Father.’ It is also common cultural knowledge that a female with ‘daddy issues’ is prone to self-defeating and even dangerous choices with men in her life. As someone with such issues, I find the cultural acceptance of broken-father bonds actually makes it easier to talk about, and thereby heal.
We don’t talk as freely about a broken relationship with Mother. Aside from step-monsters (a friend’s nickname for her stepmother) and mother-n-law jokes. Seriously, though, the position of Mother is near-sacred in the human race. This is evidenced every May by the abundance of weepy commercials urging you to remember your saintly Mom on Mother’s Day!
Dad’s, generally speaking, don’t get that kind of reverence.
Mother’s Day can be tough for survivors who were abandoned by their mothers. Compounded by a culture which often doesn’t want to hear it; at least not in the month of May. Likewise, Mommy Issues can be even more taboo to talk about in a church setting. When I have broached that subject with others I feel sometimes like I have hit a bit of a ‘wall’. A few times, I have had friends slowly and softly say, ‘maybe my mom wasn’t as innocent as I once thought.’ Which gives me hope. But, I realize that coming around to one’s ‘mommy issues’ is not easy. I suspect that for most of us, the reality of having a mother who abandons you–who is the opposite of the classic ‘mama bear’– is even harder than abandonment from ‘dad’. For myriads of reasons.
It sure is for me.
Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome
My mom was not a Mama Bear (another term which has become commonplace in our culture and needs no explanations). The way she FIERCELY protected herself, and the storylines she still tells herself (she refuses to acknowledge I was abused), the way she intentionally numbs out from everything unpleasant, was a bit like a Mama Bear. But instead of protecting her children she protected the immature child within her own psyche. She is in FIERCE denial to this day. So I found myself, at a young age, becoming like a Mama Bear over her; protecting her from life and the turbulent family dynamics–instead of the other way around. In psychological terms, when children become overly caring for a parent(s), it’s thrown into categories like emotional incest. Today, I am going to call it ‘Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome.’ (Because I’m feeling cheeky.)
Reverse Mama Bear Syndrome left me fiercely protecting the story of denial I was telling myself in my own head (Mom was abused as a small child. Mom can’t help it. Mom would be different without dad. Mom cares, she just can’t do anything; because: DAD). This translated into my faith life; big time. I didn’t trust God to protect me. I felt I had to protect Him. For years I found myself flaring, claws coming out, if anyone suggested anything that didn’t line up with what I knew of God. Softening the blows of what others think of Him, as if He couldn’t handle those things Himself. Explaining Him to others in ways that made apologies (As someone once said: The Word of God is like a lion– let it out of the cage and it can take care of itself just fine!).
Scriptures that Changed my Heart
When Jesus refers to a hen gathering chicks; that’s ‘mom-behavior.’ In Isaiah, God refers to Himself acting as a woman in childbirth.
Isaiah 42: 14 For a long time I have kept silent,
I have been quiet and held myself back.
But now, like a woman in childbirth,
I cry out, I gasp and pant.
There is another verse which struck me recently, too. The background: King David’s ‘crown’ is being threatened by his own son, Absalom. Absalom is seeking to usurp his father and take over Kingship of all of Israel. One of the advisers to Absalom warns him about the fighting prowess of both David and David’s men.
2 Samuel 17:8
You know your father and his men; they are fighters, and as fierce as a wild bear robbed of her cubs. Besides, your father is an experienced fighter; he will not spend the night with the troops.
This gave me pause. I thought to myself –did I really just see God comparing His behavior to a Mama Bear?? Let me explain: Defeating evil through warfare, with a Godly person at the forefront leading those armies (King David is lauded as ‘having a heart for God’), is a common theme in the Old Testament. For me, these OT battles bring up images of, and also trust in the promise of, heavenly armies, and the battle God has ultimately won on the cross, and will win again in the final end, against all forms of evil on earth and beyond.
God’s behavior is also likened to a Mama Bear in Hosea 13:8
Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them.
It’s pretty clear that when you give your life to Jesus, God is a Mama Bear over you. So I don’t need to be so fiercely protective over the immature little girl in my psyche; and I certainly don’t need to be fiercely protective over Him. That’s His job. The only thing I need to do is step back and let Him roar, (or whatever noise Mama Bears make).
Happy Mother’s Day!