"And remember," the speaker said as our session drew to a close, "you are not your residents' mother."
The comment came at the end of a week-long training program for new hall advisers - college seniors who'd been selected to act as community-builders and resources on each dorm hallway throughout campus. Much of our training had focused on what roles we were not to assume. We were not to act as policewomen. We were not to be our residents' psychologists. And last but not least: no mothering.
I understood the reasoning behind this command. In a nurturing, all-women's college environment like mine, the setting seemed ripe for the emergence of the negative qualities associated with motherhood - control, suffocation, babying.
But as the year progressed and I thought more about the quality of motherliness, I began to realize that what was needed on my hallway was not less mothering but rather more mothering of the right kind.
No, these women didn't need me watching their every move. Nor, in the other land of extremes, did they need coddling. But what they did need was the kind of mothering that was both principled and loving.
I was thinking about this particular combination of qualities because of something I'd read in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy. She wrote, in reference to God, that "Love, the divine Principle, is the Father and Mother of the universe, including man" (pg. 256).
To me, this citation encapsulated the essence of motherliness - a quality that has both the strength of Principle and the warmth of Love behind it. This was a kind of motherhood I knew could make a real difference on my hall. It would enable me to be firm but loving, principled yet compassionate. It would help me confront issues of favoritism or babying. It would make it possible for me to love even when loving seemed tough.
But most important, this kind of motherliness had practical benefits. I learned this when a number of women on my hall fell ill close to exam time.
I felt impelled to pray about the situation, though when I began, I wasn't specifically thinking about the motherhood of God. But the more I listened to God, the more it became clear to me that what was most needed on my hall was a greater sense of divine Love as Mother. And when I stopped and thought about it, this revelation didn't come as much of a surprise. One thing I'd observed was that a number of the women who hadn't been feeling well were wishing for their mothers. This, I realized, was the perfect opportunity to share God's Mother-love with each of Her children.
I also yearned to see that my expression of this motherly love would serve a larger purpose: that each woman on my hall would become aware of her unbroken connection to her true Mother. I knew I could trust that this tender, divine Parent was preserving and caring for each of Her ideas.
I discovered that as I expressed this motherhood of God, my worries about whether everyone's work would get done and whether each woman would be cared for adequately simply melted away. Instead, I became more certain that the strength and love of our one divine Mother were present, palpable, active. That God was being Mother in a way that was specific to the needs of each of us.
Not only did this new (and pure) conception of motherhood free me from what had been feeling like an overwhelming responsibility, but it also helped my hallmates. There was a greater feeling of peace on the hall. And everyone was able to finish her work on time.
This example of the potent, healing, Mother-love of God has stayed with me as I've continued to pray with the idea of God as Mother. It's buoyed my expression of motherliness. It's expanded my capabilities for loving.
This Mother's Day, it's my wish that everyone, mothers and non-mothers alike, feel the tender presence of this divine Parent, strengthening, purifying, and broadening our love for one another as only Mother can do.