“We all become our mothers,” an elderly pastor’s wife told me recently, “So decide what you want to imitate so that you are doing it consciously, and leaving out any bad!” I can and will spend a lifetime imitating my mother’s amazing example. But mulling over it, five aspects of her mothering stood out as major ones which have been immensely helpful to my spiritual development, and which I still draw from today. They are practices I certainly want to imitate and have my children benefit from.
The first is Sabbath keeping. For the 19 years of Sundays that I spent at home, my mother made the Sabbath a delight for me and for my sisters and brothers. She made it our favourite day – we looked forward to it every week. It was not a day of “do not’s” or restrictions; it was special and set apart. One of the reasons we were rarely told that we were not allowed to do something we wanted to on Sunday was because our mother kept us so busy doing helpful things that we did not have the desire or time to want anything else!
We wore special clothes. “Church clothes”, we still call them. The girls had dresses we loved – puffs, frills and pink, which changed as our tastes matured. The boys, who generally disliked formal wear, were not stuffed into ties and jackets against their will, but always had something appropriate and masculine: white shirts, black pants, shoes that Dad shone every week. The clothes we wore made us aware that this day was special – we prepared for it physically in a way that was different from every other day. Our clothes reminded us that this day was not for doing our normal work, or whatever we felt like. It was for worship.
We ate special food. Lunch was usually something large and delicious which cooked while we were at church, and could range from roast beef to lasagna to curried chicken. There was always dessert – something we did not have every week night. Before church in the evening, my mother usually baked an apple crisp, which we loved, and after church we had special snacks before bed. The special food reflected the “feast day” nature of Sunday: every Lord’s day was a celebration of the Lord’s goodness to us, partly expressed in an abundance of spiritual and physical food. What better way to make this connection in a child’s mind?
We read special books. Our lives were filled with books, but on Sunday, my mother tried to take a few minutes (often while we ate our apple crisp) to read something to us from a missionary biography, or another book with a spiritual focus. It was one way to feed our souls on an age-specific level on the Sabbath.
And we enjoyed special activities. Worship, morning and evening, framed the day. The Sabbath began and ended with worship – the whole reason for the day. In between services, we had company. In the almost 1,000 Sundays I spent at home, I only remember five or six in which we did not have guests over. In between worship, we fellowshipped. Even as children, we were involved in serving and enjoying our guests. My mother counted it a privilege to enjoy the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day. And she almost always took everyone for a walk in the afternoon, to burn off our energy, allow my father (a minister) to rest, pray and look over his sermon, and to enjoy God’s creation. We had been fed by “Jehovah’s perfect law” in the morning, and would be again in the evening; in between, it was appropriate to see the heavens declaring His glory (Ps. 19). We loved it.
The delight of waking up and realizing that it is Sunday still stays with me, largely because of my mother’s efforts. She must have been exhausted every Sunday night, but the benefits will reach into eternity. There are different aspects to my enjoyment of it now, and different ways in which I am trying to instil the same delight of the Lord’s Day for my children. But the goal is the same: to find our joy in the LORD, to ride on the heights of the land and feast on the inheritance of our father Jacob (Is. 58:14).