“Sing, O childless woman, you who have never given birth! Break into loud and joyful song, O Jerusalem, you who have never been in labor. For the desolate woman now has more children than the woman who lives with her husband,” says the Lord. “Enlarge your house; build an addition. Spread out your home, and spare no expense! For you will soon be bursting at the seams. Your descendants will occupy other nations and resettle the ruined cities. “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood. For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. For the Lord has called you back from your grief— as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband,” says your God. “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will take you back. In a burst of anger I turned my face away for a little while. But with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,” says the Lord, your Redeemer. (Isaiah 54:1-8 NLT)
This may seem an odd introduction for a Mother’s Day post, but I wanted those words in your head first. I have held on to this Bible passage for at least fifteen years now. It struck me in college as I was working with youth and kids that even though I didn’t have children (nor did I want them in that stage of life), each life I touched was enlarging my house. One translation says move your tent pegs out, which is such a lovely way to think of adding to your family. Create a little more space; add a little water to the soup pot; be ready to nourish anyone who comes your way.
In broad strokes, this passage, like most of the Old Testament is God wooing his errant Israel back into the fold, back to his tent, back to life and love. Here, God is promising Israel that he will have compassion on their captivity and return them to the land he promised them, like a husband tenderly making up with his wife. This marriage imagery runs throughout the Bible, and as a woman and a wife, I can instantly identify with the roles of God and his people – Christ and his church. There are so, so many layers to this passage, but I only want to point you to one.
Mother’s Day is a bitter pill for me, and this year is a grab bag of emotions. It will be a tough day for so many of my friends who are struggling to become pregnant, who have lost pregnancies, and who long for children someday but realize that someday is dangerously close to passing them by. If you’re in any of those situations, may this offer you the same consolation I’ve gleaned from these verses. Israel is a childless widow, meaning she has no possible way to have children. Without promising her that she would ever give birth to any children, God still promises to act as Israel’s husband – her provider – and to give her more children than even the married woman has.
God tells Israel to enlarge her house – move her tent pegs – for the descendants that will soon be “bursting at the seams.” She’ll forget all about the “disgrace” and “shame” of her current situation. I put those two words in quotations because I know that you feel shame and disgrace if you are a woman longing for a child. You feel as if you’re out of sync with nature and maybe even God, but there is no reason for your guilt. A beautiful thing about women is that we are built to nourish other people. It’s biological as well as emotional and spiritual, and most of us nurture others everyday without even thinking.
So this Mother’s Day, look around you and consider how many lives yours enriches. Do you work with children? Do you volunteer to help others? How many people have you supported through tough times or adopted as extended family? Celebrate those things today, because you, my friend, are a mother whether you have given birth or not. Expand your tent pegs to make room for all of your children, because once you look past the physical aspect of childbirth, you’ve actually given birth to a huge family. If you have nurtured another being, nourished another soul, you are a mother, and worthy of being celebrated.