Saint Mother
by Pastor George Van Alstine

We may refer to Saint Paul, or Saint Mark, or Saint John. Actually, the Roman Catholic Church “canonizes” individuals in whom saintly qualities have been evident, and through all of church history over 10,000 named people have been designated with the title “Saint.” Aside from an NFL Football team that has just been penalized for not living up to its name, saints don’t have a prominent place in secular American culture. Except for Saint Mother.

Saint Mother is that idealized person of the female persuasion who has produced offspring and who is, therefore, perfect. She is described in that schmaltzy 1915 song:

M is for the Million things she gave me,
O means only that she’s growing Old.
T is for the Tears she shed to save me,
H is for her Heart of purest gold.
E is for her Eyes with love light shining,
R means Right, and Right she’ll ever be.
Put them all together, they spell MOTHER,
A word that means the world to me.

Actually, this is just the best known of many “mother songs” that were written just before World War I, a period when romanticized innocence was sought as an escape from the horrors that loomed over the western world. Other titles from the same era include “There’s a Mother Old and Gray Who Needs Me Now” (1911), “Those Songs My Mother Used to Sing” (1912), “Your Mother Is Your Best Friend After All” (1914), “That Old Fashioned Mother of Mine” (1915), and “My Mother’s Lullaby” (1917).

I’ve never had the privilege of being a mother. I imagine it would be nice to have all those endearing things said about you. But I also think it could be quite intimidating to have the ideal of perfect love, self-sacrificial nurturing and moral rectitude held up before you once a year, when you know you don’t measure up. It must be a heavy burden to be Saint Mother.

  • So I want to suggest a cheer for all those real flesh-and-blood mothers who aren’t perfect, but do their very best against great challenges:
  • the mother who feels a bit guilty because she hasn’t been willing to give a “Million things” for her kids at the cost of her own goals and dreams;
  • the mother who is kind of resentful that she has to wait until she’s “growing Old” to be appreciated;
  • the mother whose “Tears” are sometimes shed in pity for herself, and not just “shed to save her children”;
  • the mother whose “Heart” is far from “purest gold,” being contaminated with some of life’s unavoidable impurities;
  • the mother whose doubts and insecurities often cloud and obscure her “Eyes with love light shining”;
  • the mother who is wrong much of the time, so it most definitely can’t be said “Right she’ll ever be.”

Thankfully, this kind of real-life, warts-and-all mother can still be seen as Saint Mother, because God’s grace makes up the difference. He specializes in re-labeling “Sinners” as “Saints.” And the truth is, we’re blessed most by mothers who embrace us with their profound humanity, showing us how God’s love works in an imperfect world.