Mothering Sunday, Waiting & Queueing.
Mothering Sunday, as well as being an opportunity for many of us to say a huge thank you to our mothers for all that they have done and do for us, is also a sensitive time for those who feel the pain of not having been parented very well. It is also a very sensitive time for those who have not been blessed with the gift of children and equally if not more so, the pain of those who have lost children be that through early death or miscarriage.
Having acknowledged the complexity of what Mothering Sunday means for so many people, I find myself drawn to the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:20-28. Hannah knows what it is to long for a child. She is the second wife of Elkanah and Hannah’s agony is made all the more so because Elkanah’s first wife, Penninah has children. Hannah’s longs to feel a baby growing inside of herself.
An experience that we have all shared though we cannot remember it, is that we too once grew inside of our mother’s womb. The lost memory of this is more difficult for men than it is for women. It is quite difficult for me to imagine and to put into words what it must be like to know deeply what it means to have another life growing inside of yourself. There is something very special for pregnant women about a bond with their own mothers in being able to acknowledge the shared experience of what it means to carry a child. As a man, I think I might just envy that a little bit. After much prayer, there is for Hannah the gift of ‘expecting’. I think ‘expecting’ is a good word. It holds within it the element of both waiting and surprise. “What are you expecting?” “A baby.” “And what will your baby be like?” “I don’t know. We will have to wait and see.” A mother waits. And baby waits too. One of our very first experiences of life – is to know what it is to wait. We are conceived, and we have the God-given gift of life, and we will change our shape, and we will grow but we will also wait. Waiting to be born. And learning to wait, which we first shared with our mothers, is an important life skill.
The psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim* suggests that you can tell how civilised people are by their capacity to stand in a queue and wait. There are lots of jokes about the ‘British disease’ of standing in queues – not least in the dole queue – which speak of inertia, inactivity, laziness and quite simply nothing happening. But if you think about it, being able to tolerate standing in a queue means that you are able to contain yourself. It means that you understand the importance of order over chaos, and you understand that to wait your turn in the queue is fair. You know what it is to wait your turn and you learn to trust your fellow human beings and the idea of a system to which all subscribe can and is fruitful. And most importantly, standing and waiting show that you have some really valuable life skills - you have learnt to be patient and to be tolerant and crucially, to persevere. You have the ability to endure and triumph above those who want everything now and immediately and who cannot sustain the waiting game. Queues, breakdown of course when someone tries to push in – and you then often see a strong reaction from the herd, which comes together to reassert ‘get to the back and wait your turn’. What I sometimes find more difficult is when you are standing behind someone and just before they get to the front, they are suddenly joined by eighteen members of their immediate family. That can really test your patience. I suspect we all have a nightmare story or two we can share about our worst experience of being in a queue. Airports come to mind! In Bettleheim’s view, a civilized nation is one that understands the value of queuing.
As a country, we have all been queuing for our vaccinations. I haven’t heard of any riots taking place at vaccination centres. We have all been queuing for the Lockdown to be lifted. Most of us, patiently waiting. Slowly, very slowly moving forwards. And Christian people are waiting too for our churches to reopen for worship. Worshippers are all patiently waiting to join in the queue to receive Holy Communion. Patiently, persevering, containing ourselves with dignity, waiting our turn - waiting in an orderly queue.
And Hannah waits. She is expectant. And Samuel too waits to be born.
So, in saying thank you to everyone who has mothered you, in whatever way over the years, you might just like to say a big, special thank you to the one who taught you to wait, right from the very beginning of your life. Waiting teaches self-control. In the words of Bettelheim, “self-control enhances self-respect.” And there is no price you can put on that.
So, take the example of Hannah to heart and rejoice in your waiting, expectantly looking forward to the life to which God is calling you.
Revd Mark Bailey
*A Good Enough Parent by Bruno Bettelheim (Random House, New York, 1987)