A Mother’s Day Cry
As I listened to President Obama’s recent response to the senseless killings of black males by police officers in the United States, I began to think about the mothers of the slain. As a mom of three teenage boys of color, the fear of losing one of my sons drove me to tears.
This Mother’s Day, let’s remember to pray for the mothers who mourn. Let’s remember to pray for the mothers who weep. Let’s remember to pray for the mothers who grieve.
At the same time, let’s not forget that black mothers have been weeping for their children for centuries. I was reminded of that truth while reading a collection of prayers edited by James M. Washington entitled Conversations with God: Two Centuries of Prayers by African Americans. Washington’s collection includes a petition (ca. 1858) called “A Slave Mother’s Doleful Prayer.” It is about a female slave, Fannie Woods, who is forced to give up her nursing baby boy after he was sold at a slave trade auction. Without any consideration for the care and nourishment that the child had received from Fannie, the infant is snatched from her, even as she cradles him in her arms. Slaves witnessing the tragedy and hearing the baby’s screams and the “deep sobs of a broken hearted mother,” begged God to extend his mercy. In the midst of her agony, Fannie prays, “Oh God, I would rather hear the clods [of dirt] fall on the coffin lid of my child than to hear its cries because it is taken away from me” (Washington, 33).
What would you do if you couldn’t help your child when she cries? What would you do if you were unable to hold your child tightly in your arms when danger is all around? Isn’t it in our nature as mothers (and fathers) to provide and protect our loved ones?
Oh Lord, what are we to do when our arms are not long enough to protect them and our voices are not loud enough to be heard? What do we do when our children’s lives don’t seem to matter to anyone else but us? Oh Lord, what are we to do?
We can learn from the Hebrew mothers whose newborn baby boys were thrown into the Nile River because of Pharaoh’s fear that the Israelites would take over Egypt (Exod. 1:22). We can learn from the mothers of Bethlehem whose sons were slaughtered in Herod’s pursuit to kill the rightful King of the Jews (Matt. 2:16). Finally, we can learn from Mary, the mother of our Savior, Jesus Christ, whose son was crucified because the Jewish religious elite saw him as a threat to the power they wielded and status they enjoyed. Each of those mothers wept because of the pain of injustice and loss. As the scripture says,
A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.
(Matt. 2:18 NRSV)
Surely, as we read in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to weep. On the way to Golgotha, Jesus told the wailing women to stop crying for him and to start weeping for themselves and their children (Luke 23:28). And as mothers we will cry and grieve over our children.
Yet one day our mourning will be turned into dancing (Ps. 30:11). Yes, one day this pain, too, shall pass. Maybe this is why the slaves who heard Fannie’s lament prayed for “grace to endure the hard trials through which we must pass” (Washington, 33), for surely they knew that “…the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18 NRSV).
Hope will prevail! See, hope is formed within the darkest hours of the situations experienced even by brokenhearted mothers.
- A mother in desperation placed her baby boy in a basket so that he may float down rather than drown in the Nile River. He was later discovered and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter and called by God to deliver all of Israel from slavery. (Exod. 2:3).
- Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt to protect Jesus from Herod’s reach was just another confirmation that Jesus indeed is the Messiah. For it was prophesized long before that out of Egypt, God would call his Son (Matt. 2:14–15).
- Jesus’ crucifixion led to his resurrection so that all of us who believe in him may live with him eternally.
- Finally, Fannie Woods along with her fellow slaves would see their answered prayers seven years later on December 6, 1865 when the 13th amendment was passed that abolished slavery.
On this Mother’s Day, let us mourn with those who mourn. Yes let us grieve, but not as those who have no hope. For today we weep, but tomorrow we will dance!
Stephanie Franco is the Student Accounts Associate at Northern Seminary and a current M.Div. student. She is also an adjunct mathematics professor at a local community college. Over the years, Stephanie has led the nursery, women’s, prayer, and worship ministries within the local church. Kevin, her husband of over twenty years, is a biblical scholar and a proud alumnus of Northern Seminary. Together they have three teenage sons: Michael, Joseph, and Jonathan.
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