It comes once a year. A time we dedicate to honoring mothers. Most often on Mother’s Day, these revered women will receive a phone call, a card, and a vase of flowers. Such expressions of love are no doubt important and heartfelt. For those of us who have faith in God, however, we would do well not just to make culturally conditioned gestures, but to consider what Scripture says about caring for our mothers.
The book of Proverbs puts forth a simple yet profound idea of how to honor one’s mother: live a life of wisdom. No title, monetary income, or material possession brings honor. No, a life full of wisdom is what honors a mother. After all, titles, income, and stuff can be acquired through knowing the right people, cheating people, or simply dumb luck. Wisdom, however, can never be achieved by chance or manipulation. Wisdom is a slow process of maturation, and one that the book of Proverbs describes as having a direct effect on mothers.
As we begin reading the book of Proverbs, we are confronted by a familial context. The directives are simple: listen to the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother (1:8). While at some level we might all nod our heads in agreement that obeying parents is important, many of us distance ourselves from these wise sayings. We tend to think that instructions like these are for the young, inexperienced boys and girls of the world. To be sure, it is reasonable that these teachings are for the young, but there does not seem to be any hint that these words are only for the young. For example, Proverbs 23:22 reads, “Listen to your father … and do not despise your mother when she is old” (emphasis added).
Understanding that we cannot push off these wise sayings to the young only, we should look at the effect that our wisdom or lack thereof has on our mothers. Proverbs 10:1 tells us that a wise son makes his father glad. In contrast, a son who acts foolishly brings only grief to his mother. The fool here is not necessarily one who lacks knowledge but a smug person who is unwilling to consider consequences. His lack of concern for consequence brings ruin on his mother.
Desiring to honor our mothers with a life full of wisdom is good. To live out that desire, however, we must discover what a life of wisdom looks like. According to Proverbs, a wise son or daughter is one who speaks at the right time (15:23), works hard (26:13-16), remains calm (27:4), resolves conflicts rather than creates them (10:12), plans appropriately for the future (16:9), accepts criticism (9:7-9), protects the vulnerable (23:10-11), refrains from gossip (26:20), and listens more than speaks (17:27). This brief survey of the book of Proverbs demonstrates that wisdom and ethics are inseparable. The effect of wisdom being lived out is not lost on our mothers.
So this year, in addition to the cards and flowers, let us honor our mothers with lives full of wisdom. Instead of just thinking about what to get your mother, consider how you live to be a larger, more substantive gift for your mother. May our actions, attitudes, and speech bring joy to our mothers!