May 13, 2012
1 John 4:7-10
In the movie, “The Help,” which was nominated last year for Best Picture, twelve black maids serve well-to-do white families in Jackson, Mississippi, during the 1960s. Part of the responsibility of the maids is to care for the children of the white families as their parents are busy about other matters.
In the movie, one of the maids, Abilene, cares for a little girl, Mae Mobley. Mae Mobley’s mother was disappointed in her daughter because she was not particularly pretty and in some ways seemed slow. As a result, the mother often ignored her daughter. To compensate for this, Abilene begins telling the little girl every morning a familiar mantra: “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” Each day, the little girl hears those lines, and over time they sink in. When the little girl begins to speak, she repeats them back to Abilene: “I is kind. I is smart. I is important.” Then she adds, “And you, Abie, you are my real mother.”
Mothers give life, but real mothers give more than physical life. They impart to their children the awareness of their own value and worth. They do this through affirmation. This is, in a sense, the highest kind of love because it enables another person to grow to their potential, to become the person that they were meant to be. This kind of love has a divine dimension. All of us are here because of the love of God that instills in each one of us a worth and an importance. So every time that we affirm another person and lift them up by our love, we are reflecting the very love of God that called us into being. This is why John, in today’s second reading, says, “Let us love one another for love is of God. Everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God because God is love.” The greatest contribution that a mother or father can make is to so affirm and love their child so that the child grows in an awareness of who they are. In doing this, the parent reflects the creative love of God.
Now I am very aware that there might be some people here today who feel themselves crippled in life because they were not loved as they should have been by a parent. They were not affirmed into the fullness of their personhood. If that is your circumstance, I would ask: Has not God placed in your life someone else who affirms you, someone else that calls you into being, someone else who—like Abilene was for Mae Mobley—is for you a real mother or father?
On this Mother’s Day, and in light of today’s readings, all of us are called to remember who the people were in our life who affirmed us and called us into being. We should be thankful for them, whether they be our natural mothers or fathers or some special person that God has placed in our life. Today is a day to be thankful for the way that they affirmed us and called us to recognize our own talents and ability. If those persons are still alive today, today would be a good day to tell them personally of our gratitude. Today is also a day for us to recommit ourselves to affirm others. We should dedicate ourselves to affirm our children, our grandchildren, our friends, and our coworkers. Each time we do that, we impart life and reflect God’s ever-present creative love.
Paul “Bear” Bryant, a famous Alabama football coach, said, “You know, I’m not much more than a plow hand from Arkansas. But over my life I have learned how to form a football team and to motivate them to win. You do it by affirmation. I say three things. When things go badly, I say, ‘I did it.’ When things so somewhat well, I say, ‘We did it.’ And when things are a remarkable success, I say, ‘You did it.’ To say those three things are all you need to get a football team to win games for you.”
Now, of course, Coach Bryant isn’t completely correct. It takes more than affirmation to win a football game. You also need skill and practice. But affirmation should not be undervalued, and the same is true in life. Today, we should be thankful for those in our life who affirmed us and called us into being. Of course, just because we have been affirmed does not mean that everything in our life will run smoothly. But, if we are never affirmed, it is clear that not much in our life will run at all.