A Mother's Touch

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken May 12, 1996

By now almost everyone in America has heard of Theodore Kaczyinski: graduate of Harvard, teacher of mathematics, despiser of technology, resident of Montana, and maker of bombs, or should that be “Unabombs?”. Whether or not Kaczyinski turns out to be guilty of murder, there is little doubt that he is an odd fellow, ill-suited for life in the 20th century.

As is always the case when disaster strikes, the journalists have been scrambling for answers. The secular mind is never satisfied with attributing evil to total depravity. Some further explanation or rationalization for human sin is always needed.

In Kacyzinski's case, there has been no shortage of explanations for his strangeness. One report, especially, caught my attention:

Investigators say that at the age of six months [Kaczynski] was hospitalized for several weeks after suffering an allergic reaction to a drug. During that time, his parents were not allowed to hold or hug him. When he came home, they found him listless and withdrawn. In light of that early denial of human contact, investigators are intrigued by the fact that one of the Unabomber's early targets was James McConnell, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who eventually became well known for research into the benefits of sensory deprivation for autistic children. Investigators were told that in childhood Ted seemed to avoid human contact. [Richard Lacayo, “A Tale of Two Brothers,” TIME, April 22, 1996, pp. 44-50 (p. 46)]

That is a haunting report. It gives us a pitiable picture of a young boy isolated from his mother and cut off from society. It confirms the sad truth of the biblical proverb: A child left to himself disgraces his mother (Prov. 29:15b). Kaczyinski's abandonment may well have had something to do with his subsequent inability to develop healthy relationships with women or to find his place in human society. It is impossible to underestimate the value of a mother's touch. An infant cannot thrive without it. Nothing else in the whole world can compare with it.

If you have ever seen Dorothy Kunhardt's book, Pat the Bunny, then you know what I mean [New York: Golden Books, n.d.]. Pat the Bunny invites children to interact by patting a soft bunny, or looking into a mirror, or putting a finger through “Mommy's ring.” One page says this: “Judy can feel Daddy's scratchy face. Now YOU feel Daddy's scratchy face.” The man on the page has sandpaper whiskers on his cheek that you can actually touch. You see, a father's cheek can be imitated. But not a mother's cheek. What substance would you put in a book to simulate a mother's touch?

At our house, we have two flavors of parent. Lisa comes in a different parental flavor than I do. She is soft where I am scratchy, gentle where I am rough, flexible where I am unyielding. There are times when Josh prefers my flavor, like when it's time to play football. But other times he prefers Lisa's flavor, like when he gets hurt playing football, just to name one. Having two flavors of parent to choose from is a gift from God.

I suppose there is a danger in exaggerating the differences between mothers and fathers. Mothers, like fathers, are to be strong in discipline and in training their children to be independent. Fathers, like mothers, are to be gentle and tender with their sons and daughters.

But God does intend mothers to be, well, motherly. In fact, whenever we see mothers act in a maternal way, we catch a glimpse of the character of God. In Isaiah 66, the Lord says to his people: “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (v. 13a). That verse needs no explanation. We have all seen mothers comfort their children, and most of us can still remember what it feels like to be comforted by our mothers. To see ourselves as children on God's lap gives us hope that all our hurts will be healed.

But even if that verse needs no explanation, it needs plenty of application. We need to see mothers touch like mothers in order to understand the comfort of God. You may feel unequal to the task of motherhood, especially on Mother's Day. On the one hand, Mother's Day makes mothers feel like they are finally getting the credit they deserve. On the other hand, Mother's Day makes mothers realize how far short they fall of the biblical ideal. So be encouraged that even the simplest tasks of mothering—like touching the forehead of a sick child—are a powerful demonstration of the love of God.

And do not be discouraged if you are not a mother. Many women who are not mothers have the same touch. I can well imagine that it is a hard thing for a woman with strong maternal instincts to go through life without experiencing the so-called “Joys of Motherhood.” Even though we are not naïve about the burdens and sorrows of motherhood, we recognize that motherhood is a gift from God. So women who remain unmarried or are unable to bear children may have some feelings of loss or disappointment about not becoming mothers.

But remember that the church is your family. If you have a desire to nurture children, then your maternal impulse is welcome here. You can be a blessing to the children in God's family. All of us share together in the responsibility of caring for the children of the church, and if you are unable to give a mother's touch, you may at least give a woman's touch.

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