The Absent Mother: Why Christian Women are Struggling to Find Their Place in the Church

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately, and it’s one that’s close to my heart. I’ll be scrolling through Facebook and I’ll see a post about sexism in the church (which I plan to visit in a later post) or a post about how women need to just love themselves just the way they are. Women often feel misplaced and pushed aside, wondering what their role in the Church is. I’ve even seen women who go as far as to search out new-age substitutes such as cleansing their auras or aligning their chakras or having more positive energy. Women are even shying away from marrying and having children, not because they don’t want those things, but because they feel it’s all they’re good for. They may feel that their value is based in their family, not in themselves.

Who can blame them? In the protestant church, there are very few female role models. No powerful Christian women to idolize. It’s no wonder that women today look outside the church to secular, and even anti-Christian, women to look up to. But the secular world doesn’t do much better. While women inside the church may believe the lie that their value comes from marriage or serving their husbands or having babies, society tells women that their value comes from their career and their ability to flaunt social norms. These are still external sources. With the rise of liberal ideology and militant, radical feminism that encourages women to parade around topless in public places, it’s time to speak truth into this situation. It’s time to reset the role of women to what God intended. I would like to be clear right up front: This is not some ultra-conservative “put women in their place” manifesto. I’ll make that very clear as I go along but this is simply my humble attempt to help my female friends discover their true fulfillment in the body of Christ. My diagnosis is that women today are missing a very important piece of their spiritual lives: Our Blessed Mother, Mary. For the Protestant women, they do not realize what a joyous gift she can be. For the Catholic women, they may not realize what a gift they have. My endeavor will be to show how God always intended the Blessed Virgin to be a role model for women and how her veneration can strengthen every woman’s relationship with God and the church. To do this, we should start at the very beginning.

I was in a conversation online with a female peer recently and she expressed the notion that there is a belief held by many that Eve is solely, or mainly, responsible for the fall of humanity. Consequently it seems, this also leads many men to have low opinion of women and creates poor, for lack of a better word, self-esteem in modern women. Being told that your gender is responsible for the ruin of the entire human race must not be very pleasant. So let’s examine the passage. I will post it below but anyone who wishes to look it up in their own Bible may find it in Genesis 3:1-6:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.

So we see here that yes, Eve, the woman, was the first one to sin, the first one to take the bite of the fruit. As a matter of fact it seems that although Adam is with her (that’s very clear in this passage), the serpent seems to be speaking to Eve directly and ignoring Adam completely. Why this is, I don’t know. Maybe the serpent said some stuff to Adam too and whoever wrote Genesis (probably Moses) decided to leave it out. Maybe Satan did only speak to Eve for some twisted and perverted reason (I am of the belief that everything Satan does, no matter how minor, is twisted and perverted).

But I don’t really want to focus on who ate first and why because that’s not really important. What we should get from this passage here is that Eve touched the fruit (touching the fruit equals death), then she ate the fruit (more death, in case the first death wasn’t enough), then Adam touched it (again, death) and he ate it as well (death, death, death, death, death). Both Adam and Eve, man and woman, touched and ate the fruit. Both are responsible for sin and death entering the world. We have complete gender equality in the ruin of humanity. Isn’t that nice?

Now let’s skip ahead a bit. So in verses 8-14, God searches for Adam and Eve in the garden and when He discovers what they’ve done, He, like any parent, has to dig through the blame game to find who’s really at fault here. Then in verse 15, in the middle of tearing Satan a new one He says:

I will put enmity between you and the woman,    and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

This is one of the coolest passages in scripture and is going to be the launching pad to finally get to the meat of my argument. Ok, so God says He will put enmity between the serpent (Satan) and the woman, between the seed of Satan and the seed of the woman. Satan shall strike his heel, but he shall crush Satan’s head. Major foreshadowing here. I’ll give you a hint: The one that God is talking about here, the one who shall crush Satan’s head…is Jesus. We all as Christians probably knew that right? Somewhere someone told you that.

But here’s what may be a new thought: I don’t think when God says “the woman” He’s talking just about Eve. In a sense He is because Eve is the mother of the human race and we are all her offspring. But none of us try to trace our ancestry back to Eve. No one would say “I’m the great times (however many hundreds of billions) grandchild of Eve.” My point is that none of Eve’s direct offspring struck down Satan. God is speaking doubly here. Because yes, He does mean Eve, but He also has a very special woman in mind. And her direct offspring will be struck by the Devil, but in the end, will crush his head.

I mean of course the Blessed Virgin Mary. See the Bible is filled with archetypes: one person place or object used to foreshadow another person, place or object. For example, the story of Moses in the wilderness raising the snake on the pole and all who looked at it were healed is a metaphor for Christ being raised up on the cross for the good of all mankind. The sacrificial lamb in the Old Testament is an archetype for Christ being the ultimate sacrificial lamb. Adam as the first man from which all sin came is an archetype for the Son of Man from whom all redemption will come. Most of these archetypes have to do with Christ. Seriously, if you can’t find Christ in the Old Testament, you’re reading it with your eyes closed. He’s everywhere.

So just as Adam is an archetype of Jesus, so Eve is an archetype of Our Mother. Eve is the vessel from which sin entered the world, just as Mary is the vessel in which redemption entered the world. This is how amazing God is. He created a perfect world with a perfect man and a perfect woman and He wanted everything to be perfect. So when we wrecked it, He created a redemption plan that included both a man and a woman, because that’s how He always intended. From the very beginning, God always intended women to have a role in His kingdom and He could not have made that more apparent than with Mary. One of the Fathers of the Christian faith, Saint Justin Martyr says it this way:

“For whereas Eve, yet a virgin and undefiled, through conceiving the word that came from the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death; the Virgin Mary, taking faith and joy, when the Angel told her the good tidings that the Spirit of the Lord should come upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadow her, and therefore the Holy One to be born of her should be the Son of God, answered, Be it done to me according to thy word. And so by means of her was he born, concerning whom we have shown so many Scriptures were spoken; through whom God overthrows the serpent, and those angels and men who have become like to it, and on the other hand, works deliverance from death for such as repent of their evil doings and believe in him.” (Dialogue with Trypho 100 AD)

My focus here is not to get too much into Mariology because that would distract from my point. Even though I am tempted. Because she is my mother. And I love to talk about my mother. I do want to keep this as protestant friendly as possible. There are some things we should know about the character of the Virgin Mary. Let’s look at the passage of the Annunciation. Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

There are some very important character traits that we can ascribe to Mary just from this one passage. First of all, Mary is trusting. This angel appears and tells her that she’s going to give birth to a son who will also be the son of God who will save all of humanity. And she doesn’t freak out. She doesn’t say no. She doesn’t talk about all the plans and things that she wanted in her life. She just asks “How can this happen? Because I’m a virgin.” Then when the angel gives her the answer, she accepts it. She’s not questioning the will of God. She merely wants to know how it will be achieved. We can know there’s no doubt here because she does not raise further questions. We read this passage and when it talks about the spirit of the Lord overshadowing Mary we don’t even know what that means! If I were Mary I would’ve gotten some specific details on exactly what was gonna happen to my body! But Mary is far more trusting than I am and she simply says “Here I am, the servant of the Lord, let it be done to me as you say.” Which leads me to her second quality: Mary is humble.

The angel greets her with “Hail Mary! Full of grace! The Lord is with you!” And she is perplexed. As a matter of fact, this is the only time in this passage where Mary is perplexed. The idea of giving birth to the son of God doesn’t seem to faze her much, but the idea of being favored with God makes her do a double take. Mary never considered herself anything special. She calls herself a servant of the Lord, and she is comfortable in this role.

Mary is also brave. Do not forget that she, as a Jewish woman, is under the law of Moses which states that if she is found to be with child outside of wedlock, she could be stoned to death without question. She will have no evidence to support her virginity and no one will be there to defend her. She realizes all this when she says yes to God. We also know of her bravery and loyalty during the crucifixion of Christ on the cross. We are told that Mary is there, watching Jesus, her only son,  die. And yet she still has faith that God’s perfect will will be done.

It is at this moment on the cross that Jesus gives us all a very special gift. He gives His mother to the care of Saint John the Beloved and thus, by entrusting her to His disciples to treat her as their mother, entrusts her to us as well. Because Mary is not just Jesus’s mother or John’s mother. She is your mother and my mother. To all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and share in His kingdom as brothers and sisters, she is their mother. No wonder many women today feel so lost! They have a Father whom they love and acknowledge, but they do not acknowledge their mother. They do not acknowledge her to be the role model that she is.

“Why should she be a role model?” I’ve had some women ask. “She’s only special because she gave birth to Jesus.” They interpret this to mean that women can only be special if they have children but they’re missing the point. It wasn’t the birth of Christ that made Mary special. It wasn’t even the fact that she said yes. The angel greets her with “Greetings Mary! Favored of the Lord!” Before she even knows what God wants of her, before she even says yes, and long before she gives birth to Christ, Mary is favored by God. From her very conception she is favored by God. In fact, Mary is so special that not only is she remembered in scripture as the mother of Christ, but she also sits at God’s right hand as Queen of Heaven.

Now I know I said I wasn’t going to get too much into Mariology, but I think this bit is important to tie up my point. Remember earlier I was talking about archetypes? How there’s a bunch for Jesus and how Mary was an archetype of Eve? Well there’s one more archetype that I’d like to examine. The archetype is that of Queen Mother and the passage of proof I’m looking at is 1 Kings (3rd Kingdoms) 2:19:

So Bathsheba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adonijah. The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her; then he sat on his throne, and had a throne brought for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right.

Now I’ve included just a little snippet here to save space but I encourage you to read the whole section. Basically what’s happening here is that the Lord has granted the kingdom of Israel to Solomon. But his older half-brother, Adonijah wants the kingdom for himself and tries to trick Solomon with a request. But he sends Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother to make the request on his behalf thinking this will stop Solomon from becoming angry and killing him (it doesn’t).

But the important thing to notice is Solomon’s reaction when his mother enters. He is holding court at the time, hearing the pleas of all the people. But he stops what he is doing, descends from his throne, and bows down before Bathsheba. Then he orders a throne at his right hand for her to sit and be his advisor as Queen Mother. Now we know that another archetype of Jesus is King David. The Bible mentions many times that Jesus will create the Davidic kingdom in perfection in Heaven. So if Solomon, in the Davidic line of kings recognized Bathsheba as his mother, guess who Jesus recognizes as Queen of Heaven? That’s right. Mary. Revelation 12:1-6:

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.

So Saint John’s view of Heaven includes a woman with a crown, clothed in the sun who gave birth to a child. That devil tried to devour that child but he was snatched away by God and brought to Heaven. And he will come again to rule the world with an iron rod. And the woman also escaped the devil and fled into the wilderness where God cared for her until she could assume her role as Queen and wear her crown. So we know that Mary is the mother of Jesus, king of Heaven and Earth who will reign eternal. And if that isn’t enough we have a physical description of her reign in the book of Revelation.

From favored and humble servant of the Lord, to Queen of Heaven! You certainly cannot ask for a better example of women’s role than this. But sadly, many women today are not taught to revere Mary with the ardor that she deserves. They are missing a huge piece of faith and they feel this loss, whether they recognize it or not. They feel the loss of their mother as an orphan on the street feels the loss of her parents. In this void in their soul, they must fill it with anything they can. This body positivity movement and femanazism are all symptoms of a deeper wound. So how do we begin to repair this wound?

The solution is very simple. The women of our churches need to put aside these fruitless pursuits and pursue Our Mother with equal fervor. It is my personal opinion that the praying of the rosary heals many wounds and lessens many woes. Even a shy smile to Our Lady will be enough and she will surely answer all who call on her. The idea of self-image and self-esteem are so fleeting. These are ideas based on fickle and fleeting feelings, how one feels about oneself on a given day or even a given moment. But to look to Mary Mother of God as your inspiration for a life devoted to Christ and His church, and to look outside the family unit and even themselves. For our worth cannot come from ourselves. It must come from God, and God does love to allow Blessed Mary to come to comfort us as well.

When a woman prays to our blessed Mother, she prays to one who knows her heart more intimately than nearly anyone else in Heaven or on Earth, save only God Himself. She finds comfort in the arms of a woman who knows the struggles of finding one’s place in the great Church of Our Lord. The absence of Our Mother has left a piece missing from the hearts of modern women, and only she can fill that void.

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