A Mother in Israel
It is now more than seventeen years since my mother’s death. Every mother is special to her own family and her passing leaves a void which can never be filled. The self-denying love of a mother causes her children to be forever indebted to her. In this article I would like to draw attention to certain points which I hope will be helpful to present day mothers as they seek to bring up their children for the Lord.
Different from her own mother
Interestingly, my mother’s understanding of her responsibilities was quite different from that of her own mother. My grandmother’s conversion had been of the dramatic kind. It was only after a period of intense conviction of sin that she found peace through Christ. She required these same experiences of others before she would regard them as true Christians. In contrast, my mother came to Christ gradually, relatively gently and at an early age. Because of the views and demands of her own mother, she laboured for many years under a lack of assurance. I well remember when eventually at the age of fifty she came to full assurance and peace under the preaching of the Rev Donald Gillies (Lochs). For two weeks she praised God day and night. I can still picture her sitting in bed in the middle of the night with no thought of sleep, tears streaming down her face as she spoke of the glory of her Saviour. As a result of her own experiences she was always ready to accept others as genuine though converted in a very different way from herself and would quote the words, God’s chariots twenty thousand are’ (Ps.68:17). My father too appears to have been converted at an early age but only came to assurance at about the same time. They professed faith publicly together in 1960.
Her own upbringing
In my mother’s parents’ home it was my grandfather who instructed the children and my mother often spoke of her indebtedness to him in these things and, although he never professed faith, she had no doubt as to his salvation. My grandmother may have argued as so many in the Islands that if her children were in the elect they would be saved whatever she did or did not do. Also it would appear that she was very much caught up in her own spiritual struggles. She was a very devout and godly woman who wrestled mightily with God in prayer.
In our home things were quite different. My mother saw it as her great calling in life to bring up her children for the Lord. My father gave her all the support she required but was happy to leave the responsibility in her hands. She was full of zeal and diligence and laid great emphasis on human responsibility. She abhorred all fatalism and the attitude that made election an excuse for laziness and inactivity. Yet from an early age we were clearly taught the truths of God’s sovereignty, man’s total depravity, divine election and limited atonement. These truths were seen as a great comfort to the Christian. At the same time she sought with all her might to persuade us to make our calling and election sure by seeking the Lord for ourselves.
Before we were born intercession was made on our behalf. There were five of us in the family, four older sisters and myself. Interestingly when I was born after so many sisters everyone thought she would be delighted, but this was not the case. Satan tempted her to think that she could more easily succeed in instructing and training her daughters but that a son could be more difficult. So she did what she always did when she was worried. She devoted herself to special prayer. The Lord assured her that not only would her daughters be saved, but also her son. Indeed her son was perhaps at the end of the day more indebted to her under God for his conversion than any of her daughters.
I was taught to pray as soon as I could speak. I was given a Bible even before I could read and kept it under my pillow. As I grew older I was instructed to begin and end the day reading the Scriptures. On the Sabbath from the age of two or three I was brought to church. I would sit there in the gallery of Stornoway Free Church looking down on the people below, watching the hands of the clock go round, or sleep snuggled in at my mother’s side. As I developed I would try to remember some point or illustration from the sermon as we would be questioned in the afternoon as to but apart from a short spell I did not attend as we lived some distance from the church and my mother was afraid that we might misuse the Sabbath by playing on the road there or back. Further she believed the Sabbath School was for the children of parents who could not, or would not instruct their own children. She saw it as her privilege to teach us herself and not just on Sabbath afternoons. She taught us Bible stories, got us to memorise the Shorter Catechism, made sure we understood the basics of the Christian faith and encouraged us to read good books.
In Stornoway at that time most parents only brought their children to the Sabbath evening sermon which was normally evangelistic. We were taken however to both services, and were also encouraged to attend the Saturday night English prayer-meeting. Later when we had a car we would be taken to communion services and other special services in neighbouring congregations. People told my mother that she was unwise and would sicken her children of church. One old professing Christian once said to her, ‘You wait till they are grown up and they won’t go near a church’. Sadly that woman’s family seldom now darken the door of a church but thankfully our mother was not deterred.
Many in today’s church would regard the upbringing we received as far too restrictive, especially in this worldly age. There were many things that we wanted to do that we were not allowed to do. One of the criteria she used was to ask where would this activity lead in the future. For example we were not allowed to go to school dances. They were seen as possible precursors of the Friday night dances which around the Island were characterised by drunkenness and immorality. Further, I was not allowed to join organisations such as football clubs where I would be away from home in the evenings and might get into bad company. She always wanted to know where we were and what we were doing. Our involvement with other children particularly in the evenings was limited lest we be led away from the influence of the home.
All this could have become very negative but for the obvious deep love which our mother had for us and also for the happiness and teasing fun which was a lovely part of her nature. My father also played a crucial role here. He made time to take me out fishing and later shooting. This compensated for the other activities which I was denied. I spent a considerable amount of time with my father learning the basics of joinery, building, plumbing, electrical work, car maintenance and gardening. Summer holidays were spent in a sheiling on the Lewis moors where we were very much together as a family. She laid great emphasis on being a close-knit Christian family.
Always at home
Relatively common then but much less so today was the presence of our mother in the home. My father worked as a dock-labourer but he was only employed if there were ships needing cargoes loaded or unloaded “” on average three or four days a week. This income was supplemented by my parents knitting Harris-tweed-wool jumpers on machines. This meant that my mother was always at home and we were never made to feel she was too busy to be bothered with us. Her work could wait. During the long winter evenings Christians often met for fellowship in our home and we loved to hear them discuss the things of God. Many Christians would be away for two or three nights attending communion services in distant parts of the Island. Although my mother enjoyed fellowship her family came first and she would not be away when we were young.
My mother’s overriding concern was for our salvation and that was made plain to us from our earliest years. She was certainly concerned for our education and did everything in her power to encourage us to do well. Nothing was allowed to distract us from our studies. Yet her special concern was for our souls. I remember once stealing a half-crown from my dad’s pocket and using it to buy some sweets which my friends helped me to eat. I was questioned about it and lied, but was found out. I remember being taken aside by my mother and expecting a thrashing. Instead she just wept and asked me, ‘Is this the way you are going to grow up?’. I felt it deeply and it had a far greater influence upon me than a beating would have done. It remains very clear in my memory when other things have faded. How could I tear my mother’s heart like that? Her great love to us gave tremendous weight to what she said. Needless to say I never did anything like that again.
Most of all my mother expected that we would be saved. She rejoiced in the covenant of grace and took baptism very seriously. Seeking God’s help to keep her baptism vows she looked to God for His covenant blessings. From time to time she would ask us about our souls and warn us of the danger of being lost. She encouraged us to seek the Lord and put our faith in Christ. At that time it was the common attitude amongst Christian parents to expect their children, especially sons, to go astray, sow their wild oats, follow the pleasures of youth, and then if they were in the elect they would be saved at a later date. This had often been their own experience. Sadly what they expected happened and many did go astray and far too many never repented. Perhaps our mother’s optimistic faith was her greatest distinctive. Despite the pessimism of many of her contemporaries she was constantly looking for evidences of saving grace in her children. She taught us that as the children of God’s people we were to be different from the children of the world and must not follow them to hell. We were made to feel that if we went astray we would bring down her grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.
I have not said much about my father. This is not because of a lack of appreciation for him. The bond which existed between him and me was very close and I will eternally be grateful for his influence upon my life, particularly as I grew older. In this article I wished to concentrate on my mother because of the distinctiveness of her contribution to our Christian upbringing. As each of us came to know the Lord and to profess faith in Him the joy of our parents was unbounded. I thank God for the grace and wisdom He gave my parents. I offer these lines with the prayer that they might be of some help to mothers in the great calling of motherhood.
From the Free Church Witness, February 2005, with permission.
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