A Sermon by The Rev. Marek Zabriskie

 “The Seven Habits of a Highly Effective Christian Mother”
A Sermon by the Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of Christ Church Greenwich
Delivered on Mother’s Day, 2023

It’s really good to see you this morning. I have a theory that each time you come to church, or pause to offer a prayer, or take time to read your Bible or give generously or do a loving act in Jesus’ name, you contribute to your spiritual 401K plan. Over time, these contributions add up with compound interest, and your faith grows. So, when you face a challenge or a significant loss in your life, you have this great spiritual resource to draw upon and give you hope and strength.

Today, America celebrates Mother’s Day. The idea of having a special day came from Anna Jarvis, a woman from West Virginia, who wanted to create a day to honor mothers and focus peace and prayer. Her persistence paid off in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day. Sadly, three months after the first day devoted to mothers, prayer and peace, World War I broke out.

A lot of us have an overly masculine image of God. We envision God as a sort of male authority figure who sets clear standards and punishes those who violate them. But the Bible tells us that God loves us like a mother. The prophet Hosea God describes God as a loving parent, teaching children to walk, feeding and caring for them with kindness. While many fathers share this role today, in ancient times this was the mother’s role.

In his final days on earth, Jesus surveyed the city that he loved. He wept and cried out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I desired to gather your children together like a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” In that moment, Jesus imagined himself like a mother hen gathering and protecting her chicks. Likewise, St. Anselm, one of the Church’s greatest theologians, and Julian of Norwich, one of the greatest mystics, both spoke of God as “our mother.”

Certainly, our mothers shape us. Napoleon wrote, “It is to my mother that I owe my fortune and all that I have done that is good.” Many of us could say the same. I have fond memories of my mother preparing countless meals, helping my brothers and me with homework and taking us on vacations to Cape Cod, where our father would join us on the weekends.

So, let me do a riff on Stephen Covey’s best-selling book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and offer up seven habits of a highly effective Christian mother. This is not meant to install guilt, lest anyone be thinking, “Well, I don’t do all seven things. I guess that I’m deficient.” Rather, these are ideas to ponder. Should even one of these habits to catch your attention, then I would count this sermon as successful. So, here are seven habits to ponder:

First, honoring the sabbath – A highly effective Christian mother doesn’t expose her children to religion, rather she raises them to be strong Christians. Going to church becomes part of regular family life, like eating healthy food, exercising, and doing homework. To honor the sabbath is to build a buffer around our family and say, “One day a week, we move at different speed. We take time to pray, listen, learn, and let God have control.

The second habit of a highly effective Christian mother is that she’s steeped in prayer and teaches her children to pray like teaching them a second language. When you teach a child how to pray with confidence you give him or her a lifelong gift. Prayer is the ultimate second language. It gives your children access to God at all times and in all places. Afterall, you won’t always be around. When you or your child is in trouble, afraid or alone, prayer connects you with the source of all hope, truth, wisdom, love and grace. A mother steeped in prayer is an invaluable resource.

The third habit that a highly effective Christian mother is that she turns to the Bible for daily guidance. The Bible is her greatest comfort, her light in the darkness, and her ultimate source of inspiration and hope. When her children seek their mother’s wisdom, God speaks through her because she has made the Scriptures her spiritual resource for light and truth. This helps her to instill faith in her children which they will carry with them throughout their lives.

The fourth habit of a highly effective Christian mother is service. Christianity is about living in community and making an important difference in one person’s life at a time. When I worked as a journalist before becoming a priest, I did a lot of volunteering. I was a big brother to a juvenile delinquent, a sponsor to a recently released prison inmate, volunteered at a homeless shelter, and did lots of youth ministry at my church. I wanted to make an impact, but helping a handful of teenagers, taking a troubled young boy fishing, and mentoring a former convict didn’t seem earth-shattering. Then my mother told me over the phone one day, “If you make a difference in just one person’s life, your life will have been well spent.” As usual, she was right. My wife has done countless small acts of service with our children. She models for them a way of Christian living that fills me with awe.

A fifth habit of a highly effective Christian mother is character. She knows that telling the truth matters greatly. We live in an age marred by a great deal of lying and the distortion of truth. But a highly effective Christian mother knows the importance of integrity and a moral compass? She instills these in her children and expects them of her husband and herself. She knows that her family’s moral character is their greatest asset in life.

The sixth habit that a highly effective Christian mother is that she is generous and teaches her children to do the same. She gives them an allowance and expects them to share 10 percent with the Church and keep 90 percent for themselves. Giving back transforms the world. We keep 90% of what we are given and return just 10% to God to build a better world. A Christian mother guides her husband and family to do this, their relationship with life, God and money and others is transformed in a wonderful way. They learn to lead more balanced, outward-focused and caring lives.

The seventh habit of a highly effective Christian mother is that she gives her children a Christian worldview. She speaks about overcoming challenges, living by faith and trusting in an afterlife. Her trusts that God can transform our greatest losses and bring forth something positive and good. When I was a boy, my mother told me about attending her father’s funeral. He died while my parents were engaged. At his funeral, my mother touched his casket, and as she did so, she felt his hand placed atop her hand. She knew that it was her father’s hand. By sharing that story with me as a boy she opened my mind and spirit to a belief that there is more to life than meets the eyes and that there is something beautiful and real awaiting when this life ends. A highly effective Christian mother will introduce her children a belief in the afterlife and God’s ever present love and care.

All of us have a chance to instill a contagious faith in our children and grandchildren. Together, we are nurturing the next generation, shaping their character and giving them spiritual eyes through which to navigate life. To all of the mothers and grandmothers present, thank you for all that you are and do. Your nurture, wisdom, compassion, generosity, soulfulness, beauty, resilience, grace, hope and love inspire all of us. I close with words from the Book of Proverbs:

A capable wife who can find?

She is far more precious than jewels.

The heart of her husband trusts in her,

and he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good, and not harm,

all the days of her life.

Her husband is known in the city gates,

taking his seat among the elders of the land.

Strength and dignity are her clothing,

and she laughs at the time to come.

She opens her mouth with wisdom,

and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

She looks well to the ways of her household,

and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children rise up and call her happy;

her husband too, and he praises her:

‘Many women have done excellently,

but you surpass them all.’