Mothers, What You Do Matters
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Proverbs 31:30 (Holman) Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting,
but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.
For this message I owe Bonnie Angelo’s book, “First Mothers”, which tells about the mothers of twentieth century Presidents. I want to thank Rod Williams, who read the book, and marked every religious reference in it.
The first First Mother, Mary Ball Washington, retired each evening with a religious book. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, she had a favorite “meditation rock”, which was said to be her favorite retreat for reading and prayer. At her request, she was buried a few steps from Meditation Rock.
George Washington said of her, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.”
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson one; let your children see you doing daily private time with God. Avoid ostentation but do set the example.
Abraham Lincoln grew up attending a Baptist church with his parents. In early political days, when asked his religious views, he said, “his parents were Baptists, and brought him up in the belief of the Baptist religion”.
His birth-mom Nancy was a brilliant woman, a fervent, emotional worshiper and an avid Bible reader. Nancy regularly read the Bible to Abe and used it to teach him to read and spell. Her influence stayed with Abe his whole life. Lincoln said, before he learned to read he would hear his mother quoting Bible verses repeatedly through the day as she worked at home. He said when he later read these verses, he could hear her voice speaking them.
Nancy died at age 36. In her dying words, she told her children to be good and kind to their father, and to one another, and to love, reverence, and worship God. Abe, at age 9, helped his father make her coffin, and then tracked down a traveling preacher to say words over his mother’s grave.
Lincoln said of her, “I had a good Christian mother, and her prayers have followed me thus far through life”. Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson two; let your children hear you pray for them individually by name.
After step-mom Sarah arrived, the Lincoln’s helped build a Baptist church house in Indiana. Abe served there as a church sexton. Sarah believed God is kindhearted to all. As Abe’s birth-mom Nancy had done, Sarah continued to teach Abe the ways of gentleness and kindness.
She appreciated him, and said, “Abe never spoke a cross word to me in his life since we lived together”. She also said he never refused to do anything she asked, and he was kind to everybody and every thing.
As President-elect, before leaving Springfield for Washington, he went to Charleston, Illinois, to visit 72-year-old Sarah Lincoln. When she expressed fear for his safety, Abe said, “No, Mama, trust in the Lord and all will be well.” Sadly, her premonition proved true. When told Abe had been assassinated, she said, “I knowed they’d kill him. I been awaiting for it.”
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson three; teach your children to be kind and gentle. Kindness, a learnable behavior, is Christianity in action.
Before Harry Truman was five years old, his mother Martha had used her large-print Bible to teach him how to read. He said by the time he was thirteen years old, he had read this “old Bible three times through”.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson four; teach your children to love the Bible. You will not be around forever to coach your children spiritually, nor will they probably stay in the same church always. The Bible can for a lifetime be the ever-present, tangible reminder and initiator of faith.
Ida Eisenhower had her sons read the Bible at the dining table. If one of them made a mistake while reading, he had to pass the Bible to the next brother. A church once awarded her a citation for memorizing 1,365 Bible verses. About this time, she gave Dwight a watch for reading all the Bible.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson five; redeem meal times. Turn them into mini-worship-services. Let them be built-in reminders of God.
Lyndon Johnson’s mother, Rebekah, was proud of her family’s history, which included a long line of Baptist preachers. Her grandfather served as editor of Texas’ first Baptist newspaper. He also served as president of Baylor, which he successfully steered through the upheaval of the Civil War.
When she wrote letters to her son, she wrote on the back of the envelope the word “Mizpah”, a Bible word (Genesis 31:49) that came to connote an emotional bond between two people separated from each other.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson six; pass on the heritage of righteousness. Tell them stories of faith from their own family’s past. I was told the stories. I was a teenager before I realized a member of my family could be an unbeliever. I thought spirituality and holiness were in our DNA.
Richard Nixon took both oaths of office with his hand on two Bibles, not one. His mother’s Bibles had been passed down for generations. One memento he kept for himself. At his first inaugural, his mother wrote him a note. “To Richard–You have gone far and we are proud of you always–I know that you will keep your relationship with your Maker as it should be, for after all, that, as you must know, is the most important thing in this life.”
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson seven; Teach your children that relationship, not rules, is the most important part of serving God. Many reach a certain level of behavior, think they have arrived, and see no reason to go higher in the spiritual realm. This is a prescription for Christian failure.
For the Ford family, churchgoing was a regular Sunday routine. All four boys, scrubbed and slicked, sat in a pew near the front. Later, when it seemed Lieutenant Gerald Ford’s life would be lost in a typhoon at sea, he clung to a narrow catwalk, reciting his mom’s favorite Bible verse, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Prov. 3:5-6).
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson eight; take your children to church. In church I heard the message that led me to surrender to God’s will for my life. Grady Etheridge preached John 3:16, and I was forever changed.
Nelle Reagan, who served as her church’s drama director, coached her son Ronald on his lines for the little morality plays she put on at church, and helped him master his leading roles in high school productions. This was an appropriate foreshadowing for a youngster that later became a famous actor.
Nelle also weekly visited the local county jail. She took the inmates treats, and taught a Bible lesson. Ronald’s wife Nancy said her mother-in-law’s deep faith had a profound influence on Ronald’s life, “Nelle was a deeply religious person, and that rubbed off on Ronnie his whole life.”
Nelle’s church was central to her life. She was the president of the Missionary Society, taught Sunday School, and every Sunday she and her sons, in knee pants and long black socks, sat side by side near the front.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson nine; let your children see you doing God’s work. Show them how to worship, minister, and be on mission.
George Bush, asked how his mom Dorothy became Matriarch of a wonderful family, said, “Mother would always see the good in people. She was a devout Christian and her life was guided by the teachings of Christ.” She read the Bible aloud at meals, and applied lessons to the family’s lives.
Mr. Bush was shot down in WW 2 on a bombing mission, but was miraculously rescued by an American submarine. He later said, “I had faced death, and God had spared me.” He said one of the lessons his mother taught him was “the most important fixed star of all: God exists today and forever.”
He once wrote in his diary he was thinking one day about his mother’s wise words, “Do your best, try your hardest; be kind; share; go to church”.
Mothers, what you do matters. Lesson ten; teach your children God exists and can be trusted. On our way to seminary, Ruth and I stopped to see Grandpa Marshall. He leaned on my 1972 Ford Maverick and said with deep conviction, “Son, I believe God exists as much as I believe you and I are standing here.” I knew he meant it, and expected me to believe it too.