Mama’s Boy (reflections on a “masculine Christianity”)

One of my favorite insults ever is “Mama’s Boy.”

I find those who throw it around to be delightfully ignorant of a whole host of facts, realities, and relationships. They accuse these boys of not being able to function on their own. They mock these boys for choosing to be within protective distance of their mothers (physically or emotionally).

Sure, I’ll grant you that developing a level of independence and autonomy is a great thing, but when I think about those who tried to insult me with this phrase as a young boy, well… Let’s just say I’m much more well adjusted than they are.

Recently, (thanks to Rachel Held Evans) I became aware that Calvinist preacher John Piper decided to say that God likes boy images a lot better than girl ones because, well, God has not only revealed “himself” as a boy, but has lifted up the boy ideal over and over in the Bible. I think that’s kind of silly.

One of the most powerful images of God I know of comes from Psalm 131:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore.

The Psalmist has so many images at his disposal to use, but, when it comes time to describe (again) his relationship to God, what image does he call upon? A little boy and his mama.  A little boy who loves his mama so much that all he wants to do is be near her.

Developmental Psychologist James Fowler taught us that the earliest understandings we have of God come from the way we are in relationship with our parents, specifically our mothers. Think about that: We know who God is because of the ways we were loved and nurtured by our mothers as babies.

I’m afraid John Piper might be a little jealous of that. I know I am. I am a good father, I think, but when I look at the ways my boys revere their mom, I get kinda frustrated. When the five year old acts like he would crawl back into his mother’s womb if given half the chance, I feel that twinge of jealousy.

But that’s the way I feel about God. I love God so much that all I can think about is being surrounded by that Divine Love.

In the end, I like God as Mother because it reminds me that I’m just a Mama’s Boy, that I can’t really do this on my own. Sometime, I’m just too scared to do this on my own, and I just need to crawl up in my Mama’s lap and let her hold me and tell me everything is gonna be all right.

Here’s a tune I wrote about being a “Mama’s Boy” (you can have it for free if you want it):

36 thoughts on “Mama’s Boy (reflections on a “masculine Christianity”)”

  1. Beautiful article. Thank you so much. This kind of thinking is so healing for one like me who grew up under patriarchy, even if in my case it was kind of “patriarchy lite”.
    By the way, I can’t seem to see/hear the song? All I see when I click the Youtube box is an Audi commercial.

  2. As the mom of two boys, one of whom loves nothing more than to cuddle up with me, I found your imagery beautiful. So many times the mother-son relationship is not celebrated at all. I will be sharing this post with both of my boys!!

    1. It is interesting for me to be a part of my oldest (13.5 years old) to begin a transition into a deep relationship with me. We’ve never really had that and it’s fun to be a part of something like what he’s had with his mom.

  3. I’m working hard to raise a child who’s not afraid to love his mom, and God, and is still his own person. Wonderful essay, and thank you for the affirmation!

    1. I am with you about being glad for the clear demarcation. Too often we spend our time trying to point that reality out and never get to the point where we get to have the actual comparison of issues.

      Plus, I like the question “Would you like a ride on my toboggan?” I’m totally gonna work that into my daily conversation. :)

  4. As a mother and grandmother, I thank you for your affirming words. It is hard to understand why the feminine is so denigrated in our culture and our churches. We carry the child in our womb for nine months, feed, clothe, protect and nurture – but some think we are not worthy to be part of who God is.

    Sadly, even our Sisters of Eve who are Jewish and Muslim are faced with the same denigration.

    I appreciated your song. It was lovely. It also reminded me it is hard to find a song that mentions the feminine side of God and Jesus.

  5. Thank you for this beautiful expression of thought.

    This psalm is very dear to my heart. There are so many others that also emphasize the motherliness of God…especially with illustration of the nursing relationship of mother and child.

    The “new Calvinist” stridency on the superiority of men and masculinity sounds childish, short sighted, and, …well…..almost jealous.

    I have no problem thinking of God as a Father who is also a Mother. Is that odd? I don’t think so. I hate when we try to define God down to our way of thinking rather than open our minds to the possibility that we may not be able to fully understand how vast He is. Did we create Him, or did He create us?

    I think that this masculinity thing is bordering on being unintentionally insulting to the nature of God, in that it equates femininity with inferiority, triviality, and weakness. Yet God reveals to us that He is both masculine and feminine in Genesis and throughout scripture. Do these men think that God has a “silly” side? I hope not.

    I have traveled through a fairly extreme patriarchal environment (though we were on the periphery of it) and more recently, through a soft core, Piperized version that some of your readers so aptly call ” patriarchy lite”. I am blessed by these articles and other writers who are out there shedding light on this oppression. I am very grateful!

  6. Something just clicked for me.

    I have thought a lot about the special connection and “nurturing” qualities that mothers seem to have with their children (I specialized in Labor & Delivery in nursing school and am currently pursuing doula certification – I love this field.) But in my experience this connection has always served as an argument as to why women are more suited to “stay at home” and care for children than to be in the work force.

    But after reading about your honesty regarding your jealousy and frustration, I see this mother-child connection no longer as a mystery or as an argument for exclusion, but as a GIFT given to women to demonstrate an aspect of God that men cannot.

    That’s BEAUTIFUL.

    Thank you.

  7. Thank you Landon for this. I couldn’t agree more that having a child has totally changed the way I see God and it also helps me to better understand some of the Biblical images of God’s love as a parent. I deeply love my parents, but the love of a parent to a child, in my mind, is something different, more raw, more something. The church also loses so much when it limits that understanding to some form of masculine representation. Watching my wife, carry, give birth to, and love our daughter makes me me happy to be loved by a God that loves me like my wife loves our daughter. I also agree that I am totally jealous of the way my baby loves her mama. She loves me too, but it is different. Thanks man.

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