Over the last decade or so, it seems to have become quite fashionable (in a Joanna Gaines kinda way) to have chickens. I see the appeal: fresh eggs, plus a low-key farm girl vibe without the crazy amount of work that comes with actually having an entire farm. I’ll be honest though, the hard work of keeping a coop clean, keeping the chickens safe from predators, and caring for them on even the coldest winter day, doesn’t sound super appealing to me personally. Who knows, though, I might try it one day, and when that day comes, I’ll be coming to all you incredible chicken-keeping ladies to learn how you do it all.
This month on the blog we’re talking about using our mother-hearts to love our sisters well. As daughters of God, we have the nature of a mother written on our hearts long before or if we ever become moms ourselves. God is repeatedly described in Scripture using maternal imagery, as as people made in his image, that means we can mother our sisters in Christ regardless of whether we have kids or not.
One of the iconic pictures of Jesus that uses maternal imagery is recorded in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34. Jesus says, “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” As I studied this passage, I knew I needed to learn a bit more about hens to fully understand what Jesus was communicating here. So, to the Google…
After reading some articles by some people VERY into chickens and getting lost down a rabbit hole of “hen defends her chicks from a hawk” videos, I still won’t say that I know a lot about chickens. I probably know a fraction of what women who keep chickens do about their nature, but what I can say is that surprisingly, at least for this chicken newbie, hens are pretty intense.
When I hear Jesus’ words that he longs to gather his people like a hen gathers chicks, my initial impression is “aww.” Really, though, his metaphor is much richer and gives us a beautiful picture of mothering when we understand the nature of a hen as one who gathers her chicks for warmth, comfort, and protection.
Warmth and comfort are probably the more obvious benefits to a chick tucking up under its mom. You probably know that chicks snuggle up under their mother’s wings for comfort and warmth each evening. But there’s more to this image than just that. Hens also go to the meticulous trouble to turn their eggs carefully very often so they get proper incubation, and during chicks’ first vulnerable moments outside the egg, the warmth from their mother is vital to their survival. Mother hens also communicate with their chicks, even when they’re still in the eggs, through clucking and the chicks’ responding cheeps, letting her know their needs. A hen also has marvelous capacity. In one video I watched, a hen stood up from keeping her chicks warm underneath her and the sheer number of chicks that spilled out from under her was shocking. Sometimes I struggle with one baby, but this hen had roughly twenty-five chicks on lock under her tummy. Hats off to you, Mama Hen.
And then there’s the protective aspect. Let me tell you, if Youtube has taught me anything, it’s to never mess with a hen. When her chicks are threatened, a hen goes into full beast-mode. The sounds that came from what was a cute little chicken moments before…you are not going to make that mistake twice.
And with the sounds of a ticked-off hen reverberating in my ears, I re-read chapter 23 of Matthew, a discourse of Jesus which ends with this verse. In my Bible, the section is labeled as “Seven Woes on the Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.” In this passage Jesus rails against the religious leaders of Israel for their hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and self-centeredness. He says, “woe to you…” seven times, criticizing their focus on things like status, image, money, and legalism. This is a side of Jesus you probably won’t find depicted in a mural for the Sunday School classroom, but reading this passage in light of how he ends his tirade (with the verse about the hen) gives us a picture of his heart behind his harsh words.
He says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” When I know that the image of a hen isn’t just about warmth and comfort, but also protection, I see Jesus’ heart here for his people. See, Jesus had the heart of a mother protecting her kids, and absolutely no tolerance for those who threatened them. He called out the religious leaders who were threatening his people with scathing rhetoric and then reminded them all that the reason he did this was because he just wanted his people to come to the safe and protected place of being under his wings.
Friends, we have a choice when it comes to how we relate to our sisters. We can be like the ones Jesus railed against for their hypocrisy and judgment and self-centeredness. We can “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matt. 23:13) or be “like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matt. 23:27). Because it’s pretty easy to criticize the religious leaders in the gospels, but it’s even easier to exclude my sisters or care more about my own image than giving the One whose image I bear the glory for every good gift.
Friends, I hope we will be women who gather, not women of woe.
Let us be women who use our mother-hearts to gather our sisters together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. Let us give warm hugs and safe spaces. Let us provide shoulders for tears and wisdom for tough situations. Let us fiercely protect our sisters from what threatens them, be it the enemy stealing their joy, their mind believing lies, or their flesh desiring what will not bring abundant life.
Let us use our mother-hearts to gather with a spirit of comfort, warmth, and protection, pointing our sisters to the One whose example we follow, the One who can fully comfort, care for, and protect them.
And if you should ever find yourself thinking that you’re disqualified from mothering your sisters in Christ because you don’t have a child yourself, or because you already do have your own children, let’s consider this last word on hens: Surrogacy is pretty common in the business of raising chicks. If something happens to a hen, if she can’t be there to care for her chicks, another hen brings them in under her wings instead. Friends, let us use our mother-hearts to love our sisters well today, no matter who God puts in your arms, in your house, in your life. Let’s be like one writer I read said of hens: “They don’t care, they mother them all.”
Let us be women who gather, not women of woe.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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