“Not a Natural Mother”

By Rachel Smith, reprinted from the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Hotly tipped to win a BAFTA this week is the psychological drama, The Lost Daughter.

It tells the story of Leda, a middle-aged divorcee on a solo holiday to Greece. When a local girl goes missing, Leda becomes intrigued with the lost child and her mother. Their relationship reminds Leda of her own fraught experience of motherhood, which she found to be a “crushing responsibility.”

In exploring Leda’s memories, the film dismantles one of our longest-standing cultural taboos: that motherhood should come naturally to women. Not so for Leda. She finds her daughters’ demands overwhelming and spends their early years ‘trying not to explode’.

Ultimately, the feeling becomes unbearable. Leda leaves the family home to pursue her academic career and an extra-marital relationship. Perhaps most shockingly, it is unclear whether she regrets her decision. “It felt amazing,” she says, her eyes brimming with tears.

Director Maggie Gyllenhaal says that one line from the Italian novel on which the film is based particularly struck her: “I’m not a natural mother.” With this declaration Leda offers an explanation of her behavior that sounds more like a confession. Society says that mothers should be perfect: nurturing, gentle, tender, endlessly self-sacrificial. Leda struggles to feel, and to be, these things. They simply don’t come naturally.

But what are any of us, naturally? Our fallen nature means that we too may struggle to love those on our frontlines – children, spouses, parents, friends – in the way society believes we should, or more importantly, in the way that God requires of us. For his call to love is more than an expectation. It is a command. And it can therefore be even more difficult for us to admit when it feels like a struggle.

Yet God requires us to love not because it comes naturally to us, but because it comes naturally to him. His parent-heart for us is perfect, and so our own hearts do not have to be. Instead, we can “know and rely on the love God has for us” (I John 4:16).

We do not love because it is expected, or commanded, or because it comes naturally. “We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:19). All the love we have comes from God. And his supernatural love, available to anyone who asks for it, is powerful enough to allow us to love our enemies, our friends, and even our own incessantly-demanding children.

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