The story goes that Ben was babysitting his little sister Sally. While his mother was out, Ben found some bottles of colored ink and painted Sally’s portrait. When Ben’s mother returned home, she found ink stains all over the place, but, before she could say anything, there was this incredibly splendid portrait of Sally. She picked it up and exclaimed, “Why, it’s Sally!” Just then she bent down and kissed her son.
Years later, in 1772, England’s King George would appoint Ben, American-born artist Benjamin West, as historical painter to the court. Commenting on how he got started as an artist, West would say, “My mother’s kiss made me a painter.”
It’s not uncommon to hear pastors speak emotionally about the role their moms have played in shaping their walk with Christ and ultimately their decision to become a pastor. I saw it again recently at the placement services at our two seminaries—the smiling faces of mothers so grateful for the path their sons have taken. I see it often at ordinations, a mother’s eyes filled with tears of joy as she sees her son set aside as a shepherd of God’s flock. These loving moms had invested in their sons’ vocation.
Like the mother of Benjamin West, moms can often see the “bent” of their child, a particular giftedness in a certain direction. Their affirmation can set a child on a pathway to a fulfilling, life-long vocation, confirming Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” The most effective of parents watch the “bents” of their child. Every child has propensities and leanings – some constructive, some destructive. Good parents pay attention to both. The child so quick to complain or to fight must be corrected. The child so apt to share or to show compassion must be “kissed.”
We can learn from a mother’s kiss of affirmation, especially as we think about the church’s future pastors. We in the Body of Christ can look for those children among us who early on show a love for the Word, who stick up for their classmates on the fringe, those who navigate their relationships with humility and gentleness and lead by serving. When we see these qualities in our church’s children, we can affirm and encourage them.
Years ago I used to hear that if a farmer had five sons and one of them was too weak to work on the farm, he was usually sent away to become a pastor. That may have been more myth than history. Today, in my opinion, more than ever, we need the strongest of our sons to become pastors. We need our brightest and best to take on the challenging, multiple pastoral roles of leader, servant, presider, counselor, coach, communicator, reconciler, intercessor, manager, recruiter, organizer, strategist, and, oh, yes, friend of sinners.
Watch for them. Listen. They may be in kindergarten or just about ready to be confirmed. They may be deciding where to go to college. In some way, have you seen a pastor in them? If so, bend down, kiss their forehead, and whisper an affirmation. It may not be forgotten.