Becoming Mama Bear: How losing my husband introduced me to a ferocious divine love
When our children were young, my husband Rob and I often took them for hikes in the nearby Cascade Mountains outside our home in Seattle. Home to approximately 20,000 black bears, Washington’s mountains required a healthy respect for wilderness, and we taught our kids how to do it. A hearty “Hey, bear!” alerted furry neighbors of our whereabouts, giving them enough time to amble off. And should you come upon a mother and her cubs, our children learned to stand still, speak loudly, get close to an adult, and slowly back away.
Mamas, they learned, could be feisty and ferocious if they felt they were being challenged.
Though they are apex predators, it might surprise you to learn how vulnerable bears are, especially when young. Baby bears are born blind; and though they receive special protection in the den and extra nutritious milk in their infancy, many don’t survive to adulthood. Grizzly bear young have a 50% mortality rate, and all species are at the mercy of more aggressive adult male bears. To be a young bear in the world means to live with risk, and their mothers know this. When provoked, a mama bear’s ferocity isn’t overblown. Instead, it’s the best advocacy she has to offer.
While mother bears are accustomed to advocating for their young alone, I wasn’t when my husband died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2019. Left with four young children to raise on my own, I felt woefully ill-equipped for the job God had placed before me. Rob and I had always made parenting decisions together from the choice to co-sleep to decisions about guitar lessons and which sports we’d let our kids play. How could I do this enormous job all by myself?
It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d need to rise to the challenge of solo parenting. I began running interference with school teachers, letting them know of our family’s loss before my children would enter their classrooms. I called the doctor, the dentist, and the orthodontist. “Please write in your files that my child has lost his father,” I told them. I didn’t want my kids to be blindsided by ill-timed questions or platitudes. I wanted to somehow make this impossibly hard path easier for them. I realized I’d need to advocate for them in ways I never had before.
I felt a powerful sense of protectiveness, a ferocity born out of love and loss.
In the last three years since my husband’s death, I’ve never growled at anyone. I’ve never threatened anybody by standing on my back legs and grunting. However, as I’ve seen my children’s vulnerabilities in the stark light of grief, I’ve most definitely become a mama bear. I’ve learned to advocate with grace and determination for my children’s survival and flourishing in a world that can often feel heartbreakingly harsh. Most powerfully, I’ve discovered through mothering my children in grief that there is One who delights in passionately caring for me in this way, too.
As his days on earth were coming to a close, Jesus told his disciples that in his stead he would send them Someone special to be with them forever — the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. The Amplified Bible translates John 14:16 with this beautiful list of descriptors: “Comforter, Advocate, Intercessor — Counselor, Strengthener, Standby.” In joy and in sorrow, Jesus said the Holy Spirit would attend to us with a fierce and powerful love. In our weakness, the Spirit would offer strength. In our muteness, the Spirit would offer intercession. In our vulnerability, the Spirit would be our advocate — a mama bear, protecting God’s children in a world that was heartbreakingly harsh.
Solo motherhood has called me to develop fortitude in areas of my life I never wanted. I’ve had to become a strong shoulder to cry on and a patiently determined decision maker who stands confidently on her own. You might say that I could wear the “Mama Bear” t-shirt proudly. I’ve earned the title over and over again.
Yet, before, behind, beside and within this strength exists a vulnerability I’ll never be able to shake. This weakness isn’t a curse but a blessing because it drives me ever to the arms of Jesus. My neediness reminds me that I need an Abba Father. I may be a mama bear, but I will always need an Advocate for myself, too. I will always need the Comforter, Guide, and Counselor whose ferocious love promises to protect and keep me now and for all eternity.
Clarissa Moll is an award-winning writer who helps bereaved people find flourishing after loss. She is the author of the bestselling book, Beyond the Darkness: A Gentle Guide for Living with Grief and Thriving after Loss, and her writing appears in Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, RELEVANT, Modern Loss, Grief Digest, and more. She cohosts Christianity Today’s Surprised by Grief podcast, holds a master’s degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and is a frequent guest on podcasts and radio shows. Find her on Instagram at @mollclarissa or at clarissamoll.com.
As mentioned in Clarissa’s essay: John 14:16 in The Amplified Bible; the black bears of Washington’s mountains and their birth process.
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