When George Washington was elected president, he rode to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to tell his ailing mother the news. The conversation reportedly went something like this:
George: Guess what? They want me to be president.
Mom: I’m dying.
George, flustered: Well, as soon as I get settled in New York, I’ll come back and …
Mom: This is the last time you’ll ever see me. But go, do your job. That’s more important.
Can’t you just hear her? As a mom, I know I can.
And I can relate to some of the crazy things that Mary Washington asked of her son. For instance, when George was in the Pennsylvania wilderness, fighting a losing battle against the French (and facing dire shortages in everything from tents and ammunition to clothing and food), Mom wrote a letter requesting that he send her a servant and “some butter.”
I’m sure my kids would say I’ve done worse.
But here’s the thing about Mary. Even though she really was dying (she had breast cancer) and could do nothing, tangibly, to help her boy do his job, she understood the power of words. And as they wrapped up what turned out to be their very last convo, she sent her son off with this charge:
“Go George, fulfil the high destinies which Heaven appears to have intended for you; go, my son, and may that Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing be with you always.”
Our words carry blessings and curses. Or, as Proverbs 18:21 puts it, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Which kind we speak–words that breathe life, or words that can cripple–is up to us.
And, strange as it sounds, the person our words target doesn’t have to be doing something we like or approve of in order for us to give them a blessing. Grumpy neighbors, irascible co-workers, wayward children—these folks are all candidates for favor. Ma Washington certainly didn’t agree with all of George’s plans and decisions (she told him that joining the Royal Navy was “too dangerous”), and yet she covered her son with life-giving words.
If it seems awkward to bless a child (or anyone else) who does something we don’t like, or who has made a choice that we believe runs counter to God’s commands, consider this: a blessing is not the same thing as an endorsement. Rather, when we bless our children, we do the same thing God does when he blesses us: He speaks favor over our lives and points us toward the abundant life he wants us to enjoy.
In blessing someone, we turn them over to God, trusting him to give them a vision for using their talents and abilities, as well as a sense of purpose in life. It’s never too early to do this for our children; consider Hannah’s words when she brought her young son Samuel to the temple: “For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:28).
Nor is it ever too late.
Mary Washington was 80 years old when George was elected, and she died five months later. I’m sure, though, that her final words stayed with him forever. And I pray that as I parent my own adult children (and call them at work to ask them to help me with Facebook—or at least send me some butter), I would give them the very same gift: The knowledge that “Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing would be with them always.”
Is there someone who could use an encouraging word from you today–maybe a co-worker, a child, or a friend over whom you might speak God’s favor?
Numbers 6:24-26 is one of our family’s favorite blessings (and if you like it too, see below for ordering info). It’s one that Robbie and I prayed with, and for, our children as they were growing up:
Monday is Presidents’ Day. Let’s make these life-giving words our prayer this week, using them to forecast God’s favor over our family, our friends, our co-workers, and–whether you like what he’s doing, or not–the guy who got Washington’s job.
Bless ______ and keep them. Make your face shine on ______ and be gracious to them. Turn your face toward ______ and give them peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
(The image in this post is of a beautifully crafted 5 x 7 print that I purchased in December as a stocking stuffer for our girls. It’s still available from @snowandcompany, and if you’d like to order your own copy, click here. And if you want to read more about blessing and releasing our kids, check out chapter two in Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. It’s available as a free download at jodieberndt.com.)