Happy Mothers Day - Failure is the Gateway to Jesus

Carol McFarlane

7 Mar 2024


Happy Mothers Day - Failure is the Gateway to Jesus


LCM Missionary Carol McFarlane uncovers the crippling expectations that mothers face in urban communities, and how the church can show genuine care and point to the hope of Jesus.

For so many young women I’ve met over the years in the east End, motherhood is a rite of passage – a status which they aspire to, but one which often comes with crushing expectations. And when these expectations aren’t met, women can face unbearable shame.

This is as true in the Bengali community as it is amongst white working-class families here in Tower Hamlets. In both these close-knit communities, blood runs thicker than water.

I first met Bonna* and her two young sons when we knocked on her door about twenty years ago. She was a well-respected member of the community – her dad was a lawyer. Over time we became friends and during our conversations I would share the gospel with her.

"This Bengali lady’s support network became a group of Christians from the local church. Meanwhile she never told the wider family what was going on."

Hidden shame

Things changed for Bonna when her sons became teenagers and got in trouble with the law. We ended up with her at the social services meeting, when they were threatening to remove her sons from the family home. We went to court with her when one of the sons faced a prison sentence. These were all alien places to her – but she couldn’t stop saying thank you for us being by her side. As she sat in tears with us in her living room, I shared of how God brought me out of my own seemingly helpless situation, which she was encouraged by. This Bengali lady’s support network became a group of Christians from the local church. Meanwhile she never told the wider family what was going on.

When we knocked on another door down the road, we were greeted by Tracy*, a single mum of three. We immediately connected and I arranged to visit her again.

The second time we visited, her son answered the door and pointed us to a flat around the corner. There were people passed out on the floor, amongst needles and vomit, and we found Tracy there.

Carol on the isle of dogs, where she's been ministering for over 20 years

Like so many women I’ve met over the years, Tracy had all the gifts of a wonderful mother, but tragically these were thwarted by addiction.

I’m still in touch with Tracy now. A few weeks ago, I bumped into her son on the bus. He’s now in his thirties. It’s been twenty years since his mum became sober.

I remember the start of that journey well. I remember supporting her as she went into rehab. I remember sharing my own story with her and telling her about Jesus. I remember praying with her that she might be reunited with her children.

It was a long journey, but Tracy was eventually reunited with her children.

Tracy believes in Jesus. I’m convinced from our time together that she loves the Lord, and that he continues to be at work in her life.

But sadly, she doesn’t come to church.

I can sympathise with her – which is where my own story comes in.

I’d been in and out of trouble since I was a teenager, in the grip of alcohol and drug addiction, and I ended up in Armagh Women’s Prison.

It’s there I met a lady who had also struggled with alcohol abuse and had become a Christian. She gave me Christian books, which I had lots of time to read alongside the Bible my auntie had given me.

I was guilty and ashamed and alienated from everybody by that point, and as I opened the Bible I expected judgement from God. But what I discovered was mercy.

"I thought my life was over when I went to prison. But I had no idea that my life had actually just begun."

The scars remain

I had been given a new life. But I still had to face the consequences of the old one.

My own daughter, Claire, had been taken away from me at the age of six. Even when I became a Christian, and left prison, I was so guilt-ridden that I was too afraid to try and contact her.

Like Tracy, the thought of walking into a church was terrifying. I felt like I didn’t fit in. I felt ashamed.

The church rightfully places a high value on the family unit. So much of church life is based around the family. But from the outside, a church with lots of seemingly happy families, can be an intimidating environment for a woman who feels she has failed as a parent. There are environments that can just rub salt in the wounds.

Unlike Tracy, I did walk through the doors of a church, in Belfast – and I was terrified.

But I kept coming – because of people like Margaret Harris. She gravitated to me and accepted me as I was. There was no big song and dance. She was consistent. She noticed when I wasn’t there. Most importantly, she and others became a friend to me – despite being different to me.

Lessons for churches

But what makes the biggest difference is a truth which underpins the love and care these people showed me – that for all of us, our failure is our gateway to Jesus, not our success.

It’s only when this truth is fully known and accepted, that genuine welcome and love can be shown to the ‘outsider’ when they walk through the church doors.

When I met Tracy, it was a relief for her when I shared my own story. It was disarming to realise she was talking to a real, broken human.

"Are we being open about our own failures and shortcomings, and our reliance on the sanctifying work of Christ in our lives?"

There is practical wisdom as well – not to make assumptions if someone walks into church with their children. Not to overwhelm them with attention – but to pray for them. It is the Lord who will draw them to himself, not the quality and sensitivity of our welcome.

Finally, how much more included will someone feel if they have been invited by someone? Friendships with Tracy and Bonna started with a knock on their door. We’ve seen God do amazing things as we come alongside churches to make connections like these in their local area.

Surprised by mercy

Mother’s Day has meant different things to me over the years. For many it will re-open old wounds, as it did with me in the past.

But today it reminds me of God’s mercy. At 18, Claire got back in contact with me. I thought she would be angry, but she wasn’t. I couldn’t believe it. I was shocked by God’s mercy.

In God’s abundant grace, Claire and I have enjoyed a wonderful relationship which has slowly grown over the years. And I have been blessed with a beautiful grandson.

Carol with her daughter and grandson

Mother’s Day is a reminder of the failure and shame that I have felt, and so many mothers feel every day. But it’s here in our failure, and only here, that the Lord Jesus meets us with kindness and mercy. Let’s pray that he would use us to point to him.

You can find out more about Carol and her ministry here.

To explore how LCM can support you and your church to reach people on the margins with the gospel, visit here.

Written by: Carol McFarlane

Carol works in Tower Hamlets as a missionary and would like to see lives restored as marginalised women come to know Jesus.