Keith Ritchie

Keith Ritchie is pastor of First United Methodist Church of Martinsville.

As my wife and I love tending to our flowers, herbs, and vegetables at this time of year, and as Mother’s Day quickly approaches, I fondly recall this story of my late mother, and her love of gardening.

I was a child playing in the backyard one nice spring evening at my home in Harrisonburg. My mother was tending to her flower bed. As she did so, a couple of young parents from the neighborhood and their child strolled down the sidewalk by our home. They stopped to admire my mother’s flowers. In doing so, they said to my mother, “Those are really beautiful flowers. We enjoy looking at them each time we walk by your house.”

My mother, very modest, as always, responded to these kind words with, “Well, thank you.”

But she did not stop there: She took her garden shears and began to cut from her flowers in order to make a lovely bouquet; a bouquet she then gave to this family. Not only this — she cut her prettiest flowers to give to the family.

I could not believe this — not because I so admired her gesture, but because I could not believe she would be generous with this family! I wondered: “Why give these persons your best flowers? Shouldn’t we keep these flowers for ourselves? We have plenty of dandelions and weeds we can give them!”

Thankfully, my mother was well beyond my stinginess; I would like to believe I learned well from her example. I would also like to believe I have been shaped and continue to be shaped by the faith that guided and motivated my mother to give gorgeous, homegrown bouquets to persons she did not know.

For my mother knew well what matters most, according to scripture. According to scripture what matters most is this: You shall love God with all heart, soul, mind and strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. This gracious gesture of my mother taking place that spring evening of my childhood occurred because my mother loved God, and she loved her neighbor. She knew what mattered most.

She also knew this: She knew there are no conditions attached to these words of scripture. There is no “if” or “when” assigned to the instructions about loving God. There are no conditions attached to the love we are to give our neighbor; there are no exceptions. My mother knew this and never strayed from this.

Again, I am grateful that this season of the year and the approach of Mother’s Day brings this to mind. Grateful because, even as the pastor of a local church, I can find myself getting caught up in those matters that really don’t matter. I can find myself giving attention to things of secondary importance, not those things that matter most. I can find myself distracted by those pursuits not pleasing to God, instead of tending to what God says matter most: to love him and to love my neighbor — period.

A spontaneous gesture — an act of faith, really — offered by my mother many years ago still carries the power to draw me back to what matters most. I pray I may still be so obedient as to grow in my love of God, and my love of neighbor.  

Keith Ritchie is pastor of First United Methodist Church of Martinsville.