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[Passionate Faith on Display 2] Monica, the Mother of St. Augustine—A Portrait of a Praying Mother

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This article is an edited transcript of Susie Hawkins’ audio message on Passionate Faith. Appreciation for the transcription work goes to Marilyn Fine.

We are continuing in our series which we started last week called, “Passionate Faith on Display.” If you remember last week we talked a little bit about the heritage that we have in Christian women who have gone before us in history. Remember we said that we often do not know a lot about these women because they did not have time to journal. Not to mention, many did not know how to read and write—which makes a difference. Men who recorded history at that time did not see any particular need for recording about things that women did or thought or felt. So, we do not have a great deal of information by these women, especially the further back we go in history. What we do know I claim is enough. It is enough to help us give some perspective. These women served as mentors, as models. Sometimes you have a mentor who is a personal mentor, but I think also you can have mentors who have already gone before you. They lived many, many years ago and who still mentor you through their writings, through their actions, through what they did. They serve as examples and models for us.

I want to talk about one of these women today. Her name is Monica. She was the mother of Augustine. I found out as I was researching her that Santa Monica, California, is named for Monica. So, next time you go to California and you are in Santa Monica…what is that song, “I Just Want to Have Fun When the Sun Comes Out on the Santa Monica Boulevard”? Well, think about St. Monica. Think about the mother of Augustine because she had an unbelievable effect on one of the greatest men who ever lived.

The thing that we are learning from Monica today is an example of a praying mother. I do not know many things that unite women as motherhood does. Even women who do not have children relate to the nurturing instinct, do they not? They need to nurture. They recognize the power of that maternal love. Everybody who has that instinct or has that feeling certainly knows what I am talking about when I talk about the angst of mothers. When my daughters were both pregnant with their first children, I told them individually (not together as I wanted to break it to them gently) that I will tell you the truth: I might as well tell you now your life is ruined! You will never have another carefree moment ever, ever, EVER. Yes, I told them that a little bluntly, a little too soon. I might have broken that to them a little gentler which might have been better. They are experiencing what I talked about. Oftentimes a mother is only as happy as her least happy child. Now, is that true or what? Well, that is true of Monica. She had two other children who were committed Christians and did great, but could she relax and enjoy them? No. She totally obsessed with the one son. This is why I love her.

But, you know, maternal love is so intense that even God used it as a metaphor for His love. I think it is the most powerful love that humans can observe or experience, the maternal love. Remember in Isaiah 49, He was talking to His people and He was saying how much He loved His people. He says, “Could a mother forget her nursing child.” Of course, that is a rhetorical question with the obvious answer being, of course, not. He said, “Neither could I forget you.” I always think back on that scripture as a testimony of the power of maternal love. How many mothers have prayed for their children? How many mothers in this room are praying especially for adult children? It is one thing to pray for your younger children who are home. You still have some degree of control, or you think you do anyway! You can have boundaries of allowing them to do this or that and activities and all that. Monica experienced, I think, one of the most difficult tests of all. That is praying for an adult child who was on his own, making his own decisions and going the wrong way. Well, let us talk about this a minute and see why she is so important. I am sure there have been thousands and thousands of mothers like her whose children have finally come to Christ. We have her as our example in history.

Let me say before I forget that Ruth Bell Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, wrote a book about this, “The Prodigal and Those Who Love Them.” Their son, Franklin Graham, was a prodigal. He was in rebellion for quite a few years against the Lord. Of course, he returned. I always recommend that book to anybody who is struggling in this department.

Why is it so important that she was the mother of Augustine, Augustine of Hippo? Hippo was a city in North Africa. This is around the fourth century. North Africa was a center of Christianity—Carthage, North Africa, which is Tunis in Tunisia today. It was a city of learning. It was a major world city, second only to Rome. Theology, universities, the arts, and wild and crazy living were all present. Augustine grew up in this part of the world. Augustine today is considered a Church father. That simply refers to a group of theologians who lived in the first five centuries of Christianity. They wrestled with many heresies and tried to faithfully interpret Scriptures to expound the doctrines of the Church. There were the Greek fathers, the Cappadocian fathers, the Latin fathers, and the desert fathers. You would have heard of some of these, Basil, Tertullian, Origen (some of you maybe have not heard of them). Whether you are Catholic, Protestant, or Orthodox they are all considered to be the Church fathers. Augustine was one of the greatest of the Church fathers. He was so far ahead of his time. He is considered by secular writers as one of the pillars of Western civilization. He expounded doctrine. He could articulate philosophy and literature. He was just so unbelievably bright. But, he also combined the spiritual mindset of a believer with the education of the day. He is still considered one of the most influential and most important early theologians of the Church. You might see him often referred to if you read anything about Christianity in magazine and books. You will usually see his name credited. He probably wrote the first autobiography in the Western world. He wrote a book called, “Confessions,” which was the testimony of his salvation. He wrote another book, a classic, called, “City of God,” which defended Christianity against the paganism of the Roman Empire. The Reformers referred to him all the time. Trust me when I tell you that there is nobody bigger than Augustine.

That is why Monica is so important. Her persistence and her perseverance in not giving up praying for him “brought” one of the greatest minds into Christianity and into the Christian world. Interestingly enough, most of the things we know about her were from his pen. He wrote in his testimony about her prayers for him, testifying of Christ’s work in his life.

Let’s talk about Monica for just a minute. She is an example of service to God through motherhood. She was born not far from Carthage in a Christian home. She was raised in a Christian home. She was married to an older man who, apparently, had a violent temper. According to her children, she had a very calm and quiet manner and managed to live with him fairly peacefully. He eventually did become a believer. She attended church every day. She had three children and she poured biblical teaching into her children. When Augustine was about 16, he was going to school and was wild and crazy like 16-year-old boys are. His mother sat him down one day and had this long talk with him. She told him he did not need to be involved in immorality. Of course, he laughed it off like most 16-year-old boys would, I am sure. By his own testimony, he lived a life of wildness and lust. At 17, he left home for his “university” studies. If I were writing this chapter in Monica’s life, I would entitle it, “A Mother’s Worst Nightmare.” Your kid, who is already wild, is going off to the wildest place in the world, like Los Angeles or something. She was just so concerned about him. He joined a heretical religion called the Manichaeism, which is kind of a gnostic, new age-type thing. This is as far from Christianity as you can be. He tells about this in his “Confessions.” His soul became more and more mired in darkness and blindness to spiritual things. He said that his mother, “who wept on my behalf, wept more than most mothers weep when their children die.” He said, “For she saw that was dead by faith and spirit, which she had from Thee [he was in a prayer to God] and Thou heardest her, Lord. Thou heardest her and despised not her tears from pouring down. They watered the earth under her eyes in every place where she prayed. You heard her.”

During this time, Monica had a dream. You will find that this is pretty common in women at this time. Men, too, who would have visions and dreams. She had a dream. She was praying and she saw herself standing on a wooden rule, which symbolized the rule of faith. A young man was coming toward her. He was all joyful and smiling. She was greeting this young man who asked why she was so sorrowful. She said she was lamenting her son’s destruction. Then, she looked up and saw his face. She thought it was Augustine. The young man said, “Where you are, there I will be also.” So, she told Augustine about this dream. He said that “just meant that you will become a Manichaean, like I am.” Is that not just like a kid to say that! She said, “No, it does not because the dream said I was standing here and you came to me. I did not go to you. So, that is not what it means.” For nine more years, he continued this lifestyle. She went a couple of times to the bishop. It is really very gratifying. There were two men, one bishop in Carthage and one later on in the line, Ambrose, who really prayed with her about her son. She asked them to pray for him. She sought out prayer partners in these men of God. This bishop in Carthage essentially said to her, “Leave him alone. Just pray to God for him and he will of himself discover his error.” She kept begging, but the bishops said “No, no, leave him alone and you just pray.”

Now, at this time he had gotten a position in Rome, an elite teaching position. Monica was just beside herself about that because she thought it was getting worse. He is running away from the only good influence he has and now he is leaving to go to Rome. God only knows what will happen in Rome. She told him that she was going to come with him. So, he told her there was a ship leaving for Rome, but he said he was not going to go to Rome. He had changed his mind about that, but he was going to go down to the ship and say goodbye to some friends of his who were leaving on that voyage. What he did not tell her is that he, himself, was also going. So he got on the ship and left. Basically, he ran away from home without his mother knowing. Of course, this distressed her greatly. However, while he was in Rome she heard news that he had renounced this cult that he had become a part of. Now, while he was not a believer yet, to Monica it was a step out of darkness—hopefully into the right way. By her testimony, she prayed and prayed scripture.

Monica was reminded of the story of Jesus and the widow of Naaman. Remember that story? Her son had died and this widow was walking out in the funeral procession and Jesus was walking into the city. He saw the funeral procession and He immediately went over to the coffin and to the mother. He said, “Young man, I say to you rise.” The boy rose from the dead. Monica used those words in prayer that, although he was dead in his spirit, this young man would rise. She prayed over and over and over again these words of scripture.

He then went to Milan where she eventually caught up with him. He began attending services at a church to hear the bishop, Ambrose, who was supposedly the greatest preacher of all time, not so much for his theology but for his rhetoric. If you remember, the Roman Empire was quite focused on having an elite skill in your oratory ability to speak. So, he began going to hear Ambrose. Ambrose became her prayer partner also for Augustine. She began meeting with him and they began praying together for Augustine. He wrote of her commitment that every child should be so blessed to have a mother who prayed so diligently for their sons. Incidentally, one thing I found out when I was doing this that she said to him on another topic the fasting rules here in Milan are different than they are in Rome so should I go by the rules of my church in Milan or do I go by my other church. Which one do I go by? He was the one who really in so many words came up with the statement, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” So he essentially said, “When in Milan, do as the Milanese.” Keep that in case you ever need that on Jeopardy.

Augustine was still struggling with his flesh and was getting more and more despondent with his life and the life of direction. He had had a mistress. He had a son with this mistress, but he did not want to get married. He thought that would hurt his social standing. You may be familiar with this story. One day he was in a garden and he was praying, saying, “Lord, how long, oh God, wherever you are, how long will I live in despair and despondency?” The more educated he got, the less happy he was. The more he traveled it was like he was running away. He could not find a spot. He could not find any joy. He was so restless. So, he prayed. He was despondent about his own lack of self-discipline. He said, “Lord, how long will I have to continue in this unclean life? Will I just live this way forever?” He heard the voice of a child in the garden over the fence in a sing-song voice saying, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” He immediately went into the house, picked up a Bible, opened it up and it fell open to Romans 13:13, “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in strife and envy, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make not provisions for the flesh.” He said he read no further until all of the doubt vanished away. Augustine, reading the scriptures, hearing that child’s voice, had truth revealed to him and he became a believer in that instant.

So, of course, and this will make you happy, what do you think the first thing he did was? He ran to tell his mother. Now, oh, happy for her! On Easter in 387 AD, he and his son were baptized by Bishop Ambrose. Throughout all his writings, he is so expressive in his appreciation in love to his mother for her perseverance in prayer and bringing him to Christ. Now, eventually they decided to return to Africa. She became ill on the voyage on the way. They stopped at a city in North Africa, almost home, and she died at age 56. She said on her death bed, “There was indeed one thing for which I wish to tarry a little bit in this life and that was that I might see you a Christian before I died. My God has exceeded this abundantly.” On her death, he said in “Confessions,” that he wept for over an hour—with it on his mind that it was so little in comparison to all the tears she had wept for him.

He returned to Hippo and became a bishop. He raised his son in the faith. He began his prolific writing career. He died on his deathbed as the vandals were attacking Rome and burning Rome at the end of the Roman Empire as he knew it.

This great man came to Christ because of the prayers of his mother. So, I think this is so important because I want it to be an encouragement to any of us who pray for adult children. Even if your adult child is a believer, you know they struggle so many times, do they not? Not everybody has their act together automatically. That is an understatement to say that. Just because you turn 21…and they need prayer. As a mother, and maybe you do not have children, but as an aunt, as a good friend, it is part of our responsibility as the older generation to pray for those who are coming after us. I believe this so strongly.

Let me say a couple of things and then there is a passage of scripture that I think shows us some things about Monica. God seems to prefer answering prayer in accomplishing His will for His people. He just does. This is the mystery of prayer and free will. The sovereignty of God and free will. Would Augustine have become a believer if Monica had not prayed for him? I think somebody else would have prayed for him, but for some reason God uses the prayers of His people to accomplish His purposes. God seems to prefer to use people to accomplish His purposes. That would be those who are willing to pray. God gives people the room to say yes or no to Him. There again, this is the mystery of God’s sovereignty. I know so many people in this metroplex who have raised children according to God’s plan. They do everything they need to do to raise that child right. Yet, when that child became older, they decided they did not want to be in church, they did not want to be a believer, and they rejected that. Believe me, I almost think there are sometimes more of those people than the other ones. All I can tell you about that is that you just cannot discount human nature. Oswald Chambers said, “We all have one right and that is the right to ourselves and God gives us that.” So, sometimes people temporarily, hopefully, choose to go their own way and I think they have to learn the hard way. You hate that when it is your own child. You do not want them to do that, but some choose to do that. That should not be a reflection on you necessarily. I am not one who points a finger to bad parenting when a child does that because I have seen too many times that the child deliberately chooses to go against a parent. God gives them that freedom to do so. We will get to that in a minute before we finish.

You cannot make your child a Christian. You cannot convince anybody by logic and apologetics and arguing to make them a Christian. You cannot do it. Please, if you hear anything, hear this. A person becomes a follower, a believer in Christ, because the Spirit reveals it to them, just like Augustine in the garden. The Spirit revealed Himself. Spiritual truth is revealed to a person and they become a believer. So, in a way I love this because it takes some of the pressure off…we do not have to convince somebody. You do not have to convince your child, your daughter, your son that your way is the right way or that this is what. You do not have to convince them of that because God will reveal that to them. That is not our job. It is something that happens in the spirit.

Another thing I loved about the story of Monica is that she sought prayer support of other people, of the bishop. There is no telling how many of her other friends and church members, but she was not ashamed to go to her community to find prayer support. I cannot encourage you enough to do that if you are praying for a child, an adult child. Find somebody who will pray with you and hold your arms up and support you and encourage you like the bishop did for her. He also gave her a little more objective advice. It is very, very important.

Then, I think from this story we see something else. Monica never apologized for her faith. There is an account in Augustine’s book, “Confessions,” that they had had an argument. He said to if you would just renounce your faith and quit being so obnoxious about being a Christian, we would get along just fine. Basically what she did was kick him out of the house for a while. She said she would never do that. I will never do that. Do not be ashamed to live your faith and do not apologize for your prayers or your faith. He commented all the time on her virtuous life, her commitment to prayer, her honorable marriage with his father who was difficult to live with, how she loved him and treated him respectfully. He could not say enough about his mother’s character. So, do not be ashamed. Do not think you have to apologize for your faith or apologize for your prayers. You do not. God will use that hopefully to bring that person to Christ.

In the prodigal son, we have some similarities, do we not? You know the story about the prodigal son in Luke 15. You can read it later because we do not have time. This is about the father who had all his riches. His younger son wanted his share of the possessions and he gave it to him. He demanded it. He ran off into a very far country and spent it all. He ended up feeding pigs and finally the scripture says he came to himself. He said he was going home because even at my father’s house, even if I am a servant, it is better than this. You know the story. He went home and his father was waiting for him. When he saw him coming, he jumped off the porch, ran and embraced him and, of course, they had a huge celebration. There are a couple of things about that story that should encourage us if we are praying for adult children. First of all, the prodigal son, like Augustine, was far, far away in a very far country. Sometimes that seems discouraging, does it not? I can imagine how she felt when he joined a cult who did not even believe there was a supreme being. They did not even believe there was a god. He was in a far country, just like the prodigal son was. He was not just in another denomination. He just was not wrong of some things of doctrine. He was in a far country, far, far away from God. Yet, he came home.

The second thing of interest is that as he was in that far country the scripture says that no one gave him anything. You know how easy it is for parents, especially mothers, to want to rescue children, adult children, is it not? It is so in us to rescue them, but the father, for whatever reason, did not rescue him. He gave him nothing. He let him live in his space. He did not try to make him feel better or comfort him. Nobody gave him anything. It reminded me of the bishop in Carthage who said to leave him alone. Then, he came to himself. He came to the realization of what he was missing and what he could have on his own. Just like Augustine did in the garden in total despair when the Holy Spirit really got ahold of him.

Now, Monica lived to see her son converted. I am so grateful she did. I know if she had died and was in heaven, she would still know it. I believe that. But not everybody gets to do that. I am sure there are elderly people who died before they get to see their prayers answered when it comes to their children or their grandchildren. You know what, it is almost like prayers go into heaven’s bank. They are a deposit. That may not always be cashed during our lifetime, but I believe it can be during each lifetime.

I just read recently the story of Dr. Dobson whose great-grandfather prayed before Dr. Dobson was even born that every person in the next four generations of his family would serve Christ in ministry. He tells the story of how the daughters married ministers and how the sons did all through the generations. His father was in ministry and prayed that he would have a son who would go into ministry. Dr. Dobson did not go into preaching ministry, but he went into family ministry and has had such an impact on the lives of so many Christians. He makes this point. This man prayed for me before I was ever born, before I ever was, before I was ever born he prayed. That is how prayer works in the kingdom of God. Although much later on, Monica got to see her son converted.

So, I pray that we, too, would have that privilege for those of you who are praying that prayer. Ephesians 1:17 is a wonderful prayer to pray if you are praying scripture, “May the Father of glory give (we will say Augustine) the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him. That the eyes of his understanding may be enlightened that you might know the hope of His calling.” This is something I pray for my adult children that the eyes of their understanding would be open and that they would be enlightened. I was reading some things about this, praying for adult children, and I came across a prayer which will be put on the screen. I tweaked it a little bit because I did not like part of it so I changed some of it. I think this prayer releases us from guilt and bondage of “what we should have done” or “it is our fault that they are not living according to God’s ways.” It releases us from guilt and puts it all back on God, trusting Him with our future. It is this: “God, let me live my life in the joys that You have offered on this earth. Let me live to the fullest of my potential and, Lord, may I always be faithful to pray for my child that they learn to live their lives in Your joy also. I cannot save them from themselves, but I can ask that You give them revelation that they might come to themselves and find salvation and restoration in You.” It is not our job. All we can do is bring them before God, bring them before the throne and He takes it from there.

Related Topics: Christian Home, Parenting, Prayer, Women's Articles