Tomorrow we honor mothers. In churches all over America, mothers will receive carnations, perhaps applause. Sometimes the oldest mother is asked to stand. Sometimes the mother with the most children is acknowledged. Our congregations will celebrate the roles mothers play in our lives.
It seems a simple thing to honor mothers. As a mother myself, I know that a day of recognition and honor is welcome. Being a mother is hard work and often thankless work. Sure, there are the rewards, such as the impromptu, clumsy hug my 15 year old son will bestow on my out of the blue and the sweetness of hearing my 18 year old daughter actually ask for my advice. Mothers need a day when people (especially their children) say “Thank You.”
It seems a simple thing to honor mothers. But Mother’s Day in church is a giant step into all sorts of dangerous territory. What about those women who for reasons of biology, circumstance and sometimes choice, never become mothers? Mother’s Day can seem a cruel joke to a woman struggling with fertility or who has just buried that baby perfect in every way but not strong enough to survive birth.
One Mother’s Day at church, I was scanning the bulletin when the altar flowers caught my attention. That morning, the altar flowers were given by a couple who had just brought a new baby into the family. Those flower were in honor of that child’s biological mother and her older brother’s biological mother. I thought about those two women, spending Mother’s Day without their children. How hard must it be to be a mother whose arms will never hold their child again?
It should be a simple thing to honor mothers. After all, each and every one of us has a mother. And most of us were fortunate to have mothers who love us, who nurtured us – the kind of mothers we easily can honor. But what about those who are not so lucky, whose mothers are unable for some reason to give the love each child craves?
I have had the privilege to walk with some women whose children are battling severe mental illness. Among the various heartbreaking stories shared are those of grandmothers, who watch as grandchildren become pawns in the games their children play against them. The grandmothers worry how their child’s mental illness will impact their grandchildren. They worry about social services placing their grandchildren in another home, and sometimes they wish social services would step in and help them protect the little ones.
It should be a simple thing to honor mothers. But as it turns out, Mother’s Day is a complicated thing. If we take this day too lightly, if we stop at the syrupy sweet Hallmark sentiment that this day has become, our recognition of mothers serves as a painful reminder to those who do not have: mothers, children, or relationship. What does Mother’s Day mean to those whose families are not the stereotypical Dad, Mom and 2.5 children?
What is motherhood anyway? Is it just having a baby? Is it just raising a child as a parent, step parent or foster parent? Or is motherhood deeper than biology? Is motherhood spiritual, sacred?
I think mothering is way beyond just biology. I think mothering flows from the very heart of God.
I posted pictures of my mother and mother in law on facebook. But if there was room, I could have posted other pictures – pictures of strong, courageous, godly women who stood as mothers to me. I think of Karen, only 6 years older than me, who in those early days after Mom and Shirley died, stood in their places. Karen was the one I turned to as a new mother, and a new wife for advice on what to do for teething, on how to fight with my husband. Karen was also the leader of our Stephen’s Ministries and I learned from her how to balance marriage, motherhood and ministry.
Then there’s Sharon, who guided me through the learning phases of my new job as Christian Ed director. She became a trusted confident, with motherly wisdom to guide me through the middle stages of motherhood. She encouraged me as I began to explore more fully God’s call on my life. She became the cheerleader in my corner as I went to seminary.
And Wanda, who became grandmother to my children. I mourned my children’s loss of grandmothers. Wanda eased my sorrow and brought such joy to the kids – they now had someone to make that special art project for, someone to invite for Grandparents day at school.
There are teachers, and scout leaders, and friends, and co-workers and assorted ladies at church who have at one time or another filled the role of ‘mother’ in my life. There have even been a couple of guys who provided nurturing and support that could be called mothering.
There are mothers and then there are those who mother.
I was reading a book by Becky Garrison this week and the importance of those who stand in the place of mothers became so clear to me. She honestly talks about her own family’s dysfunction – most of the adults in her family struggled with alcoholism. And she says, “In my 20’s, some Christians entered my life who gave me the love and guidance that my alcoholic parents could not give…I didn’t realize how blessed I was to have these people come into my life.”[i] When her own mother could not mother, a strong, courageous, godly woman stood in her mother’s place.
Who are those people been in your life who have provided you with mothering love straight from the heart of God? Who do you know that may find Mother’s Day to be a painful reminder of something lost, or something they’ve never had?
A preacher/blogger friend of mine wrote the following prayer while she was in seminary. It has become my prayer for Mother’s Day:
We remember Sarai who was taunted by others in the household because of her inability to have children.
All-encompassing God we pray for those who feel excluded when we emphasis one kind of family as normal.
We remember Esther, who was adopted and raised by her cousin.
God who embraces us all, we pray for those who cannot be raised by their parents, for a short time or permanently.
We remember the mother of Moses, who placed him into a raft on the river.
Saving God, we pray for parents who struggle to raise their children in oppressive circumstances.
We remember Hannah, who loved her child so much she handed him over to another to raise.
Loving God, we pray for parents who have placed their child in another family.
We remember Naomi, who grieved the death of her sons.
God, who grieves with us, we pray for parents who mourn the death of a child.
We remember Ruth, who gave up her family to be family to another.
Inclusive God, we pray for those who choose to be family to those isolated by culture or language or distance.
We remember Elizabeth, who had a child in old age and we remember Mary, who had a child as a teenager.
Ageless God, we pray that as a community we accept people of varying life stages and responsibilities and relationships.
We remember Rachel, crying for her children
God of justice and hope, we pray for those whose children are killed, and look to a time when children can live safely in their communities.
We remember Lois and Eunice, who taught Timothy faith by example.
Faithful God we pray for those who teach us faith by their lives, may we remember that we also teach about you in the way we live.
We remember other people, not named in the Scriptures, like the mother of the prodigal son.
Companion God, we pray for those who wait for a phone call or a visit,
cut off from family and friends by distance and disagreement.
Nurturing God, we give thanks for those
who enrich our lives by their presence
who teach us about your abundant love
who encourage us to journey in faith.
Thanks to a pearl down under for sharing this prayer!