When Mother’s Day Hurts

I love my mum. I have that going for me. To add blessing to blessing, I love my mum-in-law as well. They are both strong, caring, fun women who seek adventure, who pursue Christ wholeheartedly, and who never fail to be practical and emotional supports in difficulty and avid cheerleaders in times of triumph.

I also have many other mums in my life that I love and admire more than I can manage to put into words. Some dear friends who have mothered me at key moments in my life. Some dear friends who I watch in amazement as they pour goodness and strength into their creative, confident, and kind children.

And yet… Mother’s Day can still sting.

infertilityI think I have always wanted to be a mother. But, for me, the traditional route to motherhood was simply not available. 5 years of trying culminated in 2 surgeries… neither of which resulted in the ability for me to bear a child. And, without going into a myriad of details, after examining the complex and varied options to adopt–we realized God wasn’t calling us in that direction. So here I am. A mother without children on this day–a day on which facebook and twitter and commercials and TV and every possible form of technology and entertainment turns toward mothering. Even NHL players are interviewed before their playoff games about what they have learned from their mothers. It’s inescapable.

Hear me when I say… absolutely we should celebrate parents. It is a hard and sometimes thankless job that makes a huge difference in our world. We need good parents. We need to be their cheerleaders when there is reason to celebrate (even if it’s “just” a dry diaper, or a hard-won C+, or a slightly cleaner room), and their comforters when things don’t go so well, and their encouragers when there is too little sleep–or too much sass–or just, simply, too much. Parents are worth celebrating and supporting. Absolutely.

But there is real hurt here too. Women, like me, who will never fulfill a felt calling to mothering (at least not in the traditional way). Women who grieve not only childlessness on this day, but singleness as well. People who have complex or fraught relationships with their own mothers. Women who have lost children. Anyone who has lost their mother. There are many types of grief that this particular day presses on.

What I find most sad is that those of us who are struggling/grieving/hurting on this day will feel like staying home from church today. Will feel unsafe with their pain in the very community that should provide comfort and encouragement. Many of us will give in to the temptation to “turtle”–to curl up in a blanket at home and try to forget what day it is. Because sometimes the church gets it wrong. Sometimes the church makes an idol out of mothers and fathers. Sometimes the church comes dangerously close to defining humanity (and human worth) in terms of the nuclear family. Sometimes the church mistakenly weaves cultural days and seasons into the sacred rhythms of faith in a way that is unhealthy.

See we are called together, each week, to worship the Living God. That worship can include thanks for parents. It can include joy in and support of parents in our congregation. But when we begin to place all focus there, I think we have a theological problem that warps our worship away from God and toward people. When we worship, we make a profound statement about what matters–what is worth our attention, our time, our commitment, our whole selves. Parents do hard work, do good work–but they are not worthy of worship (nor are children, for that matter, wonderful as they are). While we should celebrate and support parents, our focus should remain on the Triune God. There should be no such thing as a “Mother’s Day service“.

I went to church this morning. I admit that I was a bit apprehensive. But, thankfully, blessedly, my church got it right.  I received a delightfully squished carnation from a small child who didn’t really want to let it go. I prayed, along with our church leadership, for mothers in our congregation. I shed a few tears in the midst, as I think I always will. But the focus of the service was the Triune God. I sang my heart out to Jesus–along with my fellow mothers and fathers and sons and daughters and uncles and aunts and sisters and brothers. Our whole delightfully mixed-up and diverse family heard the word of God and responded together. Because our family is so much bigger than we realize. So much deeper and broader. So much more messed-up and beautiful. And today I was reminded that–in that family–I have countless opportunities to be a mother, and a sister, and an aunt, and a daughter. And it was good. Happy Mother’s Day.

6 Comments

  1. I struggle with this day too. Today I felt a little melancholy at church even as I celebrated all the courageous women I know. I was so thankful to be invited out to lunch by a family at church who realized I might be alone today. I joined their casual picnic at the park and shared their family time and found some peace. I am glad you and I are sisters on this day.

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  2. I don’t think the church gets it wrong…..I think our clergy sprinkles it out among the ppl and sometimes the info is wrong…….there is no right answer in my opinion…….every person has their perception from beginning to end with their hearts…….a heart which is wounded is gods heart…..we just don’t have enough ppl out there that have permission within their community to say it….and let others come around them….or don’t know how to ask for comfort thru Christ…..my opinion only

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    1. Hi Karyl. Let me clarify: what I think the church gets wrong is making Mother’s Day and Father’s Day the focus of a worship service. I see no justification for this in Scripture and it definitely presents some theological difficulties (idolatry being the foremost among them). While Scripture tells us that mothers and fathers are to be honoured, never are parents (or any other people group) made the focal point of a worship service. So on that point I think there absolutely is a right answer. The secondary fall-out of that choice is that it calls out the wounded in our congregations and makes them feel excluded from the life of the church. I believe this is what you are referring to in your comment–and you’re right, some communities do better than others in this area.

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  3. Thank you for your words Stacey, and your willingness to share your journey. It is because I am friends with amazing women like you that I am aware that Mother’s Day can be a hard day. Even though it wasn’t Mother’s Day here, I was preaching and therefore had the ability to share the hurt of some within our Church family within the context of my sermon. God had placed it on my heart to do so and I am thankful that I listened. As you mention, many stay home on this day. One woman spoke to me after the service saying that she, too, stays home on Mother’s Day. (Remember, not Mother’s Day here.) When I mentioned American Mother’s Day she wondered what she had gotten herself into, but then heard me out. She shared with me, in tears, that it was the first time she had ever heard a woman speak of her pain regarding motherhood from the pulpit. Thank you God for using me! My prayers are split between thankfulness & joy and peace & comfort as we pass through both the joy and pain within Church families on this day.

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