Some of us have pretty terrible mothers. Some of us desperately wish we were mother’s but aren’t. Some of us wish every day that we could give our mum a call, but it’s been a long time since her funeral and she’s not going to answer the phone.
So isn’t Mother’s Day just too hard? Surely there are more people sad than happy and it’s all tokenism and cliched versions of femininity so can’t we just ignore it?
Even though I’m a childless, single woman, 49 days from her 30th birthday, I love Mother’s Day, and I think not only is it important not to be ambivalent about Mother’s Day but to embrace it and do it well in church.
Here are 3 reasons why I love it, and I have 3 suggestions about how to do it well.
Why do I love Mother’s Day?
1. I have a mother. So do you. Even if she’s no longer with you, or you don’t speak to one another, you have a mother.
Let’s just ponder that for a moment… Even if, like in the film Perfume, all your mother did for you was pop you out and cut the cord, she experienced 9 months of irreversible biological change to make you. In a perfect combination of vulnerability and strength, she provided everything you needed to become a you. The bacteria in your gut, the blood in your veins, your receding hairline, she gave all that to you.
And this is God’s plan. He designed the process this way, and there is so much wisdom in it. In the act of motherhood across the species, in the variations and the similarities, there is this incredible process of gestation and care which forces us to acknowledge that we are not monoliths.
It doesn’t matter how big, important and powerful you are, or small, vulnerable and marginalised, we all came from someone else… We’re all dependent, immortal not infinite, created, knit, and at the ‘expense’ of an other. No man is an island, cos all man has a mummy.
So I love Mother’s Day because it’s universal, we’ve all got a mother, this is an occasion on which everyone in our society can walk through the doors at church and be involved in what we’re celebrating. Hooray!
2. Women do bloody everything!!
Seriously, let’s face it, without the vast amount of unpaid work women, especially mothers, contribute to our economy NOW, let alone in the past, we’d all be in a pretty shabby state.
But the Protestant church, like the capitalist economy, isn’t the greatest at highlighting and acknowledging the contribution of women, so to have one day on which we specifically celebrate women, and the gift of God they are to us all, is a pretty good idea.
Although here’s the rub, when we (the church) do celebrate women, we celebrate her as ‘Mother’ and mother only. Queen of the home, and please stay there. A soft pastel portrait, which even the ‘homemakers’ I know don’t actually fit. So, it’s a little annoying that if we do spend a day as the church celebrating women, we only celebrate the role of motherhood.
For me, this contradiction can be dealt with in how to celebrate well, and thus becomes secondary to the opportunity to acknowledge the vital contribution of womanhood to the whole of human life. Let’s not let our reluctance to repeat the cliches silence the celebration entirely.
3. Motherhood tells us so much about the love of God.
Care, love, patience, sacrifice, choice, perseverance, self-control, if you want to know what God is like, think about what a good mother does. Interestingly enough, ‘comfort’ is a strong theme in the Biblical use of the motif of motherhood and how well does that correlate to a huge part of what we see mother’s to be; a bosom in the storm.
Isaiah 66:13, echoed in Matthew 23:37, and Isaiah 49:15 all images representing the care and compassion of a mother of her child represent God’s attitude toward His people.
It doesn’t mean that fathers aren’t compassionate and caring too! But let’s not allow the needed re-examination of gender roles and demands to strangle our perception of the deep universality of the ‘mother’.
I love Mother’s Day because it gives me an opportunity to reflect on all the ways God loves me and others and fights for us, longs for us, watches over us.
But in the light of the problems and difficulties, how can we celebrate well, not marginalising pain or maximising cliche.
Well, as promised, I have three suggestions.
1. Celebrate all the women in your church.
Like I said, I have no biological children (and with every passing day it becomes less likely), but God has promised me fruitfulness though I am barren. Isaiah 54 for example picks up this strong Biblical theme, where God calls life from nothingness. Eunuchs, barren women, widows and orphans all have reasons to rejoice because of the Good News. For starters, we are not left alone, we are drawn into the family of God. Orphans have a Father, single mothers have uncles, brothers and sons, the childless are given care of many children. I know this is not the same as giving birth myself… It’s better.
Even if I never squeeze a a screaming, tomato coloured mini-me out of my nether regions, as a woman of God, I am blessed with motherhood. (I’m also called to be a priest, a son and an ambassador among other things, but we’re talking about Mother’s Day at the moment). So, celebrate all the women in your church, remind them (and everyone else) that we have a calling higher than biological or even adoptive motherhood, and pray that we will all be equipped for such a monumental task.
I wouldn’t dictate HOW you’re gonna do this. At our church, all the kids during the ‘kids spot’ hand out flowers to all the women. It’s very sweet, we have a giggle, and I enjoy the (for me) rare pleasure of being given flowers (although, in the light of point two above, I’ll actually be the one going to the flower markets at 5:30/6am on the Saturday morning and then recruiting a few women from church to help me make posies. Sure, some of the guys could do it, but we women do secretly run the church and it’s just much more efficient if we get it done).
And it’s not tooooooo gooey and cliched, y’know? If however we were all given recipe books, or ‘fancy’ dishwashing gloves or something, yes, I’d probably start punching people. But flowers just say ‘thank you’ not, ‘make me something’.
2. Mourn with those who mourn.
Anyone with a modicum of pastoral sensitivity can see the ways in which remembering mothers could touch some sore spots, so acknowledge them. Personally I would suggest the prayers as the best time and way to do this, pray for those who’ve lost their mums, who want to be mums, whose mums were/are abusive. Bring our brokenness to God and ask that He’ll help us be an encouragement and comfort to each other.
Sin has effected every good thing God has given us, so even if we had Cake Day there’d be moments to mourn. It sucks. But it’s the reason we need Him. We shouldn’t let sadness kill happiness.
Invite the women in your church to be supported in the task of motherhood, spiritual or otherwise.
For example, how are you helping your women learn to understand and teach God’s word? Even the most conservative complementarian must acknowledge that the Bible clearly commands women to teach women and children, so, help them do that well!
This can be so straightforward. For example, make sure it’s possible for your women to hear God’s word taught, in church, in group Bible study, through doing a course in theology or preaching course. Most churches already have this in place, but invite women to see this as a way to respond to the calling of motherhood.
How are you supporting women in the hard parts of mothering? You have meal rosters for those with newborns, fantastic! What about when there’s sickness or other stress? Or for the ‘childless’ mothers at your church? My church warmly embraced me during a period of poor mental health last year, brought me food and entertainment and housework help. I am so grateful, and their help enabled me to keep loving the people I’m responsible for.
Invite your church, as a whole, to pay attention to what we take for granted, all the ups and downs and ins and outs of the way our women take care of, lead, inspire and drag us through the dreadful bits. Invite them all to support and honour this, and thank God for it.
Yes, women are so much more than baby factories, so do Mother’s Day well! Fight the stereotypes, kill the cliches and comfort the broken hearted. Reflect on the love of God together and say thank you.