When Mother’s Day is difficult
Early on in ministry, I learned how difficult Mother’s Day can be for many people. It’s particularly poignant in the church as Mother’s Day always falls on a Sunday. I’ve attended worship services where all mothers receive carnations and sermons focus on mothers and mothering as the highest example of faithfulness. Mothers absolutely should be celebrated, prayed for and cared for. It’s not an easy calling. God is, at times, depicted as a mothering figure in the Bible; a mama bear protecting her cubs (Deut. 32:11-12), a midwife helping bring new life into the world (Isa. 45:10-11) and a hen gathering her chicks under her wing (Matt. 23:37-39). There are many women and mothers that we can look to for strength, inspiration and wisdom in the Bible (Mary, Sarah, Lydia, Dorcas, etc.) and in our lives; the women of faith who taught us about Jesus and what it looks like to live faithfully.
But too often on Mother’s Day in the Church, the focus is on traditional families and there is no acknowledgement of the pain this day can cause. The first Sunday I preached in my first congregation was Mother’s Day. I spoke about how this day can be difficult for those who struggle to get pregnant, those whose mothers or children have died, those who have difficult relationships with their mothers or children, those who have had miscarriages, those who do not wish to have children and those who mother or receive mothering in non-traditional ways. I shared a special prayer for all who struggle in these various ways.
Acknowledging pain does not diminish celebration. It’s imperative for the Church to give voice to the forgotten, the lonely and the grieving. These prayers let people know that the Church cares, that God loves them and that God is not punishing them. We have a God who is with us both in joy and in sorrow. When we are baptized in Christ Jesus, we are not promised a cushy, easy life full of prosperity and joy. We still struggle; we still experience pain and suffering, doubt and fear, violence and death. What is promised is that God is with us, that Jesus is for us and that through the Holy Spirit we are renewed and strengthened daily. As a Church we also promise, in Holy Baptism, to walk with each other in times of joy and in times of sadness, to pray for each other and help all in need.
The Church has not always kept those promises, either knowingly or unknowingly, through words spoken in worship or in passing. We have at times forgotten those struggling the most by glossing over the distressing parts of life. We have at times rejected those who struggle by creating spaces where people don’t feel comfortable sharing their deepest disappointments and worries for fear of shame and shallow platitudes; “Well you must have sinned for God to punish you in this way.” “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.” “Just have more faith.”
Around this time each year I become acutely aware that Mother’s Day is coming. Over the past couple of years my husband and I have struggled to get pregnant. It has been gut-wrenching. With each failed attempt, the pain and disappointment lingers, the fears creep in and questions arise about God’s plan in our lives. It is a slow and silent form of grief as many around us do not wish to dwell on the negatives. Few people check on us regularly to see how we are doing or to pray for us. For those who are unaware of our efforts, the assumption that we should already have children and the then inevitable questions about why we don’t add salt to the wound. Much of this is perpetuated by the Church, where the traditional family is held as the highest form of righteousness and Mother’s Day can be one of the most difficult days to bear.
At times I wish I could be like many women and people who don’t attend Church on this day in order to avoid unnecessary pain and anguish. But I have been called by God and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to the office of Pastor. So on Mother’s Day this year, as with every year, we will join in worship to praise God and to celebrate and honor all mothering figures in our lives and faith. We will also pray for those who struggle in a myriad of ways on this day and for the Church to reflect Christ more clearly to those who suffer. Thankfully we have a God who forgives us in our wrongdoings, who shows us love in motherly ways and who promises to be with us through every danger, toil and snare (Amazing Grace). Praise be to God!
Let us pray; Thank you Lord for the gift of mothers. For those who carried us in their wombs, who gave birth to us and who brought us into life. We lament with those who are separated from their mothers through conflict, distance, illness or death. Help us seek to forgive and be forgiven. We celebrate and give thanks for those who mother to us; for aunts, sisters, grandmothers, friends, mentors, teachers, foster and adoptive parents. Thank you for those who nurture, teach, encourage and love us. We lament with those who have been abandoned, neglected or harmed by those who were supposed to provide protection and love. We celebrate and pray for those who are pregnant, those who have just given birth and those who have received children into their homes. We lament with those who suffer with infertility or who have lost children to miscarriage or death. Be with those whose mothers have died. Comfort them in their grief. Lord, help us and Christians around the world to show your love in word and deed to all we meet. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Karen Ward is the pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in McAlisterville.