anna-shrine-to-mothers-dayI confess that one of the things that has always eluded me is how Mother’s Day has become one of the high holy days in the life of the American church.

Don’t get me wrong . . . I like mothers as much as the next guy. For sure, this year’s Mother’s Day was a struggle in that it was the first time without my mom here on the earth, and walking through the card aisle at the local Rite Aid and realizing that I had no mom to send a card to made my heart sad. But my issue with the holiday lifting up mothers has little to do with my own emotions, and a lot to do with how easily this holiday can be one in which others can be hurt.

You see, what failed to get mentioned in church this past Sunday is how hurtful the entire topic of motherhood can be for some. In our desire to honor those have nurtured us, far too often we neglect the feelings of those whose image of mother is less than whole  . . . those who suffered both physical and mental abuse at the lack of touch and empathy from their moms. Still others want to be mothers, but for some reason the universe has conspired against them and in spite of every effort they are unable to bear children. And there are those who clearly know in their hearts that they have neither the gifts or call to be mothers, but are made to feel guilty be a church that far too often glorifies family and marriage over vocation, faithfulness, and singleness.

Of course, Mother’s Day is exalted because it’s a societal cash cow. The greeting card and gift industry have built this into something major in pursuit of a buck. They’ve manipulated our emotions, knowing that many of us carry around guilt over the way we’ve neglected our parents, and encouraging us to attempt to assuage that guilt through flowers, cards, and restaurant visits. In the church, we’ve come to build up Mother’s Day because very frankly it’s often good for worship attendance when the kids who’ve been away come back to try to make mom happy and go to church with her. I’ve been guilty myself of a campaign encouraging folks to “make mom happy and go to church.”

The problem, of course, is the disconnect between the holiday and those for whom the holiday is a struggle — and we in the church far too often only contribute to the problem. It’s that struggle that I faced this past Sunday in our own celebration of Mother’s Day.

What I tried to do — probably not successfully I should add — was attempt to help folks see that “mother” can be as much a role as a family birth identity. The fact is that I had a pretty good mom who did everything she could to care for me. At the same time, because of her own family history there were simply emotional needs she couldn’t meet — and so along the way I’ve had several surrogate “mothers” along the way. The persons may have been related or simply friends, but they provided guidance and nurture that helped me to grow to who I am today.

I would dare say that there are women (and maybe even some men) in our lives who fulfill the mothering role for us. Our birth mother’s may have been “Mommy Dearest” evil, but these persons came into our lives and picked up the slack, helping us in the journey to be more fully who God wants us to be. Some of these women have children of their own. Others have never had children, but in their love and support of others have fully embraced the identity of “mother.” Maybe we could be better served by focusing less on celebrating those who carried us in the womb for 9 months and focus instead on those who nurtured and raised us throughout our lives. Sometimes that may be the same person. Other times it’s not . . .  and we need to recognize those who lead us to fruitfulness.

The United Methodist Church attempted to deal with this by creating an alternative holiday in place of Mother’s Day — The Festival of the Christian Home. It’s a great ideal, but doesn’t face the cultural reality that Mother’s Day is now a societal norm which isn’t going away anytime soon. Maybe we’d be better served by simply acknowledging that the categories we’ve created for identifying others in our lives — mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters — are a lot less rigid and dependent on blood relations than we would make them out to be. Maybe we need to know that these roles are bigger than blood

463192683I think most of the world has seen my Facebook post from yesterday in which I announced that I am being appointed to serve as the Sr. Pastor of the City Road Chapel United Methodist Church in Madison, TN. In that statement, I acknowledged that I had thought at the beginning of the week that I was going to serve in another position at the conference office, but that the Holy Spirit had other plans in mind. It was a position in which many thought I would be effective (especially since I am currently serving as the interim) and so many have assumed that the appointment is somehow a step backwards from my personal desires and my career trajectory.

But here’s the deal. I am a United Methodist elder. Some 15 years ago I stood before a bishop and annual conference and vowed that I will go where I am sent. I decided at that time that my career future would be discerned by a group of people who were charged with matching my gifts with the needs of the annual conference. Yes, I have gifts which would have been helpful in the conference office setting, but as the cabinet met last week and worked and discerning God’s will for a congregation, my name appeared and after much prayer and deliberation they determined that they me needed more as a pastor than as a communicator . . . and I’m okay with that.

Someone suggested today that the appointment to another pastoral setting was not what I wanted, and several have expressed support thinking that I’m somehow disappointed in the decision. I understand why they feel that way, for the past year has been a tough one personally and professionally, and there was a part of me that was looking forward to the break from pastoral ministry.

But that’s not completely accurate, for while the appointment to City Road was not what I expected, I am excited that the Holy Spirit seems to have something else in mind for me. Serving in the conference office position would have been easy in many ways for I feel competent in the tasks of that job, but God rarely calls us to the easy road. Growth rarely comes through comfort, and my plan was they comfortable one. Was I surprised that God has something else in mind? For sure. But as I talked about a new possibility with our bishop and members of the cabinet I began to see that there indeed might be a purpose behind God’s plan, and that God usually has much more in store for me than I can imagine on my own.

You see, I believe in our system of discerning God’s will for leadership. I have seen again and again times when I wondered what the cabinet was thinking, only to find myself blown away by the grace of God in what I thought was going to be a difficult place. God works through the appointive system — sometimes in spite of us — and God invites us to see with new eyes great possibilities.

Yes, I had it all worked out in my mind . . . but God had other plans, and I’m pumped about moving to a new place, bringing my gifts to share, learning to work with a new staff and a bunch of laity who seem to have a heart for mission. Yes, there will be challenges. Yes, I don’t get to take break from preaching on Sundays. But I trust our bishop and cabinet, and believe that they were faithful in seeking after God’s desires; and I believe in the One who called me to this ministry thing in the first place, trusting that there are exciting times ahead.