I 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