How the Church can Prepare for Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is over. I had a Dairy Queen dip cone, and it was delicious. (Also lots of hugs and Mexican food for lunch, which is one of my favorites.) And I called my mom.
And now I’m hugging a soft unicorn and wondering if what I want to say is okay.
Over the course of the week, on social media, (which I know, that’s part of the problem), I feel like I’ve seen as many “Mother’s Day is sad/hard” posts as I’ve seen “Happy Mother’s Day” or “moms are awesome” posts. I love and am terrified of being a mom. It’s so great, but there’s so many ways to screw it up. And I find myself wanting to be, like my Twitter handle says, “everybody’s mom.” “Make good choices. Are you okay? Do you need a hug? Yes, you should go to church this Sunday. Can I make you a sandwich?”
I don’t know what your church does on Sunday for Mother’s Day, or if they do anything. Apparently some churches do some pretty crazy stuff, like focus the whole service on mothers and hand stuff out. Our church the past two years has had our prayer time focus on mothers, and then I got a present when I took my kids to the nursery. Last year Roy prayed for every possible iteration of motherhood. This year, he read the prayer/poem “The Wide Spectrum of Motherhood” and then prayed (a shorter prayer than last year) for mothers in every situation. It was great, and made people cry.
I read that the lady who founded Mother’s Day eventually disowned it because it got so out of hand, and not what she intended. This year, that’s what I felt. Everything was complicated. I am not great with feelings anyway and the barrage of messages seemed to say you shouldn’t feel happy because everyone else is sad. I know that’s not true — no one wanted me to have a crappy Mother’s Day. And it turned out I had a great one without my family saying yes to every single email trying to “give mom the best.” I know my zero-sum thinking is an issue in itself, but I also think — given how many of those posts weren’t just Mother’s Day but church+Mother’s Day related — that we have so much work to do in the church when it comes to loving women.
I know the church has a problem where we’ve confused motherhood with womanhood, and we’ve idolized the nuclear family over all the other ways that kids live with caretakers or are loved by adults and we don’t like to talk about hard stuff that happens to folks in the pews — things like infertility, miscarriage, abortion, child abuse, estrangement.
I would like to humbly suggest that we get our act together when it comes to loving the women in our pews so that I can enjoy Mother’s Day without feeling guilty. I know, it’s not about me, and maybe this wouldn’t work and we just need to have a complicated Mother’s Day. But if it doesn’t hurt too much, hear me out here. And if you’re a pastor or in church leadership, will you answer these questions?
Does your church recognize women who are gifted in non-maternal ways throughout the year? Are you clear, throughout the year, from the pulpit, in your small groups, in your bible studies, that all women matter and have value as beloved children of God, not as carriers for babies? Do you recognize your artists, the lawyers, the social workers, the teachers, the businesswomen, the real life Proverbs 31 women — Realtors, alongside the stay-at-home moms? If the only time you talk about women as special is during Mother’s Day, or the only programming you have for your women is about parenting, no wonder everyone who is not a mom hates your church that Sunday. Especially if you make all the moms stand up. I don’t know how to tell you to do it (besides not having Bible studies when only stay-at-home moms can attend), but I suspect we all know it when we see it.
We’re at a Presbyterian church, so this means we baptize our babies. When we baptize babies, the parents take vows to nurture their babies in the fear and admonition of the Lord (which isn’t really that scary, I promise). Additionally, the congregation is asked the question: “Do you as a congregation undertake the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of this child?” From the beginning of a child’s life in our churches, we acknowledge that parents don’t do this alone. But in practice, we often act like only mothers do — and should do — the bulk of the parenting. That’s a huge burden to put on any one person’s shoulders. Special shoutout to single moms here. This year and last year, though I didn’t make cards, I send text messages to my children’s teachers, thanking them for the work they do in my kids’ lives, because if I were to try to do all the things they did for each kid, I would explode. Does your church cultivate a culture of sharing the childrearing burden? Do you recognize the faithful nursery workers and Sunday school teachers already? The childless or empty nester women who are willing to get smudged and spit up on so young moms can sit through a whole sermon? Do you acknowledge and recognize all the other-mothering that goes on in your church every week? Or do you accept it as a consequence of their gender and move on? My children have been loved well by so many different women while I’ve struggled to get through those sleepless nights and crumby floors days. Does your church have a culture that honors and cherishes the women who take their vows seriously, even when those vows may rub against great personal pain? Or do you forget them and only honor the ladies with used uteruses or adoption fees…one day a year?
[Sidenote: also men should be doing this too, of course, but that’s not the point.]
Speaking of pain, as much as we preach against the prosperity gospel at that brown people’s church down the street, it’s in our own hearts and churches too. We are Job’s friends, and we’ve made the church an unsafe place to talk about all the hard stuff. So often the message when it comes to brokenness is that it’s because you screwed up somewhere, or that if you would just do this one right thing, your deepest desires will be answered. “Stop trying and that baby will come.” Are you growing a congregation who can love people and listen to their deep wounds without offering ways to fix it immediately or blaming them? Is your church a place where the background narrative is “if you do all these things in the right order, everything will be okay?” Is your congregation wrapped in Jesus’s love so deeply they are a safe place for people/women in all those sad Psalm situations? Is your church a place where a couple struggling with infertility feels safe enough to have shared with folks who will give them an extra hug in the foyer? Do you know how many folks in your congregation are estranged from their moms and need hugs from nurturing church-moms? I’m sorry, my inner mom-ness is coming through — I just want to give everyone hugs. But seriously, is your church a place where people’s deep hurts are known [at least by some] and their being poked at is anticipated? Do you care for your people?
There’s things to be said about fetishizing motherhood and making the moms who are barely hanging on feel more alone, or making working moms feel like they are bad for not spending every waking moment with their children, and let’s not forget about churches with terrible maternity leave policies…but I’m gonna skip that and take a moment, and say it’s okay to be sad. Feeling your feelings is okay, and while the whole point of this piece is for the church to stop putting salt in folks’ wounds, if you have wounds or scars around motherhood, it will hurt, and Jesus is big enough for that pain. I’m not great at feeling my feelings but every time I do, the burden lightens just a bit. So please, I hope your church is not making it worse, but when it hurts, that is not outside the Christian or human experience — actually it’s pretty much right in the middle. I’m not saying go to church on Mother’s Day the day after you have a miscarriage, but I am saying that maybe our expectations for a pain-free life are making everything worse. Life in this broken world hurts, no matter what, and nobody wants to Instagram the verses about Hannah crying so hard Samuel thought she was drunk, but stories of pain (with and without happy endings *cough Psalm 88 cough*) are in the scriptures, and we need to read them. But my hope is we can all huddle together in our pain under Jesus’s wing, strong in our identity as beloved children of God, known and loved by our covenant communities, while we honor the ladies who bore us or raised us or loved us anyway.
Note: I didn’t talk about adoption and foster moms (the birth moms and the life moms) or incarcerated moms (bail out the mamas y’all), or the big sisters who have to act like moms, or any of the other ways motherhood affects people but please put them in where they fit — your situation matters!