Mother’s Day is not a liturgical holiday in my tradition, but many congregations tend to treat it like one. After all, it falls on a Sunday.
There are two ways to look at connecting Mother’s Day and church. We’ll start with the positive spin. These churches hand out flowers and the Children’s Choir sings about how much they love Mom. Everyone enjoys a special buoyancy. These churches are in touch with the fact that some mothers want nothing more than to feel cherished by their church on their special day.
But there’s also a negative side. Plenty of women are leery of church on Mother’s Day. Their hearts are not lifted by the sight of pink carnations. These women might be:
- People whose mothers have died in the year past.
- People who are estranged from their mothers.
- Women who have always wanted to be a mother, but are not.
- Women who don’t want to be a mother, but are.
- Women who had an abortion and have complicated feelings about that part of their past.
- Birth mothers who have given a child up for adoption.
- Adoptive mothers who are struggling with their role as mothers.
- People who were adopted and have never met their birth mothers. (The list could go on)
As a daughter/mother/pastor, I urge church leaders to be sensitive about how fraught this day can be. Mothers Day and church is a combination that takes all our cultural myths (about the role of women and mothers — and what makes them worthy of esteem and love and respect) and shovels it into a powerful package that can land with all the finesse of dynamite!
Our culture loves to sentimentalize motherhood — drenching it in pink and sprinkling it with candy and flowers. Use the soft focus lens and some sentimental music. But the reality is that most women still don’t have decent maternity benefits (not to mention a paycheck similar to their male counterparts). Besides that, our legislators always seem eager to pass laws about female reproductive organs, including resistance to insuring the very thing that ensures the continuation of the species — prenatal and maternity care! Many women/mothers still face impossible situations that men/fathers do not. Can we at least just admit that’s true?
To put it plainly — Mothers Day shines a spotlight on how schizoid our culture is about the role of women. When you combine that crazy-town with the Bible and God and “church family,” well, watch out for unintended messages that are less than loving!
Is it possible, on this Mothers Day, to celebrate all that is good and lovely about family life — and at the same time to exercise kindness and compassion in our celebrations? Can we be gentle with each other? We don’t know everything about each other’s stories. Share joy, but allow room for grief and sadness.
Better yet, let’s all just stick to the scripture text for the day, and script a careful, pastoral prayer that encompasses a whole range of experience.