Please allow me to share some observations with you before your church service on Mother’s Day. Holidays are a wonderful idea. It is good to celebrate what is lovely and right in the world, and it’s especially good to thank mothers. I’m glad to be able to celebrate my own mother, grandmother, and my friends who are mothers. But I fear that sometimes the way churches celebrate on Sunday morning is less than helpful, and can sometimes be downright hurtful. You see, in Christian circles, marriage and family are the “norm.” And I’m grateful for godly families! This is good! Yet there are many women who actually don’t fit into this box of married with children. Many women are infertile, many have lost children. And a good many women are still single well past the age they thought they’d get married, and wonder if they’ll ever have a family at all.
Romans 12:15 calls believers to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” We usually see these commands as involving different and distinct events, but an interesting dynamic takes place when one and the same event can cause two different reactions. This is poignantly described in Ezra 3:11-13. The Babylonian exile has ended, and the Jews have started to rebuild the temple. The younger generation, who had not seen the first temple, was wild with excitement and joy at the foundation of the temple being laid, and they shouted aloud for joy. But the older generation, who had seen and remembered the glory of Solomon’s temple, wept with loud voices when they saw how small and lackluster the new construction was in comparison with the former glory. Same event, two different reactions. And though the context is different, the same dynamic occurs on holidays in the body of Christ. As some rejoice, others mourn as they grieve what used to be and is no more, or perhaps grieve what may never be.
So how can we both rejoice with rejoicers and weep with weepers? How can churches seek to minister to ALL of their members on Mother’s Day? A few thoughts come to mind:
- Acknowledge mothers, but be thoughtful about how you acknowledge them. It may not be the most helpful idea to have all of the mothers stand up for a round of applause. Though we don’t want to take away from the opportunity to thank and bless these women, I fear how it will hurt and further alienate my dear friends who desperately long to be mothers and have been providentially hindered from doing so. Even worse (in my opinion), is the practice of giving a rose or flower to every mother on Sunday morning. It only cultivates an obvious visual gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.”
- Maintain biblical accuracy in your sermon. I have to believe that pastors are well-meaning when they say things like “a woman’s highest calling is to be a wife and mother,” but this is completely biblically inaccurate! A woman’s highest calling is to know and obey Jesus Christ, whether married, single, mother, or childless! Please, please, do not say such things.
- Acknowledge hurting mothers and non-mothers. Honestly, little things can go a long way. Just having your pastor acknowledge that some people do not experience Mother’s Day as a day of joy can accomplish so much. It helps the non-mothers feel like they belong in the body of Christ even on Mother’s Day. It helps the mothers remember that some of their sisters in Christ may be struggling. And the acknowledgement helps strengthen the non-mothers to rejoice with those who are rejoicing (as we are all called to do, despite our own personal pain and sorrows).
Again, I think it is good and right to acknowledge mothers with gratitude. We dare not miss the opportunity to thank and encourage mothers! But if rejoicing with those who rejoice leaves no room for weeping with those who weep, then we may need to reconsider what ministry to ALL of the flock could look like. So I hope and pray that this Mother’s Day your church will minister to each woman in a manner that is worthy of the gospel, with the tenderness and compassion of Christ. After all, the physical family is temporal, but the spiritual family of God is eternal!
My dear friend lost her son to a horribly quick cancer in his senior year of high school. She is not the same anymore. The loss has changed her forever. Not just the weight of her grief, but her dependence upon Jesus for everything. Not long afterwards we were in church together and we were singing songs that were favorites of the son. I was praising God with all my heart and she came up to me weeping. I know she was weeping because the music reminded her of her loss and she could not see beyond it to worship. She leaned her head on my shoulder and I wrapped my arm around her as I raised the other in ecstatic praise. I was asking God if I should do something different (Go outside with my friend and let her talk to me?) and I got a clear answer to praise God FOR her while she was in this very low part of her walk. And so I did. Many sisters have told me that they were disturbed to see me worshipping with joy while my friend wept in my arm and on my neck. It seemed wrong, and yet each one told me that they just were not sure one way or another. My friend told me later that she questioned my behavior in her mind and that God told her that I was worshipping for her because she was unable to lift her head to him at this stage. She appreciated that. But it was, no doubt about it, weird looking. I say this because sometimes our Spirit lead care for our brethren who are hurting can go beyond what looks right or appropriate. And so, not everything that God does fits into our understanding of what consideration of another’s grief should look like.
However, I wholeheartedly agree that this schmaltzy Mother’s Day sentiment does not belong in the celebrations of the Church. I think that it is more a matter of being blind to the scriptural descriptions of worthy women and unaware of how we have brought the culture into the church. It is important to not endorse the worldly idea of “sainted motherhood”, but to recognize that so often, it was the single or barren women that God held up as examples or womanly devotion. Children, even grown, should honor their parents, but I do not think that is what Mother’s Day is about. I think it is more about selling things and making money than that. And we do our parents injustice to think one day is enough to honor those that spend the major portion of their lives serving our best interests.
The world’s holiday is not in the Bible. Ultimately it is about the haves and have-nots. That makes us buy things to feel better and keep the economy busy. But it is not the thinking GOd ever wants to encourage in the Church. That is the thinking of pride or of envy–neither of which honors God at all.