The Pain and Shame of Mother’s Day

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In many churches Mother’s Day is one of the busiest, most well-attended and celebratory days in the church calendar. I was baptized on Mother’s Day in 1998. In my church growing up it was the day for youth baptisms. In the church I serve in we’re going to be celebrating baby dedication this Mother’s Day. Each church comes with its Mother’s Day traditions. But Pastor, as you’re ordering carnations and writing a great sermon about the high calling of motherhood, allow me to call your attention to those for whom Mother’s Day is the hardest day of the year.

Yes, we are instructed to honour our father and mother. This is wise and good and honouring to God. Please, do honour your mother. I’ll be sure to honour my mother. I’m very grateful to her for the innumerable sacrifices she made for us along the way. I literally owe her my life. I also want to honour my wife, who is a phenomenal mother to our three children.

However, I also know many women who simply don’t attend church on Mother’s Day because it hurts too much. There is too much shame and embarrassment in the way churches handle Mother’s Day. In your church and mine there are many, many women who struggle with infertility. There are women waiting and waiting and waiting to adopt. And still they wait and wait, wishing, longing, hoping, wondering and still waiting. There are single women who wish they could marry and have children, but this has not been granted to them right now. There are single women who know they will never have children. There are women who knew the feeling of a child within their womb and while waiting with expectation suddenly lost that precious gift to miscarriage. They carry a silent grief to Mother’s Day. There are single moms with young children tackling parenting on their own, with no husband to help the kids make a card or breakfast. There are men and women and even children whose mothers passed away in the last year. These aren’t hypothetical people. These are real people in your church and mine. For them Mother’s Day is a day of longing and loneliness.

Churches on Mother’s Day

Out of a desire to honour our moms, churches have usually devoted a whole Sunday to celebrating motherhood. Again, I think the intention is good. Honouring your mom is biblical. I have a very high view of mothers and motherhood. But many of our church traditions honour moms in such a way that we actually shame others. We don’t meant to do this, but unfortunately we do.

We often invite all the mothers to stand so we can applaud them and pray for them. Meanwhile, scattered throughout the pews are the women mentioned above, wishing they could stand, but having to sit in shame, feeling the stares of dozens as they sit while all their peers stand. Many churches hand out flowers to all the moms as a way of honouring them. That’s great, but what do you do to the adult women who aren’t mothers? Do you refuse them a flower so they stand out? Or do you give them a pity flower? I’ve had women share with me the embarrassment and discomfort they feel being handed a pity flower.

Well-meaning pastors preach sermons praising and extolling the virtues of mothers. They gush for 40 minutes about how amazing all the mothers are. Their intentions are good. They want to honour mothers. But the women who aren’t mothers are hearing a different message: you aren’t good enough. You aren’t a real woman. You’re second class. Is that the message they need to hear on this day? In our well-meaning attempts to honour the moms, are we heaping shame on the hurting women of our churches and driving them away? Shouldn’t a church be about comforting the hurting and not shaming them?

Make Mother’s Day About Jesus

On Mother’s Day make your worship gathering all about Jesus. Honour moms. Pray for moms. But make sure you offer them Jesus. Jesus can heal the wounds of mothers in mourning. Jesus can give patience and grace to those waiting for children. Jesus gives peace and strength to those who are alone. Jesus gives forgiveness, grace, joy and hope to all women. Offer them Jesus.

Instead of guilting the moms for not being better and shaming the non-moms, tell them that their identity is not in being a mother or non-mother, but in being a daughter of God most High. Tell them to find their identity not in having lots of children or perfect children or no children but in themselves being adopted  by God into his family of grace. On Mother’s Day remind them of the gospel of grace for moms and non-moms alike.

In our church I don’t preach a message all about moms. I stick with our sermon series and preach about Jesus. I usually take flack for that from some, but receive thanks from others. I won’t make all the mothers stand, leaving the women who hurt most sitting in humiliation. I don’t like handing out flowers, but sometimes really well-intentioned kind-hearted people will bring them and start handing them out. I’ve even had some women pretty upset they didn’t get the carnation they felt they deserved.

We do however, pray for the moms on Mother’s Day. It’s a tough job and they need our prayers. We also pray for the single moms, the expecting moms, the future moms and the grandmothers. We pray for those who have lost their moms. We pray for those who are waiting to adopt, those who are struggling with infertility, and those who wish they could be a wife and mother. We pray for all those who hurt on Mother’s Day.

Some will say that I don’t do enough to honour the moms. But I’d rather leave the honouring of moms to their children than be found shaming the women who hurt most on Mother’s Day. On Mother’s Day and everyday “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps 34.18).

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This article was originally written for Grounded in the Gospel.

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