For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. – Psalm 139:13-14 (NRSV)
Eldest was born in early May (as was Youngest), which means I didn’t need to wait long after becoming a mother to celebrate my first Mother’s Day. I enjoyed that Mother’s Day and all the ones since. Motherhood is an essential part of who I am. It also informs my faith and my identity as a pastor.
However, you will not hear me talk about Mother’s Day in worship.
One reason is a response to patriarchy and the still common belief that womanhood is defined by motherhood (and that motherhood only follows after marriage). When we hold this up as the biblical (and therefore only) model, it excludes women who do not marry and/or do not have children. It ignores the reality of non-binary gender and sexual identity, the choice not to marry (whether truly “chosen” or not), and infertility. By ignoring these realities, we ignore the humanity and unique image of God in each person, the pain of women and men who desperately want children but cannot – or make the legitimate choice not to.
The other reason is that our human relationships are complicated and often painful. For the person who has a beautiful relationship with their mother, there is someone who sits next to them for whom the relationship was hurtful and damaging. Next to the person whose children visit regularly and maintain a close relationship, there is another who hasn’t spoken to their child in years and they desperately miss them.
There are children who have been lost through death, abortion, and adoption, and these parents struggle how to respond when someone asks them if they have children. There is grief because this is the first Mother’s Day since their mother has died; and grief because this is the first Mother’s Day since their mother has died and they are the healthier for it. There are those who serve as parents to countless children in the ways the matter, even though they are never called Mom or Dad.
The complexities are too many to name.
On any Sunday it is impossible to meet each person in the congregation exactly where they are spiritually and emotionally. However, I do my best to consider my congregation individually and as a whole as I prepare for worship. I pray that the Holy Spirit actively intercedes between my lips and their hearts.
When I believe that God gives me something to say, even though I know it will be challenging for some to hear, I try to be faithful to that. But even this is bounded by love and my hope that no one feels shamed or hurt by my words. Therefore, until I feel that God clearly giving me something to say about Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, I choose to not focus on them in worship.
For those of you for whom these days are celebrations, I celebrate with you. And for those for whom these days are difficult, I struggle with you. Regardless, may each of us know the unfailing love of God who holds us in the midst of all of it. Amen.
You can read A Mother’s Day prayer for everyone here.