Most Sunday mornings, I take a few prayerful moments before worship. I stand at the window, and I watch people come.
They come with hope and thanksgiving. They come with expectation, and hella heavy baggage. They come with joy and they come bearing gifts. Often, they come with heartbreak. And while I don’t always know what that is for each person, I often do. I spot the one with the recent diagnosis; the newly or nearly divorced; the struggling to make ends meet; the care-worn who just moved in with an aging parent; the one who is doubting the very existence of God, but still shows up to be the Church, and to be with their people… I watch them approach, and I pray for them. I pray for the wisdom of my words. I take all this in, and sometimes by the time I get to the sanctuary, my heart is so full I can hardly breathe.
On Mother’s day, my parking lot watch will show me happy, brightly-dressed families who have brunchy plans after church. I am joyful with these families. I am grateful for these families.
But here’s who else I see. I see the woman who had a miscarriage. The man whose mother just died. The one whose mother was abusive, or absent. I see the couple who has spent tens of thousands of dollars at the fertility clinic, without hopeful results. The ones who wait, and wait, and wait for the gift of adoption. The ones who have chosen other life-giving paths over parenthood, but feel ever-so slightly judged when it is time to “celebrate mothers.”
I remember from childhood, those days of pinning a pink carnation on all the moms, and having them stand in worship for a round of applause. I know many churches still do something like this. The Baptists down the street will put an out-of-context verse about women—usually from Proverbs—on their changeable letter sign. The lectionary blogs share special litanies of motherhood. But I suspect that the joy these practices bring to a few, are far outweighed by the pain they bring to many.
I also wonder if the whole Mother’s Day thing has run its course.
Because what I also remember from my childhood church days is that, once a year, we had “Women’s Sunday.” Not related to Mother’s Day, this was a day when women served communion, preached, led music, and said the prayers.
Otherwise known as “Every Other Sunday” in most of our places, these days.
Days designated to specifically celebrate and venerate women are…complicated. Not just for the motherless child, or the childless woman… but I’m talking deep-seated, societal implications about what being a woman means. What women should look like. How they should act and dress, and what roles may be appropriate for them. The Ladies Lead Worship thing—even though my church had women deacons and, for awhile, a female associate pastor—subtly said that women leading worship is a special occasion. And aren’t we all good sports for hearing what they have to say today?
Much of the cultural stuff around Mother’s Day feels like that to me. The department stores are full of brightly colored, floral sheath dresses, and big banners that say “Mother’s Day is May 10!” Meanwhile, T.V. commercials show men with perfect teeth giving jewelry to tearful women. And those Baptists down the street… their sign reminds me about the merits of a virtuous woman. I can’t exactly tell you what those merits are, but I know I should have them to go with my new Pandora bracelet. And my pink dress.
Because I need to look like an Easter egg to receive my breakfast in bed and pink carnation? No, it’s more that I should want to look “pretty” and feminine to receive the honor that I’ve got coming to me.
Call me crazy. Say I’m overly sensitive to cultural norms that are mostly harmless; I’m ruining a perfectly lovely day by wanting political correctness; I’m just angry that I’m not a man. (Am I close? Just trying to save some of you the trouble in the comments section…) But at least a few of you will appreciate being validated in your hunch: that something about this day reeks of placating the little woman so she won’t mind the other 364 days when she does the drudge work/keeps her silence/doesn’t get the raise…
I didn’t mean to go off the rails here, but questions around “ideal womanhood” are closely related to how we approach motherhood in church. If we aren’t careful, we can easily fall into what Hallmark—or Macy’s, or the fundamentalists down the street—say a woman ‘should’ be (and what she should look like) and miss the gospel wholeness inherent in all God’s people.
All that said—celebrate your own mama however you want. Receive gifts from your children joyfully, of course. Especially if they are of the hand-made variety.
Meanwhile, I—and the church I serve—will be over here supporting all the women, on every ordinary day. The CEO, and the single mom working two jobs. The happily married, and the intentionally single. The couple whose marriage is recognized by the state, and the ones who still fight for that right. The “virtuous,” and the exhibiting-just-regular-levels of virtue (whateverTF those are). The one who rocks that Target Lily P dress like it’s her job, and the one who would not be caught dead in pastel.
And the ones—all the ones—who taught us about Jesus, using only popsicle sticks and a felt board. Those women are love incarnate, and they are mothers to us all.
Coming up the sidewalk there, I will spot the woman who is expecting and hasn’t told anybody yet. And the young couple who wonders if it is all worthwhile, or if the strain of parenthood might tear them apart. I will see the mother whose child is breaking her heart today. And the man whose mother needs round the clock care, and doesn’t always remember his name.
I hold these things in my heart, alongside each other. Whatever happens in worship has to be for all of them. Because they are all the body of Christ, together, and nobody gets to tell us what that looks like.
You can put THAT in a Hallmark card.
Or on the Baptists’ roving letter sign. #proverbs31yall