Mother’s Day, a day when we are called to honor our moms. Moms should be celebrated; I love my mom and I can’t thank her enough for all she has done for me. Although Mother’s Day does not appear on the church calendar, when Mother’s Day rolls around, it is a day that occupies people’s minds; it is a day that will certainly be spent honoring mothers and thanking God for mothers; it is a part of our culture, and it would leave a big gaping hole in our service today if I didn’t bother to mention it, but I have to admit, sometimes Mother’s Day causes me anxiety, and I know that I am not the only one who feels that way.
Celebrating traditional motherhood is definitely not what the founders had in mind. One of the first founders of Mother’s Day was Ann Reeves Jarvis, who in 1858 gathered together women of the Appalachian mountains into what she called mother’s day work clubs. These clubs were for the purpose of eliminating poverty. When the Civil War came about, these work clubs created medical camps that were places of nonviolence for wounded men from both sides of the war. And after the war was over, Ann Jarvis organized the Mother’s Day Friendship Day, to bring together the leaders from the north and the south for a time of reconciliation. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe wrote the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” which was a call for mothers to unite in promoting world peace. After Ann Reeves Jarvis died in 1905, her daughter Anna petitioned President Wilson for a national Mother’s Day. In 1914, President Wilson signed a proclamation creating Mother’s Day, but it was with the intent of emphasizing a woman’s role in the family rather than as peace activists. Anna Jarvis spoke out about it at a Mother’s Day celebration where she was arrested, and by the 1920s Mother’s Day had become so commercialized that Anna Jarvis became ill and spent the rest of her life in a sanitarium.
So almost from the get go Mother’s Day has contained its fair share of grief. Add to that the pain experienced by people who for all sorts of legitimate reasons would just as soon skip Mother’s Day altogether, and we can see that we really need to be holistic in the way that we celebrate it. It is right and it is honest that we hold in tension the wonder of motherhood with the challenges and the grief.
Mother’s Day is the day we commemorate the lives of those anointed with a special and mysterious gift called “mothering.” Mothering is not a biological thing, but a divine gift that is best described as a nurturing, caring, and loving spirit. There are women who have given birth, but have never been “mothers” in the full sense of the word. Likewise, there are women who have never borne children that have been mothers to countless individuals.
Mothering has no color, age, ethnic origin, or geographic preference, and I would argue no gender. It is a gift that is rarely convenient for the bearer, but for the recipient it is absolutely necessary. The shoulders of a mother carries the burden of the nature and nurture of the world, and much like the gift of the sun, it is the mother that warms, sustains, and gives life.
But Mothering is not perfection, and Mother’s Day is not a celebration of the perfect Hallmark mom. I don’t know about you guys, but raising my kids was messy business, and I made a whole lot of mistakes along the way. My children are in their 30’s now with children of their own, and sometimes I marvel at what wonderful human beings they turned out to be. I believe there is only one explanation for that; it is the same explanation that allows me to sleep at night while my kids live their lives independently, and that is the mother love of God.
Did everyone here read the newsletter this month? Did you read my message, the one where I said “Long before God became a man, God was a woman?” It’s absolutely true, and not only that, God was a pregnant woman! The earliest religious relics dug up from our past portray a pregnant female figure who was worshiped for her powers of fertility. In Paleolithic and Neolithic times this figure represented life to the hunter-gatherers who depended on the whims of nature for their food supply. Later on people learned how to farm and they had more control over the food supply, but a lot still depended on the cooperation of nature so they would bury little images of pregnant females to prove their own cooperation. It wasn’t until the Nomadic herding societies came along that anyone even dreamed that there might be only one God, or that God might be a man. These cultures lacked the female gardening role and were hostile to the agricultural people and their religions.
It was these same nomadic cultures though that eventually became “God’s chosen people,” and while they were very patriarchal and believed God to be a father figure, the Bible is actually full of hints indicating that God is just as much “Mother” as “Father.” For instance, in Isaiah and Numbers, God is portrayed as a nursing mother and as one who gives birth; In the Psalms God is seen as a midwife. I find this highly interesting because what it tells us is that we don’t get to decide God’s gender. God is Creator and Sustainer. God is Protector and Defender. God is Mother and Father. Our words and metaphors are incomplete and can never do justice to describing the majesty of who God is.
Jesus assumed a mothering role too. He overrode his disciples’ objections and invited children to come to him. In fact, his whole ministry was addressed to those who, like children, were not valued because society scorned smallness, weakness, poverty, helplessness, and vulnerability. Jesus invited those who were filled with shame because they were not fulfilling the roles society expected of them – those who did not measure up – those who were outcasts, lepers, the woman with the hemorrhage, the woman at the well who had been married several times, the woman caught in adultery. And today Jesus issues an invitation to you and me just as surely as to those children hundreds of years ago.
God is not just a man; mothering is not necessarily a role performed only by women, and Mother’s Day means so much more than just a box of chocolates and a Hallmark. Mothering is a life-affirming, nurturing and loving action that is not limited to giving birth. The Good Samaritan “mothered” the traveler back to health. Jesus was the “mother hen” that wanted to gather his chicks together and protect them. We are all “mothers” and “fathers” on this journey called life because we are all created in the image of our mother/father God. Mother’s Day is an affirmation of life, and a celebration of a God that cannot be limited to an either/or paradigm.
And so today I would like to recognize each and every one of us with something written by Amy Young in an “Open Letter to Pastors”:
To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you.
To those who lost a child this year (or any year) – we mourn with you.
To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you.
To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you.
To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you.
To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you.
To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you.
To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you.
To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience.
To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst.
To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be.
To those who stepparent – we walk with you on these complex paths.
To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you.
To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you.
To those who placed children up for adoption — we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart.
And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you.
This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.