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Every year Mother’s Day rolls around. And every year I see a barrage of comments on social media or blogs about how hard Mother’s Day is for many people. And every year there’s someone who’s calling for the whole thing to be abolished.
I do wonder whether Mother’s Day – like many festivals, special days and life events – has become harder since the advent of social media. Prior to the late 2000s, one could easily avoid card shops in February/March, distract themselves with other pursuits, and then burrow themselves away on the day itself. Nowadays, we’re faced with post after post about people’s brilliant Mums, brilliant kids, heartfelt messages or extravagant gifts.
It’s hard for many people. Not just those whose desire to have children hasn’t been fulfilled, but those whose own mother was absent, neglectful or abusive, those who have lost their mum, those whose mum no longer recognises them, those who have lost a child, Dads who have lost their partner and Mum of their children, and countless other situations.
For others, it’s not necessarily a hard day, but it’s complicated. I can (and will) praise God for giving me each of my four children, but knowing that two of them have a biological mum who they will never meet adds a different dimension to the day.
And this begs the question: should we stop doing something because it’s hard?
This is the world’s way, certainly, and this is the individualistic mindset. It’s a hard place for me to go, so I just won’t make the journey.
But, as Christians, we’re no longer just individuals. We are part of a wide and diverse community. We are called to share in each other’s joys (2 Corinthians 1:7), which means celebrating when one of our sisters is blessed with the gift of children, or another sister is celebrating her close relationship with her own mum, even if we’re not in that situation ourselves.
And here lies another question: does celebration have to be about forced smiles and pretend joy?
Again, this is the world’s way. The world, for all its glitzy appeal, has only very limited possibilities for celebration. It’s really all about looking like you’re having a good time. But, again, as Christians we know a different way.
The Bible speaks of joy and suffering alongside each other (Romans 8:17). Celebrating with a friend who has a big, noisy family, when we’ve suffered a series of failed IVF attempts, is not about being happy all the time. Yes, we share in their joy, but we also share in their suffering: their tiredness, their guilt at not being the Mum they want to be, their sense of helplessness at not knowing how to respond to a child’s behaviour. And they share in our suffering and joy too. We are permitted to cry and be honest with them.
I love the Jewish culture of celebration: it is loud, vibrant and authentic. And I love what they say to those who are suffering: apparently, when someone has suffered a bereavement, they are excused from dancing at celebrations for one year following the event. Note that there is still an expectation to show up at parties. It is acknowledged that a grieving person may not feel like dancing, but that it is still good for them to be in that place of celebration, to be reminded of (and uplifted by) the joys of others.
Mother’s Day is not about boasting of all the cards and presents we’ve received. It’s not about gloating over social media. But neither is it about avoidance. Celebration in its truest sense will involve having conversations with those who are different to us. We need to hear their stories, and they need to hear ours.
Furthermore, Mother’s Day should be a day for celebrating ‘mothering’ in the broadest sense of what it means in a Christian community. And we can all do that. Who has spiritually mothered you? They might be a ‘mother’ figure, or they might be physically younger than you, but Mother’s Day can and should be an opportunity to thank them for the impact they’ve had on your life.
I have two godmothers, neither of whom have children. It saddens me that I have never thought to honour them on Mother’s Day, because both of them have had a positive spiritual impact on my life, and still keep in touch with me well into my 30s. Maybe this is a tradition I can start next year.
One of my friends hasn’t had her own children, but has had a large involvement in the lives of her nieces, and each Mother’s Day they give her special ‘Aunt’ cards and presents, to acknowledge her mothering influence in their lives.
Rather than succumb to the secular urge of Mother’s Day, which is to highlight our nuclear families over any other way of living, we should use this day to do what we Christians need to do daily: thank God for what He has given us (1 Thessalonians 5:18), honestly share our feelings with Him (as modelled all over the Bible, a good example being Job 3), acknowledge our sin in failing to trust him with our parenting, or looking to children to bring fulfilment (John 4:13-14), and being assured of His forgiveness and grace (Psalm 32:1-2), knowing that He longs to draw us closer and change us more towards Christ’s likeness.
So, this Mother’s Day, celebrate. Celebrate with laughter and smiles, with tears and grumpy moments, with elation and confusion, happy thoughts and sadder ones. Embrace the fullness of our God, who has created us capable of experiencing the full gamut of emotions – and take them all to Him.
I’ve always loved this sensitive liturgy suggestion for Mother’s Day – take a read!