Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mother's Day: It's Not About You

My beautiful mother:
Connie (Southerland) Litwiller
1941-2013

Mother's Day can mean different things to different people depending on either their relationship to their own mother or on their status of being or not being a mother. If you had a great mom or have been a mother who enjoyed her motherhood, all is well. But, for others, if they've had a painful relationship with their mother and/or children, if they lost their mother, or if they never knew their mother, it can be a little harder to celebrate. 

For women who have been unable to bear children, however, Mother's Day can be almost unbearable. The moment when the pastor has all the mothers stand to be honored is one of the worst tortures their souls endure year after year. Some even stay home from church on Mother's Day because of this practice. I have several friends and loved ones in this category with whom I grieve. Some have suggested that it would be best if pastors not perform this ceremony, and I know churches which have also foregone the traditional mother/daughter banquet for the same reason.

Another solution I have heard is to not set aside any days for honoring anyone in particular. Though honoring mothers has been traced back to Greek culture and there was the medieval British practice of observing Mother's Sunday on the fourth Sunday in Lent, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Grandparent's Day, and all the other "Days" -- which were set up at first by well-meaning people and later by florists and greeting card companies -- are largely a modern phenomena. I have written regarding the history of Mother's Day, and I believe it was begun with the best of intentions. And, since we are told in the Word of God to give honor to whom honor is due, I don't believe there is any reason to abandon Mother's Day as long as we focus on the purpose for it.[2][3]

It is interesting to note that the woman who was most influential in establishing a national celebration of mothers was herself an unmarried woman who never had children. 

Anna May Jarvis,
founder of Mother's Day
Anna May Jarvis, a graduate of the Female Seminary in Wheeling, West Virginia, left her career as a school teacher and spent most of her single adult life caring for her ailing mother and sister. In 1907, two years after her mother's death, Miss Jarvis gathered a group of friends and announced her idea to encourage a day for people to show appreciation for their mothers, both the living and the dead. [1]
Miss Jarvis never intended to slight others of her type who were never granted the joys of motherhood. In fact, she never intended for it to be a celebration of Motherhood at all. This concept of exalting Motherhood has almost become an idolatry in the modern conservative church and perhaps has led to the kind of misguided rituals practiced around that day in our services.

I believe the only solution would be to return to the original purpose for Mother's Day: to honor our mothers, both living and dead. Rather than having all the mothers stand in the service, perhaps it would be more in keeping with the intention of the day for ministers to simply offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God for our mothers and to pray He would bless and keep those who are still with us.

In addition, just as those who honored their mothers in Miss Jarivis' day, perhaps we could reinstitute the practice on Mother's Day of wearing a red carnation if one's mother is living and a white one if she has passed on. My own mother's people used to do this with red and white roses. It was a lovely emblem of the love and honor they had for their mothers.


But, you might ask, what about those who never had a good relationship with their mother or never knew their mother at all? This is where the Body of Christ may shine the brightest. In the family of God, no one is barren and no one is abandoned. Mother's Day is a perfect time to honor those surrogate mothers who have nurtured and blessed us in the absence of or in addition to our own mothers.

Because of this, I don't believe mother/daughter banquets need to be abandoned either. In my experience, the conundrum of either not having a mother or a daughter to take to the banquet was usually only a challenge to seek out a substitute who would be blessed by being invited. I remember some people bringing aunts, school teachers, neighbors, or friends who were like a mother to them growing up. If viewed this way, mother/daughter banquets need not be a source of pain for anyone but rather a celebration of the gift of nurture by the mothering women in our lives.

I truly believe that if we could only restore Mother's Day to its rightful purpose of honoring our own mothers and those who nurtured us like mothers, it would once again be a day of joy and blessing to one and all. Furthermore, it would be a day of giving glory to God for giving us these precious women who love and care for us. May the Lord bless us with clear understanding and wise discernment in the church for how to glorify Him in honoring our mothers once again.



[1] From my blog post of May 9, 2008, A Short History of Mother's Day In America.
[2] Romans 13:7
[3] A very good article regarding the history of the establishment of Mother's Day in America may be found here: http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/mother-of-u.s.-mothers-day-was-west-virginia-methodist-ann-jarvis.