It is mother’s day. I don’t know about you but, for me, this time on this day often arrives with the frantic realisation that I have completely forgotten to make any plans to say thanks to either my own mother or the mother of my children. Is there a florist that is open at 8am on a Sunday? Are they going to have anything in stock? How do I make my way over to the flower shop while also allowing my wife to sleep in and not tipping her off that I completely forgot about this occasion?
In many ways, it is amazing that both my wife and my mum appear to like me as much as they do.
Mother’s Day is often a big deal in churches as well. I’ve been part of worshipping communities in which women with children are given corsages. And there are some churches which invite mums to stand up partway through the service to be thanked and acknowledged for all of their sacrifice and all of their service. That used to strike me as a good and welcome practice. I am of the opinion that we don’t say “thank you” often enough, and that our tendency not to say thanks is especially magnified when it comes to people who take care of others. We don’t esteem raising a child or caring for a physically or mentally challenged relative or sitting with a parent in her final years as much as we do other jobs. Indeed, sometimes we don’t think of these folks as having real jobs at all. I was absolutely startled a year or so ago when an acquaintance referred to the primary caregiver of two small children as “unemployed.”
Surely asking mums to stand up and be acknowledged is a good and joyful thing. And I might well suggest to you that we do that very thing this morning were it not for a blog post that has travelled far and wide – that, to use the kids’ language, has gone viral – over the time year since it was first posted a year ago. The blogger is a woman who simply goes by the name Amy and her blog is known as “the messy middle.” Far and away her most popular post is entitled An Open Letter to Pastors: A Non-Mom Speaks About Mother’s Day.
In her letter, Amy talks about her experience as a woman who does not have children, about what it was like when the priest or leader in her church asked all the women with children to stand. How alienating it was, how much it hurt. Amy watched as her own mother stood, as a close friend stood, as women stood all around her. Amy writers that her feeling of isolation, of being judged and found wanting was immense. As she puts it, “real women stood, empty shells sat.”
I have rarely heard so much pain named in so few words.
Amy’s challenge to pastors in her open letter is to do better. Her challenge is to you and to me. While I am an Episcopalian, this is one respect in which I am thoroughly Lutheran: I believe that all of us in this room, all of us who make this church what it is, are pastors, irrespective of whether or not we get to wear a collar and a costume on Sunday morning. Each of us is called to lead, each of us is called to shape this community of disciples. Each of us is called to live into the words that we hear from John this morning and in so many other places in scripture: to build a world in which we all know that we are completely one, in which we all know that we are entirely loved exactly the way that we are. In which no one sits, stricken, while all the real women stand.
Now, to be clear, Amy isn’t proposing that we should do away with Mother’s Day or that we ought not to acknowledge it in church. Rather, we might paraphrase her argument by saying that she is hoping that we will make this day bigger and more generous. That we will get rid of questions such as “do I stand if my child has died?” or “do I stand if I am pregnant?” That we will fight against the sense of guilt or shame that comes to those who chose not to have children or cannot have children. That we will keep this day in church in a way that is more Christ-like.
Amy has written a prayer. I’d like to leave you with it. I have changed it only slightly.
To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you
To those who have lost a child – 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 pain
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 have chosen abortion – we remember you
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 step-parent – 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. We remember you.