I preach and put together the worship service once a month, and last year in May, my turn came on Mother’s Day. Spurred by the news of that week regarding gay rights (North Carolina vote to ban gay marriage, President Obama public support of gay marriage and rights, and a debate over Columbian Theological Seminary’s policy that excluded committed gay couples from living in “married” on-campus student housing) I preached a sermon that shocked several, inspired many and angered a few in the congregation. Some of the latter were not phased by talk of gay rights and being loving and accepting of all “mothers, sisters and brothers” so mucha s they were upset that I chose Mother’s Day to talk about such topics. In short, it would’ve been more pleasant to preach a nice sermon about moms. I suppose there are many Christians in today’s society who expect (and largely prefer) that the sermons on Mother’s Day (and Father’s Day for that matter) be a lovely commercialized messages of inspiration for parents. But what sounds edifying to biological moms who conceived healthy children in the most normal of circumstances can be horrific to the ears of women who are unable to give birth; who have had still births or a child die in infancy; who haven’t found the person they want to settle down with and have a child; who became mothers because they were raped; who had abortions; who consciously choose to adopt; who have estranged relationships with their children; who were abused and/or abandoned by their mothers; who consciously choose to not adopt or give birth but still “mother” children by being a teacher or a pastor or missionary or a director of Christian Education in a church or volunteering to lead a Girl Scout Troop or help out at the Boys & Girls’s Club. As we observe Mother’s Day, it’s important that we consider new ways in which we can out of the occasion and find ways to honor all women as mothers for the real and tangible ways in which they create, nurture, transform and inspire the world …and be sources of comfort, love, healing and grace for any and all women who have felt pain as it relates to motherhood:
When we lost Micah and Judah, and I began to blog about my journey through grief so openly onDazedDad.com, I had so many older women come up to me at church and tell me stories of children they’d lost, miscarriages they’d had and other stories of infant loss that they’d never told anyone before. If you haven’t thought much about this before, you would probably be shocked at the high percentage of women who will be sitting in your pews this Sunday who have suffered these types of losses.
And as the years have gone by, I have gotten married, I’ve given birth to two more wonderful sons who also get to know Eric. And each year Mother’s Day has continued to be a day of contradictions. It makes me think of my birth mother as I call and tell my mom that I love her. I have sent Mother’s Day cards to Eric’s mom, thanking her for both welcoming me into his life and for doing such a great job being a mom. And I’ve become more sensitive to other women for whom Mother’s Day is painful. For women who would give anything to overcome their battles with infertility so they can become mothers. For women who would be mothers if they had partners with whom to raise them. For women whose children have died. For women who have never become mothers in the first place. Whether you’ve noticed it or not, we live in a world where women are rewarded and validated for being mothers. People assume that non mothers just haven’t become mothers yet. I have become more sensitive to women with difficult relationships with their own mothers or with their children. For women whose mothers have died. And so, in any church where I am leading worship, I do what I can to make sure that Mother’s Day is a safe space for women like me. Worship should not be a place where people feel excluded, feel less than, or feel unsafe.
What I’d love to see is the same love and care for childless women in our churches. So the question presents itself: How can the church reach out to women struggling with this very private battle? In my experience, the church was the most difficult place for me to be during this struggle. We as the church must have that same godly grace, sensitivity and love towards those struggling with fertility issues. When we take God’s word and act upon it, we can show women that their worth is far more than a pregnancy test.
Christian communities can be especially harsh because of their tendencies to show favoritism to the idea of motherhood — as if mothers are somehow more holy and righteous than non-mothers. In an effort to praise and empower marriage, healthy parenting, families, and the sanctity of life, Christian subculture often mistakenly and unintentionally alienates those around us — especially women.
We jokingly ask our friends and relatives “So, when are you guys going to have kids?” Grandparents chide “Hopefully you’ll have some little cousins to play with soon!” We tell people to “enjoy the sleep while you can, because once you have kids all your freedom is gone,” as if having kids is a pain. When we do this, we attach negative stigmas on people who don’t have children, and individuals can feel debilitating amounts of pressure, guilt, stress, and worthlessness when they’re expected to have children but don’t — or can’t.
And then there’s Suma from Nepal, an aspiring songwriter who, at the age of 6, is sold into indentured servitude (i.e., slavery) as a kamlari (or house girl) while her brothers are sent to school. By learning to read she also learns that kamlari is an illegal practice, eventually wins her freedom, and goes on to work for the emancipation of other enslaved children.
She said imagine you’re a stick of gum and when you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed and then if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who’s going to want you after that?
I am so grateful to Elizabeth, who has dedicated much of her time to protecting and educating children about violent and sexual crimes through the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and spreading the good word that “ you will always have value and nothing can change that.”