For the Love of Mother's Day
Yes. Do celebrate Mother's Day in a way that expresses sensitivity to women who are not (technically) defined as mothers. Women create and nurture life on planet Earth in thousands of magnificent ways that never involve babies. The gifts of those women should be honored, never demeaned.
But also, as you do this, speak of traditional motherhood as the unique and vital pursuit that it is.
I can't think of any other human calling that requires the same level of vulnerability, risk, or constant care as traditional motherhood. In many endeavors, a woman can decide to shift gears when she is exhausted. She can change course. She can realize that she is not good at one task and pick up another. She can draw time limits on when her pursuit is to be chased and when it is to be put away so that she can restore her mind and heart.
Traditional motherhood is permanent and ever-present. There are very few boundaries a mother can draw in her time or resources, and there is no opportunity to step back if she realizes that she is weak or inadequate. If she has been able to survive the first part of her life a little bit spoiled, self-centered, impatient, foolish, lazy, passive, or distracted, there is now no place to hide from these traits.
The weaknesses of her character, the weaknesses of her faith, the weaknesses of even her physical body will be brought to the surface in the middle of the night, when she is sick, when she is sad... when she thinks she has nothing else left to give.
She will be grieved by her failures at a level that is difficult to experience in any other pursuit, because she will know that she has hurt someone who is vulnerable and who needs her.
Whereas performance, love of quality, or drive for praise may propel other endeavors, in motherhood there is an unskinned, unprotected, ever present love for a little one, a love that is almost desperate at times. Failure in motherhood cuts straight through your chest into your heart. Any wound a mother inflicts, she feels in herself.
The Bible says that women will be saved through childbearing, and there have been times in my life when I resented that wording. But now that I have been a mother almost twenty years, I understand it differently than I did when I was younger. This statement may not apply to all women -- it may not be a mandate -- but the truth of it applies to at least one.
I see how my children have been tools in the hands of my God, tools to strip me down in a way that nothing else could have done.
So many nights (like last night) I am awake at two or three in the morning, praying for my children. In that vulnerable quiet, I cannot keep any shield up before my Lord. I choke out, "Search me, oh God, and know my heart." And I am willing to hear difficult things about myself, if they will help my sons and daughter.
When our marriage was crumbling from our years of ministry, love for my children drove me to fight to stay. It saved me from a declaration of my own rights. It threw me on the altar and made me say, "No matter what. I will die here for them."
Fears for my growing children show me how I idolize what I cannot control. Reactively, I have come to God like a warrior and challenged Him to fight, because anxiety for my children has exposed limits in my devotion to Him. I have had to face the gaps in my allegiance because of my little ones.
And because of my children, I have come to know why it doesn't really matter what anybody else in the world thinks of me. These kids make a gravity that outweighs all honors, all accolades, all success. I can come to you more boldly and more openly because their love has broken me and shown me what truly matters.
Not all women need to be mothers. There are females who have vital, creative gifts that don't involve children.
There are women who live transparently and openly from an early age, not needing to stripped down like I did, women who are naturally more mature than I was, women who are naturally less selfish, naturally more pure before God.
There are also women who have wanted children desperately, but who have lost them to infertility or to death.
We lost our first child, and then I was afraid we could not have more. I remember the pain of that short season, and I ache for friends who have known this sorrow for lifetimes. They have fought wars of their own, and they bring wisdom from decades of grief that teach us all about disappointments. Their battles are monumental, and their pain should also be honored.
There are just so many stories being written. So many stories to tell.
But in the midst of all this diversity, in the midst of our corporate beauty and brokenness, I think it is important to look honestly at what traditional motherhood does in the women who pursue it. We should not shy away from praises and thanks that need to be given.
Aside from the silly, soft, floral, sentimentalized, idealized motherhood... there is a grit and grind to the soul work of maternity. It's important to acknowledge the women who chase this, who fail every day at what they most want to do well, and then who must get back up again and learn how God's strength might apply to human weakness. We should find ways to honor the battles of mothers facing impossible questions, of women being strengthened beyond their own strength.
And it should never be assumed that mothers hear enough affirmation.
Most of the women I know who are in the midst of mothering little ones have difficult days, weeks, months, years. Sometimes the work they are doing costs the death of a dream. Sometimes they feel unseen, unworthy, desperate. Often they feel like water poured out on sand.
All the world around us seems to shout that motherhood is secondary, small, and irrelevant. Whenever we try to praise the sacrifices of mothers (and especially by setting aside a day in churches to thank them), we hear kickback that "women can be more than mothers." The resistance to our gratitude is automatic.
"Women can be more than mothers." Think about that sentence and what it implies about the sacrifices of women who are giving everything they have to those in need.
We would never tell a doctor she could be more than a doctor. We would never tell a humanitarian she could be more than a public servant. We would never tell a novelist she could be more than a Pulitzer Prize winner. We would simply applaud the value of what has been done without comparing it to something else.
And yet we feel the need to push a life of constant service into a corner, as if it were some sort of lesser offering. Why?
There are ways to avoid wounding the disappointed, ways to honor the diversity of women, without holding back words that need to be spoken one day out of 365. Because traditional motherhood is beautiful. It is not all that is beautiful, but it is a beauty worth celebrating.
Dear mothers, what you are doing is not without purpose. I know you are tired, and that is one of the reasons why I'm so grateful to have a day to honor you. This battle you fight matters a great deal -- in our community, in your children, and in yourselves. Thank you for all that you give