Mother’s Day is among the top four highest attended Sunday church services of the year. Many mothers and grandmothers long to have their children and grandchildren in attendance, and so despite an absence the rest of the year, their loved ones attend on this day to appease the matriarchs in their lives. However, there are also many faithful women who are absent from the services on this day, opting to stay home to avoid the painful reminder that once again, their arms and wombs are empty—the reminder they do not have what so many others have but that they so desperately want.
If I were not the pastor of my own congregation, I would probably join the women at home—the grieving women with empty wombs and broken hearts. Barren women with space in their arms and questions unanswered. Infertile women with the prodding thought of “why not me?” that while sometimes pushed aside, is always there, somewhere below the surface. The lonely women who watch baby shower after baby shower, with the church ladies sharing birth stories and cake, as they wonder if this is a rite of passage in a church community from which they will always be excluded. The broken women who can’t bear one more question of “when are you having kids?” and the stares and winks people make that imply that you are next, when you know you might never be.
But we, church, are not called to wound, but to bind up the broken hearted.
The months come and go, at first with bated expectation, held breath, and fervent prayer, only to be met again with crushing disappointment, with tears, with anger at God and reproductive organs that just can’t seem to get it together. Then the year has passed, and it is Mother’s Day again. It’s a day that while joyous for many, serves as just one more reminder of your otherness, your wantonness, your barrenness, your loneliness, your seeming invisibleness. To sit in one more church service when mothers are asked to stand, the oldest mother is honored, and gifts are handed out to women whose wombs happened to be more efficient than yours seems unbearable. It’s an annual reminder of what you don’t have. A wounding of the already broken.
But we, church, are not called to wound, but to bind up the broken hearted. We are called to release the captives, to live a life rejoicing in resurrection from the dead places of our lives. We are called to live in community with one another, through the good and the bad, through the dark places and the light, as we bear one another’s burdens.
There must be a way, then, to honor the unique gift that mothers often play in our lives without wounding the already wounded. There must be a way to turn Mother’s Day from a day of mourning to one of healing and hope, to a binding up of wounds, to a day of redemption. There must be a way to hold within the body of Christ the tension between celebration and grief, and maybe the most obvious way is to acknowledge the difficulty of it all.
There must be a way to turn Mother’s Day from a day of mourning to one of healing and hope, to a binding up of wounds, to a day of redemption.
Seeing the women who aren’t present, or who are present in body only, breaks down the feeling of invisibility. Including all the women in the giving of gifts, acknowledging the unique gifts and contributions that women give as mothers of faith to the church community goes a long way in stepping into the grief with someone walking the hard road of infertility.
One year an older woman at church wished me a Happy Mother’s Day. When I told her, “But I am not a mother,” her response was simple: “You have mentored, cared for, and pastored many young people in this church. If that is not enough to be wished a Happy Mother’s Day, I don’t know what is.” Being seen by this woman, being included and cared for, being recognized as a mother of faith instantly moved me, even if for just a moment, from grief to gratefulness.
If we are to bear one another’s burdens and to bind up wounds, we must acknowledge that there is brokenness in the first place. We must acknowledge that while we are rejoicing, others are crying, and our call is not to ignore their pain, but to walk alongside them through it. As pastors, our role is not to gloss over the difficult and painful realities of life, but to guide our communities through them. We have this role to guide our communities into the tension of rejoicing with those who rejoice—and mourning with those who mourn—within this one day. Our purpose is to point our communities toward Jesus, who breathes life into broken places, and who made it evident throughout all of Scripture that being a woman of God is not dependent on one’s ability to bear children, but by the grace freely given to all of us.
We must acknowledge that while we are rejoicing, others are crying, and our call is not to ignore their pain, but to walk alongside them through it.
So Mother’s Day is a great day to tell the stories of the great mothers of faith who felt left out and cast aside. We can share about Hannah, who prayed for years for a child, only to sacrifice him to the service of the Lord, or about Sarah, who laughed when she found out she was with child because it was impossible at her age. We can talk about the woman with the issue of the blood, which would have meant a chronic inability to bear children and an “unclean” label, being driven away from human touch for years, until Jesus saw her and touched her. All of these women were welcomed, not rejected, by God. In the midst of their darkness, their grief, their pain, God saw them, touched them, and reached out.
We must welcome in the same way—to see, to touch, to walk through the pain, to pray, to rejoice, to give gifts, and sing songs—so that all women might see themselves as the beloved of God. When we do, in this space of the body of Christ, the wounds of the broken are bound up, and the broken hearted are made whole.