I have such mixed feelings every second Sunday in May. I enjoy celebrating my mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, godmother, sisters, friends, and all of the other women in my life who make sacrifices to care for me, yet…you know.
There's that whole I'm-not-a-mother thing.
The awkwardness is unavoidable. I am now too old to remain an inconspicuous, innocent daughter of the church who simply joins in on the celebration of the matriarchs around me. I am a childless, married woman – one of those alien non-mothers – and everyone has to suffer through the uneasy, painful, blushing, frozen, horrible moments of trying to figure out what to say to me on Mother's Day.
I feel it most for the poor ushers delegated to hand out carnations. I know they want to give me a flower – I can see the chivalrous struggle in their eyes! – but I have "childless" stamped across my forehead. So, they hand me a service bulletin, instead. "I'm sorry," one of them inevitably whispers during the exchange, and I am left in the inelegant position of comforting others for my own childlessness.
How did things get to be this way? When did we decide that it was good, right, and salutary in church to give out discriminatory gifts as a coda to Christ's gifts of Word and Sacrament?
I am going to be blunt. Mother's Day is a secular holiday that has worked its way into our Sunday services. I am not of the opinion that we should stop celebrating mothers. Quite the opposite, I think we should celebrate mothers every day of the week and with more than just flowers and praise. We should be offering them our time and talents to help them in their God-given vocation of caring for others as well as praying that God would sustain them as they daily die to self in order to serve our youngest church members.
I don't even think we should stop commemorating Mother's Day in church. At this point, it would be culturally rude to withdraw from the church the tradition of honoring women whom God has gifted with children, but we need to be mindful of the pain this secular, gift-card-selling holiday inflicts on those from whom God has withheld the gift of children. Sometimes, pastors (often unknowingly) drag this secular holiday's pain into their sermons, their children's sermons, their preservice announcement anecdotes, and their prayers. In an effort to be culturally relevant, they slay the barren in the pews and grieve the hearts of mothers who have lost or are estranged from their children.
Perhaps, instead, pastors could use Mother's Day as an opportunity to use gift language and remind their congregations to celebrate all of the women who serve as mothers in the church: godmothers, aunts, school teachers, deaconesses, babysitters, sewing circles, LWML, secretaries, altar guild, VBS bakers, and every woman who faithfully lives out her vocation in service to others. Perhaps, we could give these women carnations, too – not to dismiss the love we have for the mothers who bore us, but to properly recognize that motherhood is a vocation given by God, not an achievement rewarded by men.