A YOUNG MEMBER of my former congregation once told me that every year on Mother’s Day, she chose to skip church.
When I asked her why, she said, “Ever since my mom died, I just can’t be in worship on Mother’s Day. They make such a big deal of it in the service: They recognize all the moms, and the sermon is always about motherhood. And it’s just too painful for me.”
Since then I have heard of others who also struggle during Mother’s Day church services. They include:
• A woman who had recently suffered a miscarriage;
• A man whose own mother was abusive or neglectful;
• A teenager who was pregnant and didn’t feel ready to be a mother; and
• A couple who never felt called to parenthood.
For all of these people, Mother’s Day stirs up complicated feelings such as grief, anger, disappointment, jealousy or despair.
These are not feelings we typically like to talk much about in church, which is why we tend to handle Mother’s Day in a way that focuses only on the joyful aspects of motherhood.
So, what are our congregations to do?
One option is to find ways of naming the complexity of motherhood more fully in our liturgy and prayers.
For example, instead of simply expressing gratitude for mothers, we could pray in a more inclusive manner such as: “We give thanks for our mothers and for all those who have been like mothers to us. Help us to hold our grief for mothers and children who have died, for relationships between mothers and children that have been broken, and for dreams of motherhood that may never come to be.”
Even a prayer like this, though, might be experienced as excluding those who do not feel called to be mothers, as if they are not “real” women if they are not mothers.
This is why we should also think very carefully about recognizing mothers in public ways in our congregations.
I’d like to suggest that the best way forward is to stop making such a big deal of Mother’s Day in the first place.
After all, it’s not a religious holiday or a part of the liturgical year.
In many ways, Mother’s Day has become what some would call a “Hallmark holiday,” meaning that it primarily benefits those who have commercialized it and who reap monetary rewards from it.
Even Anna Jarvis, the woman who founded Mother’s Day in the United States, later tried to get it removed from the national calendar because of the way it had become commercialized.
This year, let us consider expanding our celebration of Mother’s Day to include a celebration of the ethics of caring.
When there are women, not merely mothers, who serve fellow human beings, let us celebrate.
When there are fathers who embody this ethics of care, let us celebrate.
When we see love and compassion anywhere, let us celebrate.
Yes, let us recognize that so much of the love and service in this world does come from mothers.
And let us also celebrate the ethics of care and compassion, love and tenderness.
Here, there, everywhere.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is [email protected]