Mourning with Those Who Mourn on Mother's Day
Like a lot of doting children, I loved Mother's Day growing up. The holiday usually involved eating out at a fancy restaurant (not the norm for our family), where we gave my mom carefully composed cards and handpicked gifts. Even into adulthood, Mother's Day never caused problems for me.
And then I miscarried. Last Mother's Day was the first one where I felt deep down that I was supposed to be celebrating that day, yet my arms were empty. I should have had a one month old, not a spare bedroom filled with books and supplies we never used. Like many women, I dreaded the day, wishing I could sleep through it and wake up on Monday. And here I am, one year later, arms still empty due to infertility, still trying to make sense of this holiday. As Wendy Horger Alsup so helpfully said at Her.meneutics last year, Mother's Day can be a painful holiday for many women.
Maybe you are facing the first Mother's Day without your own mom. Maybe you are longing for a child, but financially cannot afford an extra mouth to feed right now. Maybe you have a wayward child, and all you want is for him to call you this Mother's Day and say "Mom, I'm saved." Or maybe you are like me, and are facing another Mother's Day plagued by infertility. It's easy to be overwhelmed by the commercials for cards and flowers and myriad of morning-show segments all dedicated to the one thing you want most. And then you throw in the Sunday morning church service, with its peppy messages to "all the moms out there," and you are now one conversation away from a meltdown.
It's interesting that even some outside of the Christian community want to combat the endless commercialization of the day by highlighting other important aspects of motherhood, like the fact that many women in underdeveloped countries die in childbirth. Others, like writer Anne Lamott, refuse to even celebrate the day because of what it can do to all the non-mothers out there. What is the Christian's response to all of this? Surely the answer cannot be to completely throw the proverbial Mother's Day baby out with the muddy, consumer-driven bathwater. Instead, Paul's simple exhortation to the Romans is a helpful framework for thinking through our response.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep" (Rom. 12:15).
How do you obey the biblical command to "rejoice with those who rejoice," when rejoicing feels like a knife stabbing you in the heart?
The truth is sometimes it is just plain hard. Good news does not always come at convenient times. In fact, sometimes the news of a friend's pregnancy comes right after you have spent the morning weeping over your own inability to conceive. Sometimes the mother/daughter tea at church comes right after a low day of missing your own mom. This life is messy and sorrowful, something Paul understood when he wrote these words. Sometimes rejoicing with someone else means expressing genuine joy over their good blessing, while you wait bereaved and barren. This never negates the reality of our suffering, but it does help us to give honor where honor is due, especially on a day like Mother's Day. Motherhood is a high and glorious calling. In a culture where motherhood is increasingly under attack, we should be the first to embrace and honor the gift of motherhood, even if it is a gift we have yet to receive.
But as Christians, we must remember that there is a second part to that command. As hard as it is to rejoice with someone who has something you don't, it is equally if not more difficult to weep with those who weep, especially when their tragedy seems foreign to you. How do you weep alongside the weeping woman while you have a happy, healthy baby bouncing on your hip? The reality is that if your life is fairly blessed and carefree on Mother's Day, it is a lot easier to obey the first part of Romans 12:15. Yet we should be the first to enter into the pain that this day so often brings to so many women. From sharing a Scripture with a grieving friend to giving a card to a woman who is struggling with infertility, simply acknowledging the ache that many face is obeying the command to "weep with those who weep."
Motherhood is a great gift and calling, but it also bears the stamp of this fallen world. With the name "mother of all living" came the curse that the very thing we were created for would now be marred by death, pain, and loss. The answer is not to call for a moratorium on all celebrations. But nor is the answer to pretend like nothing is wrong.
Regardless of your situation this Mother's Day, Romans 12:15 is true for you. It does not take away the pain you might feel. Nor does it diminish the joy you might feel. And if we were truly honest with ourselves, we would say that obeying this command in the thick of your pain or joy is virtually impossible. We need Christ's help to enable us to serve one another well in every season of life. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything, and Mother's Day is no exception. May our churches be a place where the glory of motherhood is upheld and honored, but the pain and sorrow of those who long for what they do not have is honored as well.
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