Four Things Church Leaders Need to Hear ASAP about Mother’s Day
Mother's Day requires pastoral tact
Amy Bost Henegar
1) Mother’s Day is not a Christian holiday.
We may say with starry eyes and melting hearts that being a mother is the most important job in the world, but Jesus clearly would not agree with us. The image of the beautiful Christian mother is near and dear to our hearts, but it is important for us to realize that this image does not come from the Bible. As much as we like to think of Jesus as a big “family values” guy, he actually challenged their assumptions about family norms, saying things that were as shocking to his own culture as they are to ours.
Take a look at Luke 11:27-28.
“While Jesus was saying these things, a certain woman in the crowd spoke up: ‘Happy is the mother who gave birth to you and who nursed you.’ But he said, ‘Happy rather are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.’”
And Luke 8:19-21.
“Jesus’ mother and brothers came to him but were unable to reach him because of the crowd. Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ He replied, ‘My mother and brothers are those who listen to God’s word and do it.’”
Jesus has no patience for idealizing motherhood. For Jesus the most important human role is that of disciple. Every person is equally responsible to listen to God and do what God is calling them to do. In these passages, as well as many others, we see Jesus laying the foundation for one of the most fundamental concepts in the church — the redefinition of family. In a change that had never been accomplished in history, the commonwealth of love that Jesus is bringing is not to be built on bloodlines and lineage. Rather this new community is to be built by the presence of the indwelling Spirit of God which unites all people into one body. Status in this community cannot be threatened by familial disappointments — infertility, adultery, incompatibility, or lack of a life-partner or spouse. On the contrary, all are invited, included and celebrated in this completely new type of family.
Image: Personal photo
2) Mother’s Day is a mixed bag of experiences.
While it is true that for many people Mother’s Day is a beautiful occasion to celebrate and honor those who have been given to us as precious gifts in this world, it is critical for us as church leaders to understand that many people do not experience Mother’s Day in this way. Through almost twenty years of coordinating and preaching Mother’s Day services as a pastor for the Manhattan Church of Christ, I have learned that Mother’s Day is deeply painful for many people. In fact, time and again people have told me that they simply skip church on Mother’s Day because the experience is just too difficult. So often our churches join our culture in celebrating Mother’s Day with saccharine sweet images of beautiful women surrounded by beautiful children all of whom are well-fed, well-bathed and well-behaved. Our churches project this image as normal and expected, yet the human experience of motherhood, both as children and as mothers, is vastly different.
The relationship between a mother and her child has as much potential to be filled with pain and grief as any other human relationship. In fact, disappointments in the mother-child relationship may be exacerbated by the fact that motherhood is glorified, and mothers are expected to easily love, care and devote themselves to their children in a superhuman way. So if the church accepts these myths and invites the unrealistic, reductionistic view of motherhood into our theology and practice, we can understand why many people choose to simply stay away. It is hard enough to bear our own disappointments regarding motherhood. It is worse when the church blithely reminds us of these disappointments, pouring salt on very real wounds.
3) Churches have the opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day in a distinctively Christian way.
The good news is that churches can listen to the pain of their people and change their ways regarding this emotionally complex cultural celebration. Since we are followers of the one who repeatedly and consistently redefined family, we should follow in his footsteps and redefine what it means to celebrate motherhood. We have the opportunity, on Mother’s Day especially, to be honest with our congregations about the pain and disappointment that is inevitable in the sinful human relationships of a broken world. We can then proclaim the good news about God’s commonwealth of love, where every person is invited to have a second, third and fourth (or seventy times seventh) chance at building healthy, life-giving relationships. Those who have experienced the deepest disappointments in human relationships are invited over and over again to be mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, to each other within the body of Christ.
4) Your church should definitely have a woman preach on Mother’s Day (but not only on Mother’s Day).
In today’s world, even with all of the developments we have made toward gender equality, men still own the pulpits in the vast majority of churches. Thus, a wonderful way to celebrate an authentically Christian Mother’s Day is to invite a woman to preach. But not only on Mother’s Day! Rather take this occasion to make a commitment to listening to the women God has called to be our spiritual mothers on a regular basis. Celebrate the faith of the Sarahs and the Esthers, the Marys and the Elizabeths, the Lydias, the Phoebes, the Harriets, the Fannys, the Mahalias, the Beths, the Rachels, the Taras, and the multitudes of other women God has raised up through the centuries to speak and to lead. Celebrate Mother’s Day by making a commitment to valuing women the way Jesus did; to becoming a church that stands boldly in resistance to a culture that continues to oppress and silence women. Become a community in which women are consistently invited to participate in equal discipleship — equally called, equally gifted and equally responsible to God in the work of salvation.
Amy Bost Henegar has been a pastor for the Manhattan Church of Christ in New York City since 2001. She has a Doctor of Ministry degree from New York Theological Seminary and is a Board Certified Chaplain. She and her husband Matt live in Westchester County, New York, with their five kids and two dogs. You can find her online at amybosthenegar.com.