Dreading Mother’s Day
I usually skip Sunday services on Mother’s Day. It’s just too much to go alone, sit alone, leave alone and hear of the high calling of mothers. Sometimes my arms physically ache, like the phantom pains of amputees.
I know Mother’s Day can be loaded for lots of people, not just childless ones: folks whose mom has died recently, or mothers of wayward children or children who have died before them, people whose mothers were unkind or downright cruel, those struggling with infertility.
As I was getting ready this morning, I thought of a friend celebrating Mother’s Day with her long-awaited daughter cuddled in her arms, and I smiled. I thought of a friend who told me last year, she and her husband walked the beach, disappointed with the destructive decisions her daughter was making. I thought of a friend whose mom died before she got to she her daughter walk down the aisle. I thought of my sister Karen having breakfast in bed.
It’s just a loaded day. Probably because the role of mothers is so very crucial and so very fragile. (I can’t believe I’m going to quote Oprah here, but I do think it was she who joked, “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.”)
Relationships with mom can be complicated, even and especially as we mature into our own woman. I’m happy to quote my Uncle Pat who says, “‘Dysfunctional family’ is redundant’.” Families are messy.
But that’s not the reason I usually skip church on this day. I’m pretty settled with my family dysfunction and grow to love my mom and appreciate her more and more every year. It’s the ache, if I’m honest, that keeps me from going. And the being different and cringing when motherhood is claimed as the highest calling.
One truth that has crept into my soul and made a home there big enough for the ache and bigger than any calling comes from the new scholarship on the biblical definition of “female.” As more women come to the table with men and look at language and story in the Scriptures, we are getting a fuller, more meaningful, more robust grasp of God’s Word.
And it couldn’t come at a better time. The sickly definition of “helpmeet” is attractive to no woman I know who is married or who longs to be married. The call in the church has so narrowed that unless you are between the boundary lines of “married with children in your home,” there really isn’t much for you to connect to. God help us. No wonder some church numbers are dwindling.
The scholarship of Carolyn James has most given me hope. Raised as a pastor’s daughter, she knew one calling: play piano and serve potluck for your pastor husband’s flock. Since marriage was not on the horizon for her after college when all her friends were marrying, she was one of the first women to attend seminary. She wrestled with singleness and calling. She married a wonderful man, then excelled in the workforce while he pursued his multiple PhDs (no potlucks? No piano?). Then they wrestled with infertility. Surely, she groaned, I must have a calling big enough for me that does not include children. They adopted.
Still, she knew that God’s calling for women must serve them from cradle to grave, little girl to aged beauty—not just in the church’s boundary lines. She unpacked the Hebrew word ezer from Genesis 2:18–the best definition for female had been drastically undersold.
Ezer showed up 21 times in the Old Testament as a description for God helping Israel as a warrior, not a sickly helpmeet. A warrior for all the things that are important to Him: truth, beauty, goodness, the marginalized, the poor in spirit, the poor, the guilty.
Finally, I had a calling that was bigger than me, bigger than my church’s expectation, and one that would require more of me than I could ever imagine. One that would be worthy of my life: fighting for the good, the true and the beautiful, on earth as it is in heaven.
So I salute all mothers today, especially my own and the many who have mothered me along the way (Debbie, Sharon, Carolyn, Sandra, Barb, Susan). And I am in awe of the mothers around me, my peers; I really don’t know how they do it!
And I challenge us all—from the newborn to the wizened with wisdom—let us fight for the things of God, in our own homes and around the world.