Question: How Do You Honor Your Mothers At Your Church?

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First and foremost as Mother’s Day approaches this weekend, I’d like to say Happy Mother’s Day! I’m a fairly new dad in terms of the long experience of raising children. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old.

My wife is amazing. My mother is amazing. My wife’s mother is amazing. I love the moms in my life.

Let’s be clear about something, honoring our parents is Biblical. In fact, it’s one of the Ten Commandments. This means that honoring our moms is part of that important Commandment that says:

Honor your father and mother.

Here are a few thoughts about Mother’s Day in general.

Honoring Mothers or Motherhood?

Typically we tend to recognize “motherhood” on Mother’s Day. That is actually a little different than the consistent Biblical lifestyle of honoring our moms but is still a good intention. We should be careful not to overgeneralize and stereotype moms in our gestures. Are we honoring the PERSON of our moms, or are we honoring the stereotypical institution of motherhood?

In an article for ChristianityToday Caryn Rivadeneira says:

When we celebrate Mother’s Day at church, what we rarely honor is our own mothers—persons with specific gifts and talents and passions—but a stereotyped institution. We celebrate and honor the Good American Middle-Class Mother, or, as we like to call her, the Good Christian Mother.

We usually plan our honoring in church accordingly. We give flowers and pass out chocolate. We show video montages of wild soccer-gear-clad kids, leaping border collies, and frazzled moms. Over it all, a 5-year-old lisps out a sappy-sweet thank you for all her mommy does.

Like I said before, it’s ok to honor the institution of motherhood. I think our moms appreciate the proverbial gestures and gifts that happen on Mother’s Day. As a church at large let’s not get caught up in the watering down of our wonderful, beautiful individually gifted mothers into some big broad group of people that we can “honor” with some chocolates and lunch. Let’s honor our moms day in and day out!

Finding the “Mothering” Heart of God

Throughout Church history, there have been examples of writers who conveyed the qualities and nature of God using the imagery of a mother. In our day and age, this seems almost shocking. We have painted a very patriarchal image of God.

There is a hymn called Mothering God You Gave Me Birth based on the writings of 14th-century female author and theologian named Julian of Norwich which captures the essence of using the imagery of a nurturing Mother to describe God.

Now this doesn’t mean that we’re saying God is a woman…or even that God is a man. Obviously there are plenty of clear references in Scripture that point to the Father God, and we can clearly see that Jesus while here on earth walked as a man.

What we can also see in Scripture is plenty of references to God using the imagery of a mother who takes care of her children. In another article on ChristianityToday.com about Mother’s Day, the author says:

I think it’s up to us, women leaders of the church, to make sure that mothers aren’t honored simply because it’s hard work, simply because it’s a high calling, simply because it’s a wonderful and crucial job, but because we do have something to share about who God is. Because it’s one of the many experiences of life that God “gifts” us with that do help us understand his heart better. Heck, even the longing for a child—that desperation any woman who’s struggled with infertility other circumstances that prevent her from having kids understands—shares something so sweet with the heart of our God who longs for us to love him.

Mothers Have A Lot To Teach Us About God

There are a good many instances in Scripture where the imagery of a mother is used to describe some aspect of God’s nature.

  • In Hosea 11, God is described like a mother who nurtures, takes care of, feeds, and protects her children.
  • In Hosea 13, God is described like a mother bear, who fights to fend off danger threatening her cubs.
  • In Deuteronomy 32, God is described like a mother eagle who spreads its wings over her young, and when the time is right, teaches them to fly.
  • In Isaiah 66, God is described like a mother that comforts her children.
  • In Isaiah 42, God is described using the imagery of a mother in labor.
  • In the New Testament, Jesus uses the imagery of a mother hen who will gather her chicks to the safety found under her wings.
  • Many of the references to the Holy Spirit are feminine in the original language, and often refer to feminine activities when mentioned such as labor and childbirth.

We can see that even in looking at our mothers today that we can learn a lot about the nature of God. In the same way, we can look to our fathers and find glimpses into the nature of God. This doesn’t mean we can find the full and perfect reflection of the divine nature in our imperfect parents, but we CAN learn about God from both the masculine and the feminine.

Recognizing and Respecting the Non-Moms

It would be foolish to think that each year we would go about honoring our moms and not also at the same time be rubbing salt into the wounds of those who are not moms. Maybe it is infertility or the loss of a child, but there are many women who struggle to participate in a service that is dedicated to the one thing that, for whatever reason, they can’t be a part of.

As a man, I wouldn’t dare even try and guess what this feels like. But there are many women who have written about this hard place. Terri Stovall writes this on BiblicalWomen.com:

It is true that there are some in your congregation who are hurting. There are some who long for children and, unlike those in Scripture, God has not chosen to fill their arms with a child. For others, like myself, there is the realization that biological children just will never be. And still others have lost children, and long earnestly to hold them, smell them, and hear them one last time.  All who struggle with Mother’s Day are dealing with some type of loss and grief.

She encourages the church to keep honoring mothers even though she will be dealing with her own struggle from afar.

This week, I will honor my own mother who daily speaks God’s word into my life.  This Sunday, I will honor my mother-in-love and other mothers in our family. I am blessed to be the aunt of five and love being a “mom” to so many sharp gals at Southwestern. In recent weeks, I have had various students honor me as a spiritual mother. It is not unusual for one of our students or student wives to bring their children by the office to say, “Hello.” This time of the semester, my office is abuzz with young women stopping by to commiserate or celebrate the outcome of final exams. My life is full of mothering opportunities. And yet, my heart still feels the loss. I still don’t go to church on Mother’s Day. I’m just not there yet, but God continues to do a work in me.

Amy Young of MessyMiddle.com writes about the gut wrenching feelings she experiences on Mother’s Day:

A pastor asked all mothers to stand. On my immediate right, my mother stood and on my immediate left, a dear friend stood. I, a woman in her late 30s, sat. I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat. I do not normally feel this way. I do not like feeling this way. I want no woman to ever feel this way in church again.

As a dad of 2 kids and no complications during pregnancy, I can’t imagine what this feels like, but I WANT to be empathetic. I want to fix this. The Church as a WHOLE family has really been on my heart and mind lately.

I think ultimately, being careful and intentional about the words we use to honor mothers on this day is wise. There are many ways to honor our moms Biblically without alienating those who are not moms. In my heart, I feel like there should be more weeping when someone in our faith family weeps. But these moments seem to be hidden away behind closed doors. Infertility and miscarried pregnancies are hard to talk about, for everyone.

Honoring Our Moms

Let’s make sure that every day outside of Mother’s Day we’re teaching our young people to honor their parents. Husbands and wives let’s treat our spouses with the utmost love and care. Children, let’s look to our parents (no matter our age) with respect and honor, even after they’ve passed on. Let’s be thankful for our mothers. Let’s celebrate motherhood, and continue to consistently honor our mothers.

How have YOU approached Mother’s Day gatherings at your church?

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Photo by Flickr user Éamonn Ó Muirí. Used under a CC 2.0 License.