This Sunday churches around the country will incorporate into their services of worship some sort of recognition of the role of motherhood. In fact, so powerful is the emotional pull of this holiday that even some congregations that closely follow the liturgy of the church year will be forced to at least offer a passing nod to the office of Mom.
Other Christian groups have for years used the period between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day as a time to hold family emphasis Sundays. Various groups such as children, youth, singles, senior adults, and so on, are celebrated as being a part of the family of the church.
The history of Mother’s Day is pretty interesting. An early form of the idea may have originated in 17th century England as “Mothering Sunday.” In this country, Mother’s Day is linked to the anti-war efforts of Julia Ward Howe. She hoped a day set aside to honor mothers would be a way to promote peace.
In 1907 a woman by the name of Anna Jarvis took Howe’s idea a step further and began a campaign for a nationally recognized Mother’s Day. Ironically, Jarvis’ own mother had tried to establish “Mother’s Friendship Days” as a way to heal the scars of the Civil War. Anna Jarvis persuaded her mother’s home church to celebrate mothers on the anniversary of the elder Jarvis’ death. Anna also began the tradition of wearing a carnation in honor or memory of mothers.
After considerable effort, Anna Jarvis finally saw her dream realized. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson made the official proclamation that Mother’s Day would be an annual holiday on the second Sunday in May. And so it is to this day.
For those of us whose lives have been shaped and nurtured by loving Moms, the day is a wonderful opportunity to say thank you. Unfortunately not everyone’s experience of family life evokes gratitude. In the tangled and complicated maze of human existence, not all mother/child relationships are positive. Evoking the image of Mom for some can be an invitation down a painful memory lane.
There is also the reality that not all mothering figures are actually mothers. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of children have been raised by foster moms who never had children of their own, but who gave themselves in maternal love to children that needed them. Aunts and older sisters have filled this role as well.
All I am saying is that it is complicated. We might wish that every family had an ideal balance of motherly and fatherly love, but that is simply not the case. And when we hold up those who have provided nurture and love and caring, we only deepen the sense of loss for those that did not have such experiences.
I am not saying we should not honor mothers on Mother’s Day. I’m just saying that in our congregations, in our homes, in our world, are many different ways that mothering happens. We might be sensitive to these varied experiences, and even give voice to them. What better setting than worship to celebrate the ups and downs of our common life.
For those whose childhood evokes praise and thanksgiving, let us give thanks. But for those whose childhood was marked by fear and loss, then let us offer sanctuary and healing. In a place where the cross is a symbol of redemptive suffering, there is no reason why all experiences of family life, good and bad, cannot be included.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.