It is the best of days, and it is the worst of days–Mother’s Day. In many of our churches, there will be a lot of empty seats this Sunday. For some, Mother’s Day is one of the happiest days of the year. And for others, it’s the most dreaded and painful day of the year. For many women, Mother’s Day is just another chilling reminder that “mom is gone.” As one woman recently shared with me, “It has been 30 years now since I lost my mother to cancer, and each year around Mother’s Day it just seems to get harder and harder. I spend the day with a broken heart and in tears. When my mother died I not only lost my mother, but my best friend.”
For others, Mother’s Day is an incredibly painful day because they so desperately want to be a mom, but they can’t (due to infertility or other reasons). As so many women see all of the smiling children of other women around them, they are painfully reminded of the three children they lost in miscarriage. For those that have had abortions, this day only seems to re-open the wound. And even for those that do have children, behind the smiles and the Mother’s Day flowers, there is often deep hurt, anxiety, feelings of inadequacies, regret, and condemnation.
A Painful Reminder
When they see other kids in their church who are following Jesus, they are reminded of their child who is struggling, and appears to be headed in the opposite direction. When they see other smiling teenagers in the youth group, they are reminded of their 15-year old daughter who is at home, alone in her bedroom because she has no friends and no desire to find any at church. And when so many moms think about their children who are not believers or who have made poor decisions in life, they blame themselves and slide towards condemnation. For many, Mother’s Day is like an annual Day of Guilt.
It is a day that percolates pain until it bubbles to the surface.
A Mother’s Pain in Scripture
Think of Mary, the mother of our Lord. In Luke 2:35, following the birth of Jesus, Simeon prophesied to Mary that a “sword will pierce through your own soul also.” When did this happen for Mary? The clearest example is when we see Mary staring at her Son, Jesus, as He is being nailed to the cross. As Jesus cried out from the cross in John 19:26, “Woman, behold your Son,” certainly, the words of Simeon proved to be true, and at that moment it was as if a sword pierced through the very soul of Mary.
Sure, Mary’s role is somewhat unique in redemptive history. But there is nothing unique about a mother who suffers horrific pain when they see their child suffering. In that sense, every mother is Mary.
A Sword the Pierces the Soul
Even as Simeon prophesied over Mary, there are many swords that pierce through the souls of the dear women in our congregations. For so many of them, the pain of the sword is felt most deeply on Mother’s Day. A sword that so many ladies will feel this Sunday is the sword of infertility. One of the reasons there are so many empty seats on Mother’s Day is because the sword and the pain of infertility is so sharp, and it only seems to cut deeper on a day where the idea of “mommies and babies” are everywhere. For many of these women, every time they hear the word “mother,” it literally cuts them as it reminds them that although they want it so bad, it seems like they may never have the chance to be a mom.
Maybe they hear other mothers complaining about a lack of sleep because their baby is up crying during the night, but they would do anything to just be able to hear a baby crying during the night. Or maybe they hear mothers talk about how expensive children are, but they would sell everything they own for the opportunity to have a child.
Infertility; A Silent Disease
One woman in our church wrote the following words to me (speaking of infertility):
This isn’t some rare disease. This affects people you know. It is also a silent disease because those of us who struggle with infertility often are treated like Job was treated by his friends . . . sometimes we are just told to get prayed over by so-and-so, or told to ‘just adopt,’ or that if we just relax or get our priorities/finances/lives in order that God will then give us children. The shame we feel and the fact that the subject is treated as taboo means many of us never ‘come out of the closet’ to our church family…Heartbreak. Despair. Guilt. These are the feelings that dominate Mother’s Day for those of us in the infertile community. And there are more of us than you know.
Practical Suggestions To All Christians on Mother’s Day
In response, here are three practical suggestions to pastors, and really to all Christians as we move towards Mother’s Day:
Watch Your Words
First, to those who have been able to have children by birth, be careful what you say to other women. Sometimes simple comments may be made such as, “You guys have been married for a while now, have you thought about having children yet?” Even in asking such a seemingly innocent question, what we don’t realize is that maybe they’ve been trying for months or years and they can’t get pregnant. And every time they are asked the question (again), it cuts them like a sword. Be sensitive. Have tact. Don’t assume anything about anyone. Some of us have likely wounded other women very deeply by words that at the time seemed very innocent.
Be Sensitive of Your Surroundings
Secondly, as we are preparing to preach and lead this Sunday, let’s ask the Spirit to give us a sensitive awareness to the emotions and needs of the women to whom we will be preaching. Maybe we read a few Scriptures of lament in our liturgy. Maybe we give space for mourning and weeping. Give space for the expression of brokenness. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice, but we’re also called to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). If there is ever a gathering in which obedience to these words in Scripture are needed, it’s on Mother’s Day.
Finally, pastors, in our preaching and leadership on Mother’s Day, we must communicate a message of hope to those Christians that are struggling with infertility. We must help them see that we do not understand why sometimes God opens the womb, and sometimes He does not. But we do know that a Christian’s inability to have children is not because God is mad at them. It is not a punishment. They are not a second-class woman or a second-class Christian. Their identity and worth is not in whether or not they have children. Their identity and your worth is in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone.
Our congregations need to hear that whether a woman has a house full of children, or zero children, she is deeply loved by God. She is precious in His sight, because when God looks at her, He sees the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. So, having babies or not having babies has nothing to do with our value and our worth as a child of God. Even if a dear Christian woman is not a mother to a child, she is a daughter of the King.