Last week I read an insightful essay that gave me pause. In "An Open Letter to Pastors: A Non-Mom Speaks About Mother's Day," author Amy Young spoke about the pain many women experience in confronting Mother's Day. As a single woman in her 30s, Amy revealed her discomfort when mothers were recognized during worship on Mother's Day and she remained in her seat while other women stood: "I don’t know how others saw me, but I felt dehumanized, gutted as a woman. Real women stood, empty shells sat."
Amy's letter struck a chord with readers all over the world whose hearts have been bruised -- some by dreams of motherhood yet unfulfilled; others by memories of mothers past. Her wise words counsel us to be sensitive to those around us who may be hurting on Mother's Day.
To some degree, I can relate to the sting others have felt. Before we had Carson, I was not sure I could conceive. During the years of waiting, I remember wondering if Joe would ever be able to wish me a happy Mother's Day. Then last year marked the first year that I would not have the privilege of hugging my own mother and telling her happy Mother's Day. She died in September 2010, and the grief was still fresh as the holiday approached. Although I never considered staying home from church on Mother's Day, as some women confessed they have done, I realize that in some ways I sat alone in my sorrow and grief.
Mother's Day conjures Norman Rockwell images of the perfect day of honor: breakfast in bed delivered by adoring children who giggle as Daddy surprises Mommy with flowers and gifts; family gatherings where grown children return to the nest to bless Mother with praise and affection. But life isn't always picture-perfect.
So what do we do when we face the other side of Mother's Day?
I believe that we will find our greatest fulfillment when we explore the other side of Mother's Day.
You see, at its core, motherly love is really "otherly" love.
Edwin Hubbell Chapin said, "No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother's love. It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star."
The virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31 tends to the needs of her family, but verse 20 tells us her kindness extends beyond her household: "She extends her hand to the poor; and she stretches out her hands to the needy." This godly woman offers a mother's touch to all who need it.
Whether single, married, widowed, divorced, childless, child-"full" or orphaned, isn't that our divine privilege as women?
This year I experienced a dramatic shift in my view of Mother's Day. Instead of mourning it as a day about my mother, I broadened my view and celebrated all the women who mother me with their kindness. So when tears pricked my eyes at the sight of Mother's Day cards, instead of passing the greeting card aisle with a heavy heart, I stopped to find the perfect card to honor my mother's sister, who loves my siblings and me like we are her own.
And rather than closing my eyes and waiting expectantly for the honor that would come to me on Mother's Day, I opened them and looked for the honor I could give. I thought of my friend Melanie, who lost her husband to a massive stroke a little over a year ago. She is now the single parent to three children in middle school. Without the aid of a husband, she works, prepares meals, maintains the house, manages the money, services the car, makes parenting decisions and provides spiritual guidance. Without the camaraderie of their father, she watches her children grow up. And despite all she does for them, her adolescent children don't have the means or opportunity to buy her a Mother's Day gift.
This year I decided it will be my blessing to help Melanie's children give her a Mother's Day gift each year. Over the weekend, Carson exchanged secret texts with Melanie's elder son so we could fill a pretty basket with some of her breakfast favorites: English muffins, homemade strawberry jam and freshly-squeezed orange juice. I reasoned that this was an easy menu that the children could prepare for Melanie in the morning while she lingered under the covers with flowers on her nightstand and a pretty magazine in her hands. When we picked up Melanie's son on Mother's Day Eve to hang out (i.e., carry out the covert Mission MD), Seth said it meant a lot to him to be able to do something special for his mom.
And do you want to know something surprising?
Despite the heartache of missing my mother, this might have been the best Mother's Day I have ever had.
Mother's Day gives us a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the gifts we received from our mothers and the ones we hope to pass on to our children. But when we feel the pain of Mother's Day -- the wounds of disappointment, the agony of grief -- we can still find joy when we seek to put others ahead of ourselves. And isn't that what mothering is all about?
Maybe, like the virtuous woman, children will rise up and call us blessed on Mother's Day. But as godly women with mothers' hearts, we won't sit idly waiting. We will seize every opportunity to reach out and bless others. Because there is a lot of heartache in the world, and we have some mothering to do.
"There is an instinct in a woman to love her own child -- and an instinct to make any child who needs her love, her own." ~ Robert Brault