Every church I have ever attended in my forty-five years of being a Christian has celebrated Mother’s Day. (To a lesser extent, they have observed Father’s Day, too, but the Dads don’t get a flower.) Often, the sermon is about motherhood. Usually, the mothers are asked to stand to receive applause and a special prayer. Churches that don’t follow the church year with its seasons of Advent, Lent, Easter and Pentecost, still celebrate Mother’s Day annually, and it is a significant part of the life of a church. How ought we then celebrate Mother’s Day in a way that honors the Lord, mothers and those who have suffered motherhood loss?
Every human being except the first couple have had a biological mother. It comes with being human, although some never meet their mother. My mother, Lillian Cominetto Groothuis (1930-2010), was the daughter of Italian immigrants, and a loving and ever-devoted parent, who, though a widow, scrimped and saved to put me through college and made sure I was provided for in her will. I will always be grateful for her wit, grit and charm. My mom wanted to have six children. Instead, she had me, followed by five miscarriages. She didn’t talk much about it, but given her love for children, it must have hurt her deeply.
My mother loved being a mother, but she also experienced the loss of motherhood because of her miscarriages. Some women have desperately tried to be mothers, but infertility has prevented them. Other women have never married—either because they never desired matrimony or because the circumstances were never right. Some are single mothers who struggle mightily to take care of their child or children. Perhaps others have given up a child for adoption. Still others have had abortions that they now regret.
When we celebrate Mother’s Day, we should rejoice in the gift of motherhood, but also remember those who carry wounds related to motherhood (or the lack of it) in a broken world—infertility, unwanted singleness, single motherhood, adoption and abortion. We can add to this sad list those who have suffered through a troubled relationship with their mothers, or who never knew their biological mothers. We can call these kinds of ills examples of “motherhood loss.”
Instead of offering a theology of motherhood (that ground is well covered), I will consider the other side of motherhood—motherhood-loss. Like Jesus, we should desire to have a to have a “Well-instructed tongue, to the word that sustains the weary” (Isaiah 50:4), especially those who are weary and hurting on Mother’s Day.
In Christian theology, evil has been understood to be a corruption of an original good. It has no power or standing apart from goodness. God created the world to be “very good,” and sin and its effects entered later (Genesis 1-3). The only reason we mourn infertility, unchosen singleness, miscarriage and more is that motherhood is a gift given by God for procreation and the raising of children. When a woman becomes a mother, she enters a new and blessed dimension of being a woman. When women are denied that experience, or if is taken away, they mourn a real loss. Lamenting is in order, at least for a season (see some Psalms of lament, such as 22, 88, and 90).
Our churches honor mothers well on Mother’s Day by extoling the virtues of motherhood and by being grateful for mothers. They can also minister to those whose hearts have been broken through motherhood-loss. First, the special prayers given for Mother’s Day can include references to those women who cannot rejoice as happy mothers this day. They should not feel excluded from this special day. Perhaps the church could hold a unique prayer time after the service for those experiencing the pains of motherhood-loss.
Second, the sermon or homily might include references to both the gifts of motherhood and the trials of motherhood-loss. A classic text is the lament of Rachel weeping over the death of her children (Jeremiah 31:15), a lament that was extended to the slaughter of the innocents by Herod (Matthew 2:16-18). But with lament also comes a promise of healing from the Lord: “Crying may last for a night, but joy comes with a new day” (Psalms 30:5). I am not arguing that Mother’s Day should be primarily a day of mourning. It should celebrate mothers and motherhood as gifts from our good God! However, we dare not forget those who ache from mother-loss, since we should “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).