Ministry, Mothering

Reaching Out With Love

(Thinking about Easter 5 and Mother's Day…)

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone
who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God,
for God is love.
(1 John 4:7-8, NRSV)
My first task at my new job, before I could even reach the office on the
first day, was to visit a woman in the hospital, a woman who was dying. I sat
with her family, the people who loved her, and I felt, as I always do, what a
privilege it is to be with people at such moments. We talked about the future
and how, very soon, this woman, this mother, this wife would be in God's
embrace. It sounded personal, because an embrace, by its very nature, is
intimate. Children spoke of the people gone on before, now awaiting Mother's
arrival. And the room filled with love.
God's love can be present in many ways. Our lack of love won't keep God
away, but our love can serve as a conduit for God's, making that feeling of
warmth and comfort palpable to those who need it most. And that can be any one
of us, at crucial moments in our lives: a birth, a death, a disappointment or an
This Sunday will be Mother's Day, a holiday invented for a political
purpose but hijacked by florists and greeting card companies. Whether or not it
should matter to us, Mother's Day can make us feel euphoric or lonely, delighted
or disappointed. Perhaps we had a difficult relationship with our mother, or we
wanted to have children and couldn't, or our relationship with the children we
did have is strained; there are many reasons to feel left out on Mother's Day.

Carnationbouquet In churches, we sometimes make it worse by recognizing mothers in a way that leaves "non-mothers" feeling devalued. I began thinking about this long before becoming a pastor, when my brother got married on Mother's Day weekend. His godmother, Aunt P., a treasured childhood friend of my mother's, had never married, although she fostered many children over the years from a Navajo reservation where she taught as a young woman, and she godmothered perhaps a dozen of her friends' children. On the morning after the wedding, we went out to brunch at the Historic Billsburg Lodge, known for its "omelet bar." As we stood in line to enter, my mother saw the flowers on the hostess's podium, carnations in a range of hues meant to denote various categories of motherhood. She whispered to me, "We are getting a flower for Aunt P. Don't tell anyone she is not a mother."

Of course, my mother was the mother of other people's children, too. She had struggled through years of infertility in the less scientific decade of the 1950s, watched her peers give birth to large families while she waited and waited and waited for nothing to happen. Having left her career early in her marriage, she found enjoyment in going places with my political father, then a state senator, but she knew other people watched and wondered.

And of course, in those days, you didn't talk about it.

She knew Aunt P's whole story, which included a man she wanted to marry whose background did not pass muster with privileged parents. She knew Aunt P's failed attempts to make her own life at a time when young women of her social standing and economic status stayed home until they wed. She knew, my mother, about not being a mother in other people's eyes, even when you really were in all the ways that mattered.

She knew about not being a mother in your own eyes, and having to adjust the frame around your life to make things fit.

And so my mother–my mother–reached out to the vase of loose carnations and handed one to her friend, with love.

10 thoughts on “Reaching Out With Love”

  1. “she knew my mother, about not being a mother in other people’s eyes, even when you really were in all the ways that mattered”
    one of my greatest sadnesses–is that we don’t have children–by choice. it is something I still grieve, though. mother’s days get harder as years pass…
    so thank you for this.

  2. This is a powerful story, SB, and I cheered for your mom when I read it. There are so many people, still, who don’t understand why Mothers’ Day can be the hardest day for a woman to come to church. The pastor of the church my family attends has all the great-grandmothers stand, then the grandmothers, and so on until all the women are standing. My single friend remarks that by the time it gets to “daughters” she feels like a consolation prize. I agree. Thank you.

  3. I’ve often thought of preaching a Mother’s Day sermon on the two midwives in Exodus – who risked the Pharoah’s ire by refusing to kill the Hebrew babies…along the lines of the bravery of women and ways we nurture and protect life even if we are not birth mothers…

  4. Beautiful post.
    And this is exactly why I don’t like to “do” mother’s day in church. Someone is going to feel hurt no matter how it’s handled.

  5. very well written… or is that told? somehow some stories seem written, words thought over and carefully penned or typed… and others flow naturally from the heart. this was one of the those… thank you.

  6. This is beautiful, Songbird. None of this is easy, and it’s good to see a moment of grace amidst the pain and mix of public/private impulses defining motherhood.

  7. I appreciate this sensitive post more than you know. As a woman who longed to be a mother and never became (a biological) one, this tugs at my heart and brings tears to my eyes. It is my deepest sadness, no matter how reconciled I am to the reality of being childless. And it is all the more painful now that there is a grandchild (via my step-daughter) with whom I don’t have a relationship because the father-daughter relationship is strained. Mother’s Day tears the bandage off the wound every year, and the scar tissue gets thicker than ever as it rescabs. I wish it were not so.

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