Today’s post is by Amanda Highben who serves as Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Dublin, Ohio.
Mothering God, you gave me birth
in the bright morning of this world.
Creator, source of ev’ry breath,
you are my rain, my wind, my sun.
– “Mothering God, you gave me birth,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #735
When I gave birth to our daughter Cecilia, I was still in seminary and serving as the youth director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Zanesville, Ohio. Needless to say, it was a full and challenging time as my husband Zeb and I balanced our jobs, my education, and our halting, on-the-job education in parenting. One of the clearest things I remember is the exhaustion. In the first months of Ceci’s life, I was convinced I’d never sleep again.
Thankfully, our St. John’s community was a great source of strength and support for us. The parishioners delighted in Cecilia’s birth and helped us in countless ways, from simply holding her during worship to bringing us meals and offering to babysit. The congregation nurtured us through this time of transition and we will be forever thankful for such a gift.
Still, St. John’s is not unique in this regard. Many churches do a wonderful job of welcoming and supporting families. As Mother’s Day nears, congregations are once again preparing to bless and honor the mothers in their midst. Because I’ve served five different churches, I’ve seen mothers recognized in worship in various ways. I have even heard entire sermons devoted to Mother’s Day, though there is nothing in the lessons to warrant such preaching.
It is critical to be aware that Mother’s Day is not joyful for everyone. Remember the diverse and complex life stories of your people—The couples struggling with infertility. The children and adults whose mothers have died tragically. Those who have been hurt by or have strained relationships with their mothers. Women who cannot or chose not to have children, but have been endlessly told by contemporary culture that only motherhood can truly fulfill them. Families with two fathers. Women struggling with post-partum depression. All of this is complicated by our cultural determination to “romanticize” motherhood, which makes it difficult for mothers to talk openly about their challenges without feeling ashamed. In other words, if we fail to be thoughtful in our worship planning, a variety of women, men, and children might feel hurt or excluded when we intend exactly the opposite.
Yet: The commandments tell us to honor our parents, and the desire to bless mothers is good and Christ-like. It is an impulse that springs from a place of love. If we ignore it altogether in worship on the grounds that it is a secular holiday and not part of our liturgical calendar, then we risk conveying the implicit message that reasons for celebration in people’s everyday lives don’t matter to the church; we risk conveying the harmful belief that the Christian faith is disconnected from the world beyond our sanctuary walls.
This year, then, as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection on the seventh Sunday of Easter consider how your congregation might recognize mothers in ways that are sensitive, inclusive, and faithful to your context. Perhaps this means focusing more on the act of mothering, or lifting up Biblical images of our mothering God (see Isaiah 49.14-16 and 66:13, or Luke 13:34). The petition for mothers in the Prayers of Intercession is also appropriate and poignant (Sundays and Seasons, Sunday May 13, 2018). Above all, pray that everyone who gathers for worship on this day will encounter Jesus’ unfailing, all-embracing love.