This year marks my third Mother’s Day post-hysterectomy. I find myself stumbling to figure out what it might be like to hold motherhood and childlessness in tension. Perhaps it means acknowledging those who are mothers and applauding their tireless efforts but then offering a moment of silent reflection for those who wish to be mothers, but are not yet, or will never be. Perhaps it means allowing time to name the grief that comes with a barren dream, a miscarried dream, a stillborn dream, an intercepted dream (perhaps due to foster care or adoption), or a stolen dream (perhaps due to the imprisonment or death of a child). Perhaps it’s “Jesus loves the little children of the world,” sung in harmony with “It is well with my soul.” Perhaps it’s intentionally pointing the congregation to both the carnation and the empty crib.
Perhaps as we stand to greet one another on this particular Sunday, in addition to saying, “Happy Mother’s Day,” we might also remember to say, “God be with you” and to respond, “And also with you.” For this is an eternal truth whether we find ourselves changing soiled diapers or experiencing infertility. Whether this day reserved for mothers stirs up strong emotions of joy, sadness, anger, hurt, or regret it is good to be reminded that God is with me and also with you.
Perhaps on this particular Sunday, as children are given the opportunity to praise their mothers, there might also be room for stories of loss and struggle. Perhaps the preacher doesn’t just address the mothers who are gathered, but the whole congregation. Perhaps the sermon offered on Mother’s Day encourages and challenges the congregation to see Christ in the “other.” Yes, Christ is present as mothers kiss scraped knees and read bedtime stories but Christ is also present in the life of the orphan. And thankfully, Christ is also present in the lives of those who have no children as we birth life into the world in a variety of care-giving ways.
I do also want to acknowledge those in our sacred communities who do not find themselves in the tug of the Mother’s Day tension because they have made a conscious choice not to parent children. They should not let those who celebrate the joy of motherhood or those who experience the grief of childlessness shame them into being absent on this day. Motherhood is not a Christian rite of passage. God is also with those who don’t want a carnation and who don’t identify with the empty cradle and the cross.
Perhaps the only way to begin to address the tension of celebrating Mother’s Day in the Church, is to acknowledge that it exists. For those who are childless, it is important to be present on this day to cheer mothers on as they stand up and are honored and to cheer them on when motherhood is difficult. And for those who are mothers, it is also important that you notice those who are seated and cheer for us too, especially on difficult days like today.
Is it possible to make room for both the carnation and the empty cradle this Mother’s Day? I believe it is.
Letiah Fraser is a hospital chaplain and is the Pastor of Community Life at Trinity Family Midtown Church of the Nazarene in Kansas City.