Simeon, a perfect stranger, approached Mary, the mother of Jesus on the day Jesus was presented at the Temple. He rejoiced over Jesus but told Mary, the life of a mother will include pain and sorrow, like a sword piercing the soul. And while we understand Simeon’s words as specific to Mary’s journey and Jesus’ salvation sacrifice for us, my 22 years as a mother would affirm that Simeon was correct. Mother-love requires courage to hold yourself open to sorrow, for the sake of someone you are called to love, care for and protect.
It is becoming more difficult to say Happy Mother’s Day without unintentionally causing someone else pain. Sometimes it’s because of infertility and the intensity of unfulfilled longing. Sometimes it’s because of a painful childhood experience full of neglect, abandonment or abuse. For some a death or custody complications mar the day indelibly. We don’t mean to be insensitive on this Hallmark holiday. We only mean to say that without mothers, none of us would be here. So, thank you Mom! We love you! But what else can we say on this day?
I believe we can say ‘I understand this day pierces your soul.’ Not, I understand, in a casual way that dismisses the details of a woman’s longing for children, or loss, but by imagining a longing unfulfilled or a loss of our own and the sorrow that accompanies it. Empathy is a mothering characteristic.
I believe we can say, ‘Struggle, loss and even failure in and of themselves do not diminish the gifts and grit of motherhood.’ Sadly, we celebrate what appears to be picture perfect examples of motherhood more often than the Bathsheba’s who endured shame, the Tamar’s who persevered through injustice, the Rebecca’s who let their longing for a child look undignified, and the Syrophoenician woman who tenaciously fought for a spot for her child at the Master’s table. We’re wrong to do this of course because it denies the reality of God’s grace in our lives. But we’re right to keep trying to remember that each story is important.
I believe we can say, Happy Mother’s Day simply. And I believe we can stretch to say it carefully and kindly when the complexity of the situation needs it. This honours the courage, the tenacity, the constancy of mother-love. So, Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, alongside the mothers who know deep joy and deep sorrow.
With love for my own Mom who died last year, and for all of you,
Laurel Archer, Assistant Family Life Pastor