Saturday, May 09, 2015

Mother's Day Flowers

So, it's Mother's Day again.


Every year, it keeps coming. It's worse than Sunday, which comes every week without fail.

From where I sit as a motherless daughter, I do not need to be reminded to love my mom. I do not need to be reminded to appreciate her. Besides the fact that every single organization/store/person under the sun is sending 400 emails a day with subject lines like "don't forget mom!" (who forgets their mother? Even if she was terrible. I mean really. Sure, we may not realize how close we are to the fake holiday that allows us to pretend it makes up for the other 364 days, but the idea that anyone forgets their mother is fairly ridiculous.) there's also the part where I no longer have the privilege or opportunity to appreciate her or to show my love for her. Instead I spend these days thinking of the times I hurt her feelings, the times I didn't tell her how much I loved her, the things I wish we could have done together. I spend the days leading up to Mother's Day, and often the day itself, longing for something I can never have. And then, because I'm in my mid-thirties now, also being reminded of my apparent slacker-ness when it comes to the becoming-a-mom front.
my inbox looks like this, and more, every day for about 2 weeks before Mother's Day. ugh.

Whose idea was it to insist that Mother's Day (and Father's Day) be on a Sunday? It has led us into dangerous territory, church-wise.

Too often, Mother's Day (and to a lesser extent Father's Day, and Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July) has become a religious holiday, even though it a) is not and b) was even disowned by its creator for being too commercialized and sappy.

I realize that in some churches (and in some families), Mother's Day just has to be observed via some kind of liturgical practice.

If that is true in your church or family, I beg you:
Do it some time other than the usual worship time. 

If your worship service(s) are on Sunday morning at 8:30/9/10/11:15, or Saturday at 5pm, or Sunday at 7pm, or whenever...please, for the love of God and all that is holy--and for the good of people in the congregation and community, and for the integrity of worship--have your Mother's Day observance either before or after worship. Do not do it in the context of regular Sunday worship. Ever.

Because too many people--women and men, old and young--find Mother's Day to be exceedingly painful. And people who have these experiences that make Mother's Day painful (infertility, miscarriage, grief, abuse, etc) are often the very people who seek out church community...and the very people that will turn around and walk out the door at the first sign of carnations on the second Sunday of May.

Let's picture some scenarios.
a) During worship, there is a contest for who's been a mother the longest. All the mothers stand, and more and more progressively sit down as the ages of their children are called out, until the last woman standing is 102 and has an 84 year old child (and we all pretend we can't do math, because surely in those days kids were much better than now), and she is given a prize of a bouquet and some chocolate. Meanwhile, the woman who had a miscarriage last year wonders if she's really a mother. The woman who doesn't want to be pregnant looks around furtively to see if anyone notices her. The woman whose child died by suicide wonders if she still has the right to stand up. The woman who desperately wants a child but doesn't have the partner/finances/job/insurance/fertility treatments looks on while trying to hold back tears....and wonders what does this have to do with worshipping God?

b) On the way into the sanctuary, women are given flowers indicating their status as mothers.
Women who are obviously mothers (i.e. those with children in tow, those we know) are given carnations in different shades for different ages of children. Women who are not obviously mothers (i.e., visitors, new members the ushers don't know yet) are asked brightly "are you a mother?" and if they say no, the usher pulls back the basket of flowers and looks disappointed before saying "one day, dear!" and turning to the next unsuspecting woman. Meanwhile, the tone and purpose of worship has been set, and it isn't about Jesus.

c) On the way into the sanctuary, all women are given a carnation to wear on their lapel. Because all women are motherly. All women are nurturers. All women mother someone, whether or not they have children. Because obviously to be a woman IS to be a mother, so we must all be one. If you can't already hear the buzzer on this one, imagine it now. To conflate womanhood and motherhood is to tell those of us without children that we are incomplete, not real women...and to imply that all women are nurturing/motherly/whatever is a bunch of sexist BS that I never want to hear again. Because it's a) not true and b) ignores the nurturing men.

d) On the way into the sanctuary, everyone is given a carnation, because "everyone has a mother!" as the ushers will cheerily remind you as you come in. Sometimes it will be different colors for alive or dead, sometimes it's whatever was cheapest at the grocery store on Saturday when someone thought up this idea. Here's the thing: it's a terrible idea. (as if the previous ideas were not terrible?) Yes, it is biologically true that everyone has a mother. It is also true that many relationships with mothers are not best characterized by flowers. It is also true that people getting those white carnations will now spend much of the worship service thinking about their dead mother rather than about God. It is also true that people who were adopted, people whose mothers died very young, people who were abused, people who are estranged from their families, people whose mothers are living in the memory care unit and will not recognize them when they go over for lunch...these people came to church to focus their attention on the One who knit us together, who called us into being, and who is worthy of praise...and instead they are getting a slap in the face, a poke in the gut, a ripping of the heart in the one place and time that should absolutely be about God.

So what do we do in church on Mother's Day?
*Well, for starters, toss the carnations. Even at their best they remind 90% of us of funerals anyway.

*Next, nix any idea of "recognizing moms" during worship. At best, it is patronizing as we spend one minute thanking them for everything we take for granted the other 525,599 minutes of the year. At worst, it is a stake through the heart of a sizable number of people sitting in the pews.

*Absolutely feel free to mention it in the prayers of the people, the same way you would mention any other cultural or news event. In other words, not a special mother's day prayer, but a few lines acknowledging those who show us God's mothering love (best to use scriptural metaphors...mother hen, she-bears...) and acknowledging the pain that sometimes occurs in our human relationships.

*If you really have to do something, reach back to the first attempt at creating a Mothers 1870. At least that had meaning and purpose beyond just giving us another year to, apparently, forget our moms.

If you need more than that, please, I beg you: do it at some time other than the regular worship time. Have a special Mother's Day service. Have something during coffee hour. Allow those of us who find Mother's Day a trauma to worship God and then leave before the carnations and clapping.

Dear mom: I haven't forgotten you, I promise. And I'm pretty sure you didn't like carnations anyway, so this is one thing I don't feel guilty about. Sorry for the times I was a crappy/bratty/obnoxious/know-it-all kid. And young adult. Sorry I didn't get to tell you how much I love you more often. Sorry the Mother's Day cards mostly suck and are apparently the best we can do. I miss you. So much that if I thought it would bring me even ten more minutes, I would hand out carnations to every person who does so much as drive by the church, let alone walk in. 
(They would, of course, not be pink. duh.)

Dear church, and all the people who have been like a mother to me over the years, in churches and out of them: I love you. And we will not be celebrating mothers during worship. We will be celebrating the grace of God, whose love and peace pass all understanding, and who is a far more perfect parent than even the most amazing among us. 


  1. amen and amen. Sending love, friend.

  2. Preach. Love you, friend. All year long.

  3. Amen. About a million different ways.

  4. What Martha said. Love to you on this day!

  5. I read every word. But keep stumbling over the idea to remove it from worship. God has been a mother to me when my mother couldn't reach me. The Bible is filled with stories and narratives from God that speak of women with and without children who acted on behalf of children and showed to show them a love that God deemed enduring; yet not as everlasting as God's own love, "can a mother forget her child? Yet I will not forget you. You are engraved on my palms."
    Yes, I come to worship corporately when I enter my church. But I also come to lay burdens at an altar that I know God will pick up for me. And as the pastor/servant of Christ delivers a Word from God, I can continue to be amazed and grateful how that Man or Woman of God knits God's Word into their own experiences and touches my Soul with Living Water that refreshes and energizes me; and helps me see past the World's misguided, commercialized directives. Those words cause me to reimagine and revise my role as a Follower of Christ, who though not a mother, nurtured, sacrificed, labored in pain for unborn children in His family, a savior who became servant to us all. And as I thank my Mother for her servant role in my life-cleaning up my messes both literally and figuratively, I see a physical example of God's Love that I can try and emulate
    I don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water and remove Mother's Day from worship. I want to add more of God's soapy life giving love to that water, and clean that baby up!

    1. Thanks for your words, Jeneane. I appreciate your perspective, and absolutely get where you are coming from when it comes to God mothering us. And I am always pro-gratitude, in and out of worship.

      Mother's Day was never meant to be a part of worship, though--it was to be a family celebration. That's where I think it belongs. To celebrate Mother's Day in worship will inevitably be hurtful, in a particularly tender place for many, and ends up taking the focus off of God and putting it on us. To preach and sing and pray about God as mother is one thing, and is appropriate. To celebrate individual moms, or all moms, or all women, particularly in the ways I mention here, is not about God, in my experience and opinion, and therefore belongs in the fellowship time or in a special service.