As a son, I love Mother's Day. I have a great mother and I love her and I will tell her these things on the second Sunday in May. As a pastor, however, I confess that I don't like Mother's Day because it is a day that is more hurtful than joyous for many.
I think it was 21 years ago when I was an associate pastor in Texas that I had to handle the recognition of mothers in worship on Mother's Day. The senior pastor was absent and I had been told specifically how to handle the task of honoring mothers in keeping with the tradition of that church. Each mother was to receive a flower and I was to read a sentimental poem about the greatness of mothers.
As instructed, I asked the mothers to stand and the flowers began to be distributed as I began to read the poem. But, only seconds into the flower distribution and the reading of the poem, the church organist on the front pew sat back down and began to sob uncontrollably. Her obvious grief could be heard all through the sanctuary. Her son had died a little less than a year before. Smiles evaporated and tears began forming in the eyes of many in that place of worship as we all connected with the sorrow of one mother.
In my faith tradition many churches, on Mother's Day, recognize the oldest mother, the youngest mother and the mother with the most children. I've never quite understood what was being honored in this practice. Why do these mothers deserve to be singled out above others? How does the age, youth or number of children of a mother merit special recognition? And what about the mothers like that church organist for whom Mother's Day, rather than being a day of celebration, is a day of intense sadness? Should these mothers be ignored?
As a senior pastor I have never followed the typical pattern of recognition on Mother's Day. For many years I asked worshippers who were either mothers or who were born of a mother to stand. Of course everyone stood. I then pointed out that all of us were touched in some way on Mother's Day and for many it is a very difficult day for a host of reasons. I always encourage the congregation to be sensitive to and supportive of those for whom Mother's Day is hard. Often I have made available copies of articles written by mothers and others who had a tough time on Mother's Day.
Over the years I have known numerous regular worshippers who make a point not to go to church on Mother's Day because it is just too hard for them. I am well aware that the second Sunday in May is a joyous celebration for many families. But I also know that Mother's Day really hurts for many. The family of God must attempt to effectively and equally "rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn" (Romans 12:15, TNIV).
It is interesting that the mother who inspired the creation of Mother's Day, Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis, was a crusader for positive social change. As an expression of her love for Christ she organized Mother's Day Work Clubs that raised money to help needy people obtain medications they could not afford and promoted peace during the Civil War and healing between the North and South after the war. When her daughter succeeded in establishing Mother's Day as a national observance, the younger Jarvis was appalled that the day established in honor of a woman devoted to social change quickly became a day of profit for flower retailers and greeting card sellers.
I wonder if recovering some of the spirit of Ann Maria Reeves Jarvis in our Mother's Day observances might make them a little less painful for many.