I had only been ordained a few months, and serving in my first call as a Curate in a large multi-clergy staff congregation, when I preached on Mother’s Day for the first time. I chose to approach the sermon without rose colored lenses. I also chose to avoid flowery romanticized views of motherhood, although I was (am) the happy mother of two healthy, almost grown children. I used an illustration of a challenged mother, with a temper and bit of an inability to understand her kids. I think it included another woman who nurtured the children when the mother could not. I think I got it from Rachel Naomi Remen’s book, “Kitchen Table Wisdom,” but I could be wrong. I worked hard on the sermon, preparing to preach in the mandatory no notes, internalize the sermon, method of this congregation. I’m sure it was not a very good sermon, I had only been preaching a few months and still had no idea what I was doing.
The next day, in our Monday morning sermon review, I was scolded, well maybe that’s too strong of a word, but I since I still remember it, I was firmly told that using that kind of an illustration on Mother’s Day was wrong. We need to lift up mothers on Mother’s Day, it should be positive, I was told. Um, I said, and what about the people who had less than perfect mothers, for whom Mother’s Day is challenging? Well, I was told, that sermon was for another day.
So now I think of this every year as I prepare, or not, to preach on Mother’s Day. What do we say? Most years I have chosen to just preach on the text and not mention Mother’s Day at all, except in a brief comment during the announcements: “A happy mothers day to all of us, for we all have, or had, mothers – and also to those who are mothers. May you celebrate this day in the way you most enjoy.”
Mother’s Day is complicated. Generally speaking I like to spend the day with my kids and husband and go out for a nice dinner. I don’t care to make to big of deal out of it. Granted, I am one who has, or rather since she is deceased, had a complicated relationship with my mother. In many ways she was not really a mother. Only 17 years older than I she was sometimes that older sister-like person who told me way too much about her personal life. For a time in my life, addicted to Valium and deeply depressed, she slept all day and all night. This went on for the better part of two or three years. I graduated from High School a year early and moved away from home. A year later my mother, separated from her second husband, had moved to the college town and enrolled in the University with me. I moved to the big city, a few years later she followed. Some years we were as close as can be, sharing a great deal. Some years we were not. By the end of her life we were barely speaking. She had become a recluse, confined to her room with vision loss and many other ailments.
What I like to remember of my mother is her sense of humor, her beauty and great intelligence. I harbor no resentment for the kind of mother she was, even though it wasn’t really the kind of mother I needed. I loved her even as, in the last years of her life, I couldn’t manage to be in her presence.
At one point in time, while in therapy, the therapist asked me where I found my nurturing. Given the mother I had, one who really was not capable of nurturing, where was I nurtured?
I think on Mother’s Day the real event we need to celebrate is, who nurtured us? And who are we nurturing? I think it is important to have a day when we honor the role of women, who are often the primary caregivers and nurturers in our families and friends. I think we need to honor this feminine energy, female trait, and those who cared for us, female and male alike.
So on this Mother’s Day, which really might be better called, Mothering Day, I celebrate all the women who have nurtured me.
I celebrate all the women who nurture others – families, friends, members of the congregation, people in hospitals, nursing homes, or otherwise in need. I celebrate women who have nurtured and are now, because of age or illness, are being cared for.
May you have a wonderful day doing what you enjoy most.