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Mother’s Day at Your Church: A Time of Joy and Pain

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We’re approaching another Mother’s Day, and that means that it will be difficult to get into restaurants for lunch after worship on Sunday – so please be patient and especially kind to your servers.

There will also be more phone calls, flowers and greeting cards sent out this week than just about any other time in the year.

It also means we could see more people in the church building on that day. More people attend worship on Mother’s Day than any other Sunday except Easter.

In addition to these more consumer-based thoughts about Mother’s Day, there are more serious considerations to keep in mind.

And these are more important for us pastor types to keep in mind, as this holiday is hard for some people to celebrate. In fact, it’s downright painful for some individuals.

In one of my first pastorates, Mother’s Day was recognized in such a way that it became almost a competition.

We would recognize the “oldest mother” in the room. The “mother with the most family members” would be acknowledged. It would seem like the same women won the top prize year after year.

On one occasion, we celebrated “the youngest mother” in the room. Celebrating this reality would sometimes make for uncomfortable circumstances.

On more than one occasion, the “winner” of this award would go to someone barely a teenager. One could infer the church was encouraging young girls to become pregnant.

I was unable to change the tradition in that small church very much. However, in the following church I served, we did something different: We handed out white flowers to those whose moms were dead (and in heaven), and then red flowers to those whose moms were still living.

Doing things in this way became complicated, especially when we asked the little children to hand out the flowers to the women in the room.

The women had to stand up for “the white flower” and what that meant, and then for “the red flower” and what that meant.

Other than seeing confused children not know what flower to give to whom, I thought this was an acceptable way to acknowledge the holiday.

This changed when one of our older members took a moment to tell me how painful it was to receive that white flower because it was a reminder of how much she missed her mom.

She felt singled out and dreaded coming to worship on that day.

Her words made sense to me, and we started handing out the same color flowers to everyone.

These are not theological conundrums, but what I began to realize is that women approach Mother’s Day with a variety of emotions.

It’s a challenging day because not every woman is a wife, not every woman is a mom, and not every mom has a good relationship with her children.

Proverbs 31 is quoted a lot on this day. I’ll be referring to it myself.

However, it’s important how to handle this text because the expectations can seem unrealistic and discouraging to women. It should be used to encourage and celebrate the women in our lives.

Many women in our culture today are bombarded with incredible standards to live up to regarding how they look, what they wear, how and whether or not they have families, and what kind of career success they have.

One of the more personal aspects of the holiday relates to how our church views women as equal with men in their abilities and right to serve in the church, be ordained and hold leadership positions.

It’s important to realize that the book of Proverbs precedes the book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible, and it’s written as an acrostic poem – a detail that is lost in our English translations. So, one might say that the embodiment of these beautiful words is none other than the Ruth.

Another important detail is that the words from Proverbs 31 are not written by a man, but from a mother to her son, a king. She gives us a glimpse into what an upper-class Israelite woman wants in a wife for her son.

I overheard a somewhat awkward exchange take place in the hallway outside our worship space.

One of our older well-intentioned (I hope) women approached one of our younger couples to introduce herself. She learned the couple had been attending our church for some time.

She asked if they had any children, and the man said, “No, we don’t.”

Then, the older woman said they ought to get started on that right away.

What this older woman didn’t realize is that this young couple had been trying to have children but had been unable to do so.

I still cringe at this exchange because I knew this young couple and their pain. They came to worship hoping to be encouraged but were instead reminded of their sense of being somehow incomplete without a child.

On the other hand, I have a friend who will be celebrating her first Mother’s Day, and she and her husband are thrilled about the upcoming weekend.

Numerous stories like these come to mind, but my simple point is that Mother’s Day is a day of joy and pain.

Pastors and churches need to realize that not everyone has the same perspective and experience as it relates to families.

Yes, it’s Mother’s Day. But most importantly, it’s the Lord’s Day. Let that be our focus and spiritual direction for the day.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Chisholm’s blog. It is used with permission.

Danny Chisholm

Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Clinton, Tennessee.