It happens every year. Rain or shine, you can count on it. It always comes on a Sunday, so there’s no way to avoid it unless you fake sick and skip church. Nope. No matter what, somewhere between April showers and May flowers, it will sneak up behind you, tap you on the shoulder and remind you, it’s Mother’s Day. And, that crack in your heart will get a little wider.
About two weeks before the big day, the preparations will begin. Television commercials will present their holiday sales, Hallmark will offer the “perfect gift for Mom”, the stores will fill with greeting cards, and families will make plans to celebrate some amazing woman who wore tights and a cape! She was the one who not only made delicious dinners, baked chocolate chip cookies, and never even considered actually sweating while scrubbing the house, but also tucked you into bed at night, listened to your heartaches, prayed with you and would always be the most faithful, loving, best friend for life! This has always been the “mom” I have imagined people celebrate on Mother’s Day, a cross between Caroline Ingals and Carol Brady.
I figure this must be the case.
Every year on Mother’s Day, during the church service, there will be a time to honor all mothers in attendance. The oldest Mom. The youngest Mom. They may offer roses or some small gift like “Mom Awards” for being a wonderful mother. And, then, they will make a “special mention” of those who may be hurting on this “very, special day”, which by the way, will feel so far from “special”.
They will mention women who have lost children. They will mention those who have lost a wonderful mother who passed away too early and is no longer here to celebrate. They will always mention the barren women who ache for the opportunity to become mothers. And all of these things will be terribly painful and make Mother’s Day very difficult, but none of these things ever describe our pain. It is as if our situation is unmentionable or seemingly too taboo to share in church. Yet, I wonder how many of you, stand next to me, around me, in front of me, who will be standing in my exact, unmentionable shoes.
Perhaps it seems disrespectful, against the very commandment of, “Honor Thy Mother and Father.” I don’t know. What I do know is many of us have had, at best, difficult relationships with our mothers. There were homes where heroes didn’t exist. There were situations to which no greeting card speaks. There were Mother’s Days where no celebration was even held because the person, who held the title of “Mother”, wasn’t a mother at all.
It is not polite to say, “I had a bad mother.” It is not nice to share family secrets. But, for some of us, we didn’t even live lives where things just didn’t meet the standards of Leave It To Beaver or even met the level of crass projected on the TV show Roseanne. Our lives were so much worse. Some of us never experienced what having a mother could or even should be. These were homes so dark, so twisted, so depraved, that nurturing, compassion, and trust never even entered the front door.
Perhaps your “mom” was an alcoholic. Perhaps she drank herself into a stupor before you even got home from school. Passed out on the couch, she never knew or seemed to care if you came home or not. Maybe you were her mother and your bedtime routine included holding her hair as she vomited up her closest friend all over her ceramic altar. Maybe she had no idea what your name was half the time, much less remembered your birthday or showed up for things like your high school graduation. Maybe she never even paid attention to you at all, so that you felt invisible.
Perhaps your “mom” enabled or even pushed you toward men who hurt you. Maybe she did it for money. Maybe she did it out of fear. Maybe she acted like she never knew you were being hurt; yet all the while she plotted and manipulated the abuse of her own child. Perhaps she had no love to offer you, ever. Maybe you weren’t even wanted. Maybe the only purpose for your existence, as far as she was concerned, was to make other people “feel good”, to be used, abused and thrown away. Maybe this is so true for you that just the word “mother” leaves a sour, stale taste in your mouth, convinced there is absolutely no reason to celebrate anything.
These kinds of scenarios are not uncommon, though I wish they were. But they aren’t things we talk about in church, when everyone is dressed in their Sunday best. These things are painful to say and even painful to read. If any of these things ring true for you, you may suddenly be feeling an inner shaking about now, a strong desire to slam shut the door called “mother”, that I just opened. It’s so much easier to pretend everything was fine or just not mention Mom at all since, no one usually asks and you will be able to slip out of the sanctuary before anyone notices, taking your leaking heart home with you again this year.
But is this really all there is for those of us whose mothers weren’t what we wanted?
The Bible says we are to, “Speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15), both truth and love, not one without the other. So what do we do now? We know the truth. We know what really happened. Deep inside, we know what it was like to long for a real Mommy. We know the pain of having no one to dry our tears, tuck us into bed, read us a bedtime story, or even be willing to protect us. We fully understand the silence of never speaking ill of “Mother”, as that is just “not done”. So, we don’t speak at all. We go on, year after year, and our wounds grow deeper, wider and more painful.
But, what about love? How does love play into our upcoming day of celebration? Where are truth and love on Mother’s Day? Surely that doesn’t mean a sugar-coated display of only the good things, as that’s not really truth at all. But, it also can’t mean the whole truth as that would be way, too ugly. We know the facts. We know what happened. Yet, we may be left with so much pain. Even now, we may be filled with anger, bitterness, shame, and even fear toward this woman who gave birth to us, our mother.
You only get 1 mother. There is only ever 1 woman who carried you for more than 9 months and to whom you can be assigned. If she chose to keep you, there were many options as to how you could grow. The impact of a wonderful mother could have had miraculous results. Yet, the depths of wounds inflicted by a mean, cruel, neglectful, selfish, critical mother, may haunt our very souls far into adulthood. And so they we are, standing during worship, awaiting this so-called celebration,… wishing, hoping our reality was something completely different.
If your heart is full of hurt, where can love fit? The Bible says, “Out of the heart, the
mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).” If your heart is filled with anger, bitterness, shame or fear, how can your mouth speak love?
Years ago, while on my own healing journey, I met a precious lady who shared with me this truth, “People cannot give you what they do not have to give.” Pretty simple, huh?
Looking back, we may never have had a real mother. We may still be longing for that moment to be held and rocked like a mother rocks a baby. But, now we are grown. What do we do with these longings, these feelings that creep up to burn our eyes with tears on days like Mother’s Day?
First, we empty our hearts of the pain inside. We create space for love. We feel the feelings we have spent years pushing down. We cry the tears and allow ourselves to fully grieve the mothers we never had. This may take a long time. We take the time. We let every, single, last tear exit our big, wounded hearts and then, we pray.
We pray from our guts, begging God to fill us. We ask Him to give us the love we don’t know, the love we never had, the love we need and needed when we were small and helpless. And through faith, the Holy Spirit begins a most perfect work of coming into our tattered, ragged, see-through hearts, healing every section, piece by piece. He gathers every broken portion and makes it new. He binds up the walls and fortifies them with strength and courage. He cleans every, single step and ledge and book case, not missing a thing until the color of our heart turns from gray and brown to pink, purple, green, yellow,…“a heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezk 36:26).”
Then, He pours into us, love. He pours and pours until love is overflowing, until we are overcome by the goodness and tenderness of Jesus. Then, He holds us, tightly to His chest, as newborn babes. We lay still, suddenly aware that we are loved. We are wanted. We are cherished. It is how it should have been. We feel a mother’s love for the first time. And, it is beautiful. And the tears flow, but not tears that burn and sting, but tears of hope and joy and gladness.
It is out of this healing work, that we can now speak the truth in love! Now, we have known love and we have love to offer, lots of it, for friends, for family, and yes, for our own Mother. But, this will not be an empty celebration. We will not brush aside the truth. We will keep both. But now, when we, “Honor our Mother”, it will be with a right heart before God, seeing all that was and still being able to offer love. We can love her with the love with which the Lord Jesus Christ has loved us! And we will expect nothing in return, understanding that a heart full of pain has no love to give. It may be a very one-sided love, but we will remember that that is exactly how our relationship was with Jesus. He first loved us, when we had no love to give. And it will be beautiful. On the breast of Jesus, we will find a mother’s heart. And, that, dear friends, will be reason to celebrate. And, when Mother’s Day comes and we are standing in church, even though our scenario is never mentioned, we will be at peace, because God knows all of it and loves us anyway.