A Thriving Spiritual Community

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

Annisquam Village Church Logo

Annisquam
Village Church

820 Washington St.
Gloucester, MA

A Thriving Spiritual Community

photo of AVC sanctuary
Sermon: The Minefield of Mother’s Day

The Minefield of Mother’s Day

May 8, 2022

come-share-in-god's-joy

For many of us, today is a wonderful time to celebrate mothers with family gatherings… maybe brunch or a special dinner out.  But, for some of us, it can also stir up some tender emotions. A few weeks ago, a congregant said to me, “I NEVER go to church on Mother’s Day.  It’s just too painful.” 

Mother’s Day can be a minefield. For MANY reasons.

Held up against the ideal of a Hallmark Mother’s Day, we might look at the relationships we have or had with our mothers and the image and reality don’t match.  Or, perhaps, if we are mothers ourselves, again, the image and reality may not match.  Or if we’ve always wanted to be a mother or a grandmother and it doesn’t look like this is in our future, our ideals and our reality may not match. 

When we notice that our ideals and reality don’t match, when we feel some discomfort about that, it is an opportunity to look inside, to do some inner work. 

Since the pandemic began, much of the joy newly pregnant mothers anticipated was disrupted or even robbed by our inability to gather for everything from baby showers to birthing rooms to baptisms. And with the extraordinary stress of these last few years, many young mothers are struggling to navigate a reality that is so far from what they hoped.

For those of us who have lost a beloved mother, especially during the pandemic, this day can bring sorrow, rather than joy.

Mother’s Day can be a minefield. 

As a spiritual community, it’s important that we see, name, and recognize how difficult this day can be for so many people; to be honest that the ideal image we hold of motherhood and reality don’t always match.  Nor can they. Because when we are honest, we create safe, compassionate places for those who are struggling.  I’m not sure there has ever been a more difficult time in my memory for mothers with school aged children – and for lots of other people, too.

And, yet, during the height of the pandemic, when a group of mothers gathered outside of Boston, in Charlestown, for a primal scream, many derided them for being whiners even though study after study showed that it was mothers who bore the brunt of managing their children’s schoolwork and well-being, while also trying to manage their own jobs and homes.  Mothers left the workforce in droves, many unable to find a way to both work and be there for their children.

In November, my stepdaughter, Brittany became a mother.  She had an uphill battle finding the 9 weeks of childcare she needed for 5 ½ month old Grayson. The cost is eye-popping. And she is one of the fortunate ones – because her mother plans to retire this fall so that she can care for Grayson.

A couple I recently spoke with, whose 2nd child was born four months ago, decided to leave the North Shore for Kansas, so they could buy the kind of family home that is simply out of reach here. 

A couple I recently counseled, lives in a 1 bedroom apartment in Essex with their two young children. They are under incredible stress because they can’t yet afford a home in this area that would give them an additional bedroom or two.  So, one of the parents often ends up sleeping on the couch. 

Another couple I recently counseled waited until both finished advanced degrees and were established professionally to become parents.  Which means both they and their parents are on the older side.  When Paul’s Dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness, they began to panic over how to care for their 3 year old daughter and help Paul’s parents.

What have you noticed about the stress that parents of school aged children are carrying? I think that those of us who have already raised our children are grateful that we didn’t have to face the immense social, political, and economic challenges young people today must deal with. 

As the right to abortion hit the front pages again (talk about a minefield), I couldn’t help but think about the reasons why women might make this choice. According to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (pre-pandemic data), six in 10 women who have abortions are already mothers, and half of them have two or more children. University of California professor Ushma Upadhyay notes, “One of the main reasons people report wanting to have an abortion is so they can be a better parent to the kids they already have.”

Even in 2014, which after more than 2 years of pandemic feels like another world, according to the New York Times, about half of women who had an abortion were below the poverty line, with another quarter very close to poverty.  

If our society was more supportive of the actual needs of mothers, might there be fewer abortions?  Unless we build a society that doesn’t merely uphold the ideal of motherhood, but actually addresses the economic and social realities of it, we will continue to place an unfair burden on pregnant women. 

I’m not sure there could be a more difficult time to be a new mother.

In this church, like many others, we often lament that we do not see more families on Sunday mornings.  What I have heard from a number of  parents is that they are just so exhausted, that trying to get out the door on most Sunday mornings – if there aren’t already sporting events on the agenda –  is simply a bridge too far. None of the four young families I mentioned earlier in the sermon are regularly attending church in person or on Zoom now and only one of them has concrete plans to do so in the future – though all were raised in church. 

In the reading we listened to from the prophet Hosea, we are given one of the most profound images of God as Mother. Hosea writes “When Israel was a child, I offered my love, and out of Egypt I called my child. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,  I took them up in my arms. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” Hosea also understands God as a healer, who brings the lost child home. 

As an aside,  take note.  All those who say that the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath, but the God of the New Testament is one of love, have not taken this passage to heart.  Hosea’s God has a deeply personal covenant with the people, one that has even been a source of pain for God. Professor Margaret Odell recognizes that this passage is “quite possibly the earliest expression of God’s love in the Bible; it is also the most passionate, as it portrays… God’s compassion averting feelings of anger.”

This is a God whose image of what humanity could be doesn’t match reality. 

Herein, lies the lesson.

What does Hosea tell us that God does in the face of disappointment and rejection? When the ideal and reality don’t match? God does not give into anger or judgment, but responds with compassion. How fascinating is it that the Hebrew word for compassion derives from the same word as womb? 

God has compassion for us even when we turn away or reject God; when we do not hold up on our end of the covenant, of the relationship; when the reality of who we are does not match God’s image of us. No matter what. (Like the Inuit mother in Peg’s book.)

On this Mother’s Day, we are called to respond with compassion to all for whom Mother’s Day is a minefield.  We are called to be warm and tenderhearted to those mothers – our own and others – whose lives, for whatever reason, fall short of our ideal image.  Likewise, we are called to be compassionate towards ourselves when we fall short of meeting the ideals that church or society has created for us; ideals we may have internalized. 

There are no perfect people.  Which means there are no perfect mothers and no perfect children.  Even in Annisquam.  Holding onto, even clinging onto ideals – whether its expectations we have for our mothers, our children, or ourselves  – can only lead to disappointment, frustration, and even anger. 

On this Mother’s Day, may we embrace, support, and celebrate all mothers in their gifts and imperfections.  And when the ideals we hold – whether for our mothers, our children, or ourselves do not match the reality,  may we remember the warm and tender compassion God offers us and give that same compassion wherever it is needed. Amen.