Wednesday, May 6, 2009

out loud

So. Sunday. Mother's Day. Again.

Sundays are big days for me. The whole "pastor" thing pretty much guarantees that you work on Sundays, for one thing, and on most major holidays as well. This is my fourth Damn-It-I'm-Still-Not-A-Mother Mother's Day (preceded by four equally titled Thanksgiving, Christmases, and Easters, so it's not new territory).

Some years, going to church on Mother's Day is like being the only Jewish person at a fundamentalist Christian revival. (I have no idea what that feels like, of course, so I could be wrong.) It's a distinct feeling, a voice in my head repeating its evil little mantra all day long: I don't belong here. Smile, say 'thanks' when people tell you you'd be a great mother, try not to kill them, remember that whole 'don't kill people' commandment, smile again, you're a BIG FRAUD and a failure and IF THEY DON'T SHUT UP ABOUT ME BEING A GREAT MOTHER I WILL BE THE FIRST PASTOR TO KILL A PARISHIONER IN THE ACTUAL SANCTUARY WHERE THEIR FUNERAL WILL BE HELD LATER.

I've never been a big fan of Mother's (or, for that matter, Father's) Day. I love my mom, and my dad. I love to celebrate them and give thanks for them. But as a single person for all of my twenties into my early thirties, and then as an infertile person, I get really sick of our society's obsession with family. [Ironically, there may be no organization within our society more obsessed with family than the church. I should totally work there! Awesome!]

My particular denomination is less family-focused than many others. Yes, we use the word a lot, but we try to define it more widely than mom-dad-two-kids-and-a-dog. The congregation in which I am serving is part of the "Reconciling in Christ" movement, which means that we openly and gladly welcome gay and lesbian men and women. Several of our members are gay and lesbian couples, at least one of which has children. Lots of people in this congregation have adopted children. When we talk about "family ministries," we try hard to make sure we are casting as wide a vision as possible.

Mother's Day is not a liturgical day. It has no official place in the church calendar. Neither do the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving (it's national, not church-related), Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, or Father's Day. But just try to ignore Mother's Day. Seriously. I dare you. Try to get through a whole worship service without saying something to the women who are sitting there with chrysanthemum corsages the size of their heads, their freshly-scrubbed and often slightly surly children sitting next to them because it is Mother's Day and we are going to church so get upstairs and get in the shower and I don't want to hear any complaining about it, do you hear me? Those women deserve a shout-out. They really do.

But so do the women sitting out there who never got married and didn't have kids and who dragged themselves to worship even though they know it is hard as hell to sit next to people who will say things like, "oh, you're lucky not to have children, they're just so much work. Did I tell you about how this one...". And the women who are making it through their first Mother's Day after a miscarriage, hoping they don't burst into tears during the hymn of the day. And the women who are pregnant again, with a child they honestly don't want, but they don't know how to say that out loud, so they are keeping it hidden as deeply as possible. And the women who have never, ever heard the word "infertility" said within the walls of the church, so they are pretty sure no one in the church knows anything about what it's like to survive Mother's Day when you're convinced that you'll never have a child of your own. And the women whose child died this year, who are probably not in the pews because that might actually kill them, living through a public Mother's Day without the child who gave them dandelions twenty years ago as a Mother's Day gift.

Here is the sermon I never, ever want to hear again on Mother's Day (and which I solemnly swear to you I will never, ever preach, no matter how senile I get): "God's love is like a mother's love, surrounding us with joy and encouraging us every day." I. Hate. That. Sermon.

Also, it is almost always preached by a man with six kids.

I am convinced that one of the things the church can offer people is to say things out loud. I'm not preaching this Sunday (thank God), so my out-loud chance will come during the public prayers. During which yes, I plan to thank God for mothers. But I also plan to pray for those who wanted to be mothers and couldn't, or didn't. For mothers who are grieving the loss of a child. For those enduring infertility. For those waiting in the adoption process. For those whose moms were abusive, or missing, or otherwise not something you really want to spend a whole day celebrating.

The list won't be exhaustive, of course. I'll miss something. But we'll give it a shot. And then I'll go home and host a brunch for my mom, and for my sister-in-law, who is celebrating her first Mother's Day. In all honesty, I'm really looking forward to it. Which is a good feeling.

To my sisters-in-being-interrupted, baby-wise: Peace to you on Sunday. I'll be thinking of you.


  1. Thank you: your words always find a way of hitting home and I really appreciate them (especially this week).
    Last year, I visited my parents and visited our Parish. The new priest welcomed me and my husband and then asked why we were waiting so long to have kids. My soul was probably in jeopardy as I fought the urge to slug him.

  2. That is a beautiful prayer to give. Thank you. Your church sounds nice.

  3. Thank you. I always love reading your columns (and sometimes I wish I could go to your church!). It sounds like you have a lovely Sunday planned. I wish you peace as well.

  4. Thank you. That is just lovely that you would say that, and I am sure it will mean the world to those women sitting there, wishing the world would just disappear for a day.

  5. I don't attend church, but yours would certainly be one that I would want to. I've heard of churches that have all mothers stand and be honored, and how horrible it can be for many of those that aren't standing. This is a beautiful post, and I know countless people in the church (and here, too!) appreciate it so much. I'm sorry that it will be a rough day for you - you'll be in my thoughts!

  6. Your prayer brought tears to my eyes. Thank you. And your church sounds wonderful.

  7. Hi,

    Thank you for sharing your experience and I hope you Mother's Day goes well.

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  8. I'd guess that there are as many women in your congregation who are conflicted or unilaterally unhappy about Mother's Day as there are regular celebrating moms. You are doing them all a great service.

  9. saturday evening at church was very difficult for me to listen too. i had to get up once and leave. i can't imagine having to deliver the surmon.