As a mental health professional and a mom, I have come to appreciate the incredible importance of family relationships on the development and maturation of children. I’ve also realized that the archetypal family relationships worshipped in our (Christian and secular) culture often have little to do with the real sweat and blood of family life.
My husband and I have a running joke that one day we will start an “ambiguous family relationships” greeting card company. Our imaginary company is designed for those experiencing family situations that aren’t exactly addressed on the cheerful card aisle. Mother’s Day is prime among those occasions that seems to call for our imaginary company’s services. While the consumerist culture portrays images of wonderful family relationships rewarding the hardworking mom with leisure and jewelry, Mother’s Day is not joy and leisure for all. It can be a time of irony and pain for those who have experienced relationship loss, infertility, miscarriage, separation, or death. Mother’s Day in many ways has become a cultural enforcement of the middle class ideal rather than recognition of the real pain and sacrifice of mothers worldwide.
When I become frustrated with the dominant cultural portrayal of life’s roles, I find myself turning to Scripture for reminders of truth. There I find a very different picture of motherhood. The example mothers in Scripture do not lead caricatured lives of middle-class homemakers living a life of Pinterest or of super-career woman balancing family and economic kingdom building. Instead they are encountering the same pressures and pains that woman around the world face: disease, abuse, war, poverty, business demands, helplessness in the face of power, infertility, broken relationships and faithful rebuilding. Possibly because of these realities, in many places in Scripture the love of God is illustrated by metaphors of a Mother’s Love: protective and fierce, nurturing and sacrificing, long-suffering, rejoicing and treasuring. In light of God’s love, I want to celebrate this day by recognizing the real-world, many ways to love like a mother.
To mothers nursing and feeding ravenous infants who won’t allow them to sleep;
To mothers chasing curious toddlers who don’t have time to brush their own teeth;
To mothers of medically and emotionally fragile children who need so much more than other’s can imagine, physically, emotionally, spiritually from you;
To mothers struggling to balance protection and freedom for school-aged children exploring the world both dangerous and amazing;
To mothers raising teenagers struggling to understand their identity, their sexuality, their place in God’s world;
To mothers of adults who still need their care;
To mothers struggling to work out a marriage that is difficult and painful to provide their children with a two-parent home;
To single mothers who are never “off-duty” and caricatured in our culture without grace;
To mothers whose children reside in another’s home and custody, but whose well-being is never off their mind;
To mothers struggling to co-parent children to their best ability navigating broken marriages, step-family relationships, and broken dreams;
To mothers struggling to love and provide in combat zones in inner cities, in war-torn countries, in the midst of domestic abuse;
To mothers have lost a child to death, to drugs, to prison;
To mothers struggling beside their child facing mental illness;
To the mothers who work hard to show “I’m sorry,” and work to repair relationships broken by addiction, immaturity, selfishness, and misunderstanding;
To mothers who pray till their knees are worn never giving up on a lost child, always treasuring in your heart the potential he/she can still realize;
To mothers who have never felt a child move in their womb, but who pour out love and care and sacrifice for children who share another’s DNA;
To mothers who bravely chose to relinquish custody of a child, sacrificing in love and suffering in silence;
To the “unofficial” mothers who bear the title of aunt, teacher, foster mom, stepmother, sister, and neighbor who pour into the lives of children nurturing and loving;
To the mothers of the community who toil endlessly in the face of injustice, advocating for clean water, for nutrition, for healthcare and safety for all of God’s children;
For the mothers who speak truth to powerful interests and refuse to be silenced when children are in need;
Your sacrifice is not unnoticed. As each of you pours love into the children you are given to mother, officially or unofficially, you pour love into us all. You are imperfect, flawed, and insufficient but you make visible the Image of the Invisible God with each expression of your love. Your hard work and sacrifice gives all of us glimpses of the reality of the Kingdom of God already here but not yet fully revealed. Your love, blood, sweat, tears, laughter, and silences deserve celebration.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Tara C. Samples , Ph.D., is a grateful disciple of Jesus. She has worked as a Professional Counselor, is a professor and is currently completing her postdoctoral residency in Clinical Psychology. She believes that social justice is the responsibility of the Body of Christ which is called to speak for those whose voices are not heard by the powerful. Tara is a wife, a mother of two creative young girls and an advocate against injustice, violence, oppression and sexual exploitation in the church and in the world.
Image: Child with mother, arek_malang / Shutterstock.com