Only A Dry Tree? Loving the Have-Nots this Mother’s Day.
Ack. Mother’s Day is coming up. I don’t begrudge the celebration of motherhood overall – Aaron and I are both so much like Timothy, taught and prepared for ministry by his mom and grandma. We are overwhelmingly blessed with Moms (and Grandmas, Aunts, and others!) who love us and I can’t imagine what our lives would look like without the selfless care and godly influence of these women. (I can’t even find pictures of us to share because, let’s face it, Mom and Other Mom were always taking the pictures.)
Even though scripture teaches a lot about honoring parents, I think it’s okay to question the typical holiday celebration because the roots of our modern Mother’s Day come from a pacifist protest of the Civil War. Though parents should be deliberately honored, it’s probably worth rethinking some of the way we talk about Mother’s Day.
In an informal survey of my friends, I quickly discovered Mother’s Day is challenging not just for those who have lost babies (like me) and can’t figure out how to identify themselves, or struggled to become pregnant in the first place. It can be challenging for single women who would love to be married with children, women whose husbands are not open to children, and women who are not honored for their role as adoptive mothers, too. They find these celebrations very hurtful in the places they are already most tender. Fluffy Mother’s Day sentiments crowd TV commercials, Hallmark displays, and even church. (Sometimes women from the church give testimonies about motherhood, mothers are asked to stand and receive applause or flowers, and sometimes the sermon misguidedly praises motherhood as the most noble spiritual calling for a woman!) I have had bad experiences and I’ve even stayed home from church a few times myself; I’ve been avoiding the card section at the grocery store all month, too. No fun, but I think there’s a solution here:
Let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant — to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off. …These I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” Isaiah 56:3-7
In Jewish law and culture, eunuchs were excluded from fellowship and not allowed to worship in the temple. Obviously, a eunuch can’t reproduce, and this imperfect analogy works for modern baby-wanters who feel like something inside of them has been cut off – whether it’s the function of their bodies, hope of marriage, or ability to receive something good they really wanted – and they also feel isolated from their community on some level.
This command to the childless person is really important: Don’t buy the lie that God isn’t using you to produce life and growth if you don’t have children. I think there is a good lesson that, by extension, it’s important to praise the spiritual fruit of someone’s life even when it isn’t the pitter-patter-of-little-feet-variety, too. (I received a marvelous gift among my Christmas cards this year when a friend quickly commented, “We continue to pray for your family, but we praise God for the fruit and blessing he is producing in your marriage either way!”)
The encouraging news from Isaiah is the promise of a “name better than sons and daughters” for those who hold fast to God’s covenant. We know that name now: Child of God. And since God says it is more valuable to be “Child of God” than “Parent of so-and-so,” we should certainly emphasize this in our conversations about motherhood. From the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks: the only way to make your speech reflect this is, parent or not, keep the good thing (raising a child) in second place to the very, very best thing (salvation) in your heart. That’s the key to experiencing the promised “joy in the house of prayer,” too!
I hope these thoughts were uplifting if you’re feeling awkward about Mother’s Day, and inspiring if you have people in your life who could use a little extra love this weekend. If you want to do any further reading, I really like this blessing from “The Messy Middle,” which offers some helpful ways for churches to encourage those along the entire continuum of motherhood in their congregations. Seriously, send it to your pastor – or at least look for a way to encourage someone in your life who fits into one of the categories she mentions! I think Wendy Alsup hits the ball out of the park in “A Mother’s Day for All Women” when she says, “Motherhood is not the greatest good for the Christian woman. Whether you are a mom or not, don’t get caught up in sentimentalism that sets it up as some saintly role. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of the Christ to the glory of God.” That’s a timely reminder for the “haves” and the “have-nots” this Mother’s Day.
(I don’t think conforming to the image of Christ as a mom means you can’t graciously accept the honor of people who will make you cards, give you flowers, and feed you french toast or take you out to eat. So if you have that option, you should totally take advantage of it and enjoy a day with your loved ones. Really.)