Mother’s Day. Few holidays can rival it for emotional highs and lows. As a child, I loved Mother’s Day. It was the one day of the year my dad would “cook” breakfast with us (or run to McDonalds to buy pancakes). We would “surprise” my mother with breakfast in bed. One particularly memorable year, my brother and I gave my mom a Folgers coffee can full of worms … on the same tray as her McDonalds-pancakes-disguised-as-homemade-pancakes breakfast … in bed. She was ecstatic—the good kind of ecstatic. Really. My mom is a gardener extraordinaire and she wanted more worms to put in her garden. So we gave her worms. Mother’s Day became the day I was allowed to bring worms into my mom’s bedroom. I loved it.
When I became a mother, I delivered our firstborn the day before Mother’s Day—and I can tell you that a maternity ward can be a fun place to spend your first Mother’s Day! The entire staff of doctors and nurses rejoiced, my food tray came with a rose on it, and it felt as if the whole world was celebrating with me.
When Mother’s Day Hurts
But Mother’s Day is not a celebration for all. It fact, it is often a day of acute and particular pain. In my own life, this will be our first Mother’s Day without my mother-in-law, and I will grieve her death a bit more deeply on a day that celebrates mothers. I think of so many of my friends and family members for whom this day is excruciating: my friend who lost a child this year, another friend who is celebrating her last Mother’s Day with her dying mom, and my friends who would love to be holding their own little bundle right now. I grieve with my friends who have had abusive or emotionally unhealthy moms. My heart mourns for my friends whose adult children are estranged. Mother’s Day is not easy for any of us in these situations—and the day itself can intensify the pain in our souls. This is what I mean when I say that few holidays can rival the emotional highs and lows of this one.
So what do we do? Churches, pastors, friends, and families struggle with this question every year. Do we ignore those who are hurting and go on celebrating? Do we suppress the celebration in hopes of minimizing the pain around us or in us? Maybe the question we should be asking instead is should we be surprised that such intense joy and sorrow are wrapped up in this thing called motherhood? The answer—not if we know our story.
Motherhood and the Story of Redemption
The first recorded words that God spoke to his newly created children involved motherhood—“Be fruitful and multiply“ (Gen 1:28). Adam and Eve were supposed to fill the earth with people, which, at this point in redemptive history, meant they were to have children, lots of them! For Eve, the first words ever spoken to her had to do with being a mom! Motherhood was part of Eden.
After Adam and Eve sinned, God came to them and pronounced the disastrous ramifications of their rebellion. To Eve he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Gen. 3:16). And the pain spoken about in the curse has far more than just the physical pain of childbirth in mind—it includes everything painful about childbearing and motherhood: miscarriages, infertility, SIDS, abortion, wayward or rebellious children … the list could go on and on because the pain of “multiplying” in this broken world seems to go on and on.
But we don’t stop reading at Genesis 3:16 … the story continues. In Genesis 3:20 we read, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” In spite of the brokenness, life would come and motherhood would be redeemed. Ultimately, it would be through motherhood—the seed of the woman—that the final redemption would come. And the first thing we see happen after Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden is a birth—God’s mercy in the midst of his curse. If we are reading the story well, we realize that, until the ultimate redemption of all things, motherhood is going to be a mixture of great joy and tremendous pain.
And this is the story that should inform how we lean into Mother’s Day—because this is not just a random story that we read and go on about our business. This is our story. We live in the part after the death and resurrection of Jesus—meaning the curse has been broken—yet before the redemption of all things—meaning the curse is still present. We live in a time that requires us to mourn over all that is broken and, at the same time, rejoice over what is good and right.
So, on this Mother’s Day, weep for yourself and for those you love who mourn over infertility, miscarriages, abortions, wayward children, etc. … And, at the same time, rejoice for what is good and right in motherhood that shines as a testimony of God’s goodness, mercy, and redemption. Celebrate life, extol the praiseworthy deeds of the moms around you, contemplate the good in your own mother, and praise God that he will one day, finally and completely, redeem all of this.