I grew up in a church that publicly honored mothers on Mother’s Day. At the entrance to the sanctuary, they placed a box of little carnations to be pinned on the blouses of women with children as a sort of badge of honor. During the welcome, the pastor would ask all of the mothers to stand.
It is right to honor mothers. So much of their sacrificial work is performed in middle of the night moments or behind closed doors, and it is good to affirm their efforts, stirring them up to love and good deeds when they may be tempted to feel as if no one sees or their work doesn’t matter.
This ritual to honor mothers was certainly a help to me growing up. My selfish childish heart needed to consider all the ways that my own mother laid down her life for our family and to thank her for it. I remember feeling proud of my mom as she stood during the public acknowledgement of mothers. I also wondered why she always cried, and I remember seeing that most of the women cried during this part, seated and standing alike.
Despite all of the beautiful opportunity that this holiday offers to affirm the role of mothers, it can also be a trigger, exacerbating deep seeded pain in those with children and those without.
For this reason, Mother’s Day provides the church not only with an opportunity to “see” the unseen work of mothers, but to acknowledge the unseen pain of all women, caring for them by reminding them that our God is El Roi, the God who sees.
The following list is by no means exhaustive, but it provides a helpful framework to think through women for whom this holiday might stir up sorrow or loneliness. As you read through it, consider making a note of women in your congregation or sphere of influence whom you can personally encourage and remind that God sees them this Mother’s Day.
The Woman Who Has “Mothered” You
Even if your relationship with your mother or mother-in-law is complicated, you can still minister to them on this day by thanking them for carrying or adopting you, for keeping you alive, and caring for your physical needs. Consider mentioning your gratitude for specific things they taught you. You can also acknowledge the faithful service of women who have made a spiritual impact on you as “spiritual mothers” by sending them a note thanking them for welcoming you into their home or teaching your Sunday school class (Philippians 1:3-5).
The Young Mom in the Trenches
This woman’s children and husband may not offer her the acknowledgement and thanks she longs to receive on this day. This holiday’s romanticization of her role may cause her to feel cynical or alienated. She faces a great temptation on Mother’s Day to feel bitterness or self-pity. Consider writing a note to the young mom in your congregation who you see wrangling her kids each Sunday morning or standing to leave when summoned to pick up her crying baby from the nursery. Let her know that you see the work she’s doing, that you know the sacrifice she’s making, and that you can’t imagine how tired she must be. More importantly, remind her that God sees and knows. Remind her of her opportunity to know more of Christ in this place of sacrificially serving and caring for children who don’t understand (Philippians 2:5-8). Encourage her that she is being made like him in this hard place (2 Corinthians 4:16). Remind her that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31). Tell her that you are thankful for her. Tell her you are praying for her.
The Woman Parenting Alone
God’s concern for the widow is all over his word. James says that true religion is to care for her. Whether the result of divorce or death, the single mom is a modern day widow. This woman’s motherhood may feel especially burdensome with no one in the home to help shoulder the load, no one to see and affirm her work. Remind her of the gift that she is to her children. If she is a widow by death, you can acknowledge her grief on this day that her husband isn’t there to celebrate and honor her. You can remind her that God is a very present help in the moments when she may feel alone in the work (Psalm 46:1), remind her that he is closer than her breath in the moments she is overwhelmed by loneliness and grief (Psalm 139:7-12), that he renews her strength when she feels as if it will snap under the constant demands (Psalm 29:11), and that he promises wisdom even when she feels weighed down by the responsibility of making all the decisions (James 1:5). Consider accompanying your text or note with an offer to babysit or pay for a babysitter (1 John 3:18).
The Woman Who Has Lost a Child (Within or Outside of the Womb)
Mother’s Day can be especially painful for the “invisible” mom. Acknowledging the motherhood of the woman who has experienced the loss of life in the womb or who has buried a little one but has no living children is an incredible way to validate the life of her child as well as her pain and experience on this day. Similarly, it is a powerful ministry to acknowledge the pain of the mom trying to celebrate motherhood when someone she longs to mother is missing. Tell her that you are remembering her child today, and praising God for how blessed he or she was to be loved by her for the days that God granted them life in or outside of the womb. Encourage her that he is near today, that he heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3). Remind her of the power of the resurrection we recently celebrated at Easter—that the day is coming where no there will be no more death and where everything sad will come untrue (Isaiah 65:17-25).
The Woman with a Wayward or Estranged Child
This woman undoubtedly doesn’t feel like she should be celebrated on this day, but rather grapples with feelings of failure, wondering what she’s done wrong or could do differently. Encourage her that God is at work and that you are on your knees with her asking him to move in the heart of her child to draw him or her to himself. Remind her of the power of prayer and assure her that her children are blessed to have a mother who loves them unconditionally and prays for them fervently. Thank her for showing you more of the heart of God in that way (Matthew 18:12-14; Luke 15:11-32).
The Woman Who Has Lost Her Mother
This is a day that stings for the daughter who has outlived her mother. It is painful to remember her without being able to talk with her. Whether the loss was a short or long time ago, this day is likely a trigger for her grief. Tell this woman that you can imagine that she likely misses her mama more than usual on this day and express that you are thinking of and remembering her mother with her today. Encourage her as a mother would, telling her the things you imagine her mother would feel proud of if she could see her today. Remind her that Christ came to conquer death (Revelation 21:4), and that her heavenly Father is the God of all Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
The Woman Longing for a Child
This woman may be widowed or unmarried, longing to be a mother. She may be praying for her husband to change his mind and want children as well. She may be wrestling with infertility or waiting in the adoption process. You can encourage her today that you are longing and hoping with her, eagerly praying that God would bless her with a family. You can also affirm the ways that he is working through her even as she longs for motherhood. Affirm her service in the church, her friendship, her job, her unique gifts. Thank her for faithfully continuing to labor for the sake of the kingdom even as she desires another season. Remind her that God knows the desires of her heart and that he is a good Father who delights to give good gifts to his children (Matthew 7:11).
The enemy tempts us to avoid what is awkward and uncomfortable. Incarnational ministry steps into people’s pain with compassion, empathy, and hope, reminding them of what is true in the vulnerable places that tempt them to believe lies. This Mother’s Day, I pray that God would open our eyes to see those who may feel unseen. In the places that we are tempted to feel abandoned and lost, would we remember and recount the care of our heavenly Father, who comforts as a mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66:13), who remembers and has compassion as a nursing mother (Isaiah 49:15), who desires to gather his children like a mother hen beneath her wings (Matthew 23:37), who spreads his wings to catch and carry his children like a mother eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11-12), and who sees and provides for the unseen and hurting woman (Genesis 16:13-14). May we be agents of his love and grace as we, with all of creation, groaning as in the pains of childbirth, await our full redemption, when the curse and the pain of child-rearing will be undone and there will be no more sickness, sorrow, pain, or death.
About the Author:
Abbey Wedgeworth is a wife, mother, and nap-time writer living in Hilton Head Island, SC. She and her husband David met while serving as RUF interns and are members of Hilton Head Presbyterian Church. Together they have two young boys whom Abbey cares for full-time. She is passionate about the gospel, bible literacy, and discipleship and enjoys sewing, playing outside, and making music. She is the curator of the annual Gentle Leading Advent Devotional for Moms and her work has been featured on platforms such as Risen Motherhood, The Gospel Coalition, The Christian Post, Unlocking the Bible, Deeply Rooted Magazine, and Well Watered Women. She applies the riches of Christ to the realities of motherhood on her personal blog (gentleleading.com) and microblogs on Instagram as @gentleleading .