“She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared for her by God.” (Revelation 12:5-6)
This is certainly an interesting take on motherhood, isn’t it? God takes care of the infant and the woman flees to the desert. That wasn’t really an option, as I remember, when I first became a mother thirty-eight years ago. First, let me say that I winced hard when I realized I was assigned this Mother’s Day devotion. Mother’s Day feels like one of those high-octane holidays that can stir up difficult as well as happy memories and feelings. My own mother struggled with Mother’s Day, probably due to the complicated relationship she had with her mother. Grandma Katie would ride the train up to Montana to visit us for Mother’s Day, but she and my mom always had a blow-up and she went back on the train before Mother’s Day even happened. Like I said, it was complicated. But that resulted in my mom suffering on Mother’s Day, thereafter, and unfortunately, the struggle was very real for me while I was growing up.
When I became a mother, myself, I could see how tricky navigating motherhood could be. Fortunately, I had my mom right there to help from the moment we brought a new baby home from the hospital. Mom shuddered as we allowed our dog to sniff the baby soon after arriving, so the dog wouldn’t feel left out. “That baby was in a sterile environment an hour ago,” my mom, a nurse, said shaking her head. But she made fresh coffee and refrigerator cinnamon rolls, vacuumed and watched the baby while I took a shower. That’s what some moms do. I realize how blessed I was to have her there for me and I can only imagine how difficult these times can be for those who don’t have a mom close. Or those whose relationship may be strained as my mom’s was with her mother. And those hard feelings sure can bubble up to the surface on a holiday like Mother’s Day.
I was determined early on not to pass the Mother’s Day struggle on in our family when we had kids. Each year, I gratefully wore the macaroni necklaces to church and reveled in the adulation for the whole day. I didn’t want to transmit the difficulties of guilt, strained or forced merriment to our kids. I had it much easier—my mom and I were very close after we both grew up. But how do we break those cycles of pain that can occur in all families?
One thing that I was able to take advantage of that my mom didn’t, was counseling. Talking over troubling memories and feelings can help but my mom’s generation didn’t “do” counseling. They all sort of self-medicated, which caused its own problems in time. Journaling also really helps me explore my feelings. Why am I feeling THAT today? Where is THIS coming from? Is it a real worry or an unrealistic fear? The best question to ask myself: What is God saying to me about this? or What would God want me to know about that? If the answer seems judge-y or overly critical, it’s probably not God. God is always forgiving, loving and compassionate, even in our mistakes. Looking back on the many mistakes I’ve made as a mother, I cringe. I surely could have done many things better. But God would remind me that we were young and we did the best we could. We loved our kids and as long as they knew that they were loved and safe, some of the finer-nuanced mistakes seem less important. Working at an elementary school now, I see first-hand how important parental involvement is to students’ success at school. I constantly ask myself, “Did I do that right? Was I present and supportive without being a helicopter parent?” I second guess myself all the time! My now-grown kids assure me that they turned out fine. Thanks, kids. And thanks, God, for reassuring me too.
But what of Mother’s Day and how can we help with the difficulties this day will bring to some? If this day dredges up really difficult memories can we seek professional help to work through the issues? With help, we can learn to allow pain to transform us instead of transmitting it onto others. We can keep our eyes and ears open for those who may be alone on Mother’s Day or may be grieving the recent loss of a mother. To those struggling without mothers to dote upon, are there other mother figures we can reach out to on this holiday? If you run short of people to honor on this day what about honoring Mother Earth by doing a litter walk or spending some time outdoors? And, finally, we can remember mystic Julian of Norwich who said God was both a Mother and Father to us, loving us unconditionally and forever—the perfect parent.
Gracious God, you know that being human is very hard at times. Please help us to navigate hard times and be on the lookout for those who may struggle with this holiday. We thank you for the mothers who gave us life and raised us. Help us look back with eyes of compassion and love if they didn’t do it all perfectly. Thank you for loving us mightily, as a mother and father, and please help us to share the love with all. Amen!