Break Free

May 12th, 2013

Here’s what I want for Mother’s Day: I want the church to break out of its bondage. I want us to stop our incremental “improvement” about how we speak and act in worship on Mother’s Day and claim a real holy-day instead.

Jessica Miller Kelley’s article earlier this week included some helpful and sensitive advice for making it through this Sunday’s worship without stepping on some of the biggest landmines. I appreciate her inclusion of the wide spectrum of mothering and her sincere effort to include mothers who may come to church on Sunday expecting the “traditional” celebration, while not excluding women who are dreading the day. But in her effort to include all sorts of women with all sorts of reproductive experiences, she effectively simplifies women’s experience. (And, though I’m sure it wasn’t her choice to use the photo, the accompanying picture of a mother and her baby didn’t help expand the topic.)

I finished her article thinking, It’s not all about (in)fertility. Mother’s Day is not only uncomfortable because some of us are unsettled or unhappy about our circumstances, whatever they may be. Mother’s Day is uncomfortable—especially in church—because it reduces womanhood to motherhood. Yes, it can be difficult to be a woman who has not borne children or one who has miscarried or one who cannot have children. But it is not all about (in)fertility issues. It is not all about having or longing for children.

At the most basic level, this is still a painful day because our culture and our church are still having the same conversation we were having 50 years ago: Can women “have it all”? When and how does a woman decide to be a mother? How should she prioritize or find balance between work and family life? And we are still not asking these questions about men. Notice that we don’t fret when Father’s Day is coming up. Notice that we don’t make serious, expectation-filled mention of men when we talk about women having it all. The onus is still on women to make the accommodations, to make it all work—or to stop working or to settle for being a “sub-par” mother.

The focus of our conversation on children or lack thereof simplifies and pokes at something potentially painful, and reduces the conversation back to our biological role. The focus on Mother’s Day in church is then like a spotlight aimed right on each of us women, all eyes on us, waiting for a performance we are not interested in giving on this narrow stage of expectation. The lines are prescribed and rehearsed and there isn’t really room for new plotlines. These are complicated issues and merely trying to avoid offending people, or worse, trying to name and include every reproductive experience possible, are both inadequate.

So I want the church to break free and to stop worrying over how to “do” Mother’s Day right in worship. I want a new conversation and a renewed focus.

I want us to remember our baptismal calling, that we are a family formed by God’s call. I want us to remember what we vow when one of our young ones is baptized, that all of us together as the body of Christ have responsibility for raising children in the faith. Sure, mothers of all sorts would continue to be lifted up as disciples who take on a special measure of this calling. But so would teachers, Sunday school teachers, police officers, fathers, social workers, artists—all men and women. Wouldn’t that be an interesting, theologically sound, give-us-a-reason-to-be-in-church way to observe this day and make it holy?

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