The year that Naomi died, the spring holiday line-up felt like a one-two punch. First Easter, a holiday full of hope when I felt hopeless. And then Mother's Day, when I should have been six months pregnant and looking forward to being a mother of two. Wham! Bam! I remember very little about the actual day that year. One of many that blur together.
Since then, Mother's Day and I have developed an uneasy truce. I have two living children who fill my days, my arms, and my heart, and I love celebrating with them. I also have my mom living nearby and a mother-in-law who I adore and wish she lived closer, and we want to let them know how special they are. But I also remember the years when my arms were empty, and the years when they felt empty even with my daughter in the pew beside me because I was missing her siblings in Heaven. I still miss them.
One thing that helped me on those Mother's Days was having a sensitive church. Did you know that Mother's Day is one of the three most attended Sundays of the year, after Easter and Christmas? From anecdotal evidence, I would guess it is also one of the most frequently skipped Sundays of the year for those dealing with infertility or pregnancy loss. Why? Because many churches choose to celebrate Mother's Day (a non religious holiday!) by sermonizing on "the most important job", rewarding those with the most, the newest, the oldest children, handing out gifts to moms (but not others), planning a year's worth of baby dedications...all well-meaning gestures, but guaranteed triggers for those grieving the lack or loss of a child. Women in the babyloss world spend weeks - weeks - dreading Mother's Day and figuring out if they should attend church that day or not. How sad.
Nothing can completely remove the sting of that day, but churches can help. If you are in church leadership, why not try some of these this year? Or suggest them to your pastor?
- Don't make the whole service about Mother's Day. Limit it to the first five or ten minutes of the service instead.
- Don't have a contest for something that is largely outside the control of the women in your church.
- At some point, whether from the pulpit or in a carefully chosen video, recognize that this day is difficult for many - not only women without children, but those who have lost a child at any age, those who have wayward children, those who have lost their mother, or those who have a difficult relationship with their mother.
- Don't ask all the mothers to stand. This is just Awkward (yes, with a capital A) and leaves one without living children wondering if they qualify or not for this ultra-important job.
- If you are giving out flowers or other token gifts, give them to ALL the women, not just mothers.
- If you are aware of women in your congregation who have lost a child or a mother this year, write to them before Mother's Day. Tell them you know this day is hard and that you will be praying for them. You can even let them know what to expect from your Mother's Day service so they are not blindsided.
- Make the service about Jesus. After all, this is a worship service. If it is one of the most highly attended church services of the year, help your guests to focus on the One who loves them more than even a mother can, and ensure that they will leave having heard the gospel clearly.
If you know someone who may have difficult Mother's Day this year, reach out to them. Let them know they are not forgotten. If they have children in Heaven, let them know that their children's lives are not forgotten. Pray for and with them. There are some additional ideas here, on the Naomi's Circle site. Letting them know you have some understanding of what this day means to them will go a long way.
I pray that your Mother's Day is filled with his peace and love!