Sunday Stretch: Mother's Day
Start off your week with a grounded take on Bible, prayer, the world, and your life ...
I’ve been an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for almost 10 years, which is ironically just a little bit less than the same exact amount of time I’ve been a mother.
I learned early as a pastor (as a female pastor, no less) that Mother’s Day is kind of a fraught day in the church, a little bit. When I was growing up, in the burgeoning era of large suburban megachurches, Mother’s Day was a popular, high-attendance Sunday. Churches sought to capitalize on moms whose children would appease them by coming to church this Sunday by handing out flowers (often pink carnations) to all the mothers in attendance, and preparing elaborate photo booths for people to share, with a church hashtag, on social media.
For years, I thought Mother’s Day brunch would be really fun - until I attempted it after Sunday morning church in Orange County, Calif., on my first Mother’s Day in 2016 with two boys, one of whom was just six months old. I think I spent more time cleaning, changing, and feeding my kids than I did actually eating eggs or drinking mimosas that morning.
I also learned quickly, after experiencing my own early-term pregnancy loss, how complicated and sometimes-painful Mother’s Day in church could be for women, whether they were going through infertility or loss themselves, or navigating challenging relationships with their own moms - or feeling stigmatized by being single and/or divorced without kids and not receiving that carnation. Oof.
I think as a result of those painful experiences for women, I noticed among myself and other female pastor colleagues that we’d approach Mother’s Day with our fair share of trepidation. We wanted women - and all people - to feel seen and heard and accepted in our churches. We wanted women to know that their value in God’s eyes was not limited to their childbearing ability (in fact, many Biblical heroines were unmarried and/or childless women). We were seeking to name a reality more sensitive to the actual lives of women than the Stepford Wives fantasy envisioned by the marketing for Mother’s Day at lots of local churches - or the absurd historical church fascination with women’s sexuality and a virgin birth.
I think by Mother’s Day last year, though, after almost nine years of ordained ministry and almost 10 years of motherhood, I was kind of exhausted by it all. Mother’s Day had started to feel like it was filled with landmines at church. Did you mention it too much or not enough? Was someone offended?
As a mom myself, it didn’t feel like a very celebratory experience - when even as I recognized how Mother’s Day in church could be painful - I also gained so much identity and meaning through my role as mother, and I wanted to find ways to recognize that positively.
I also sort of wanted breakfast in bed, flowers, and a nice warm mug of coffee and treats from my husband and boys.
So for Mother’s Day 2022 - for the first time - I was able to swap Sundays with another area pastor, and I took the Sunday off. I didn't have to worry about exactly correct worded prayers, or about waking up early for the perfectly worded sermon. I just got to be mom for that morning. It was pretty fun! Even though I did miss everyone at church.
Now, here we are already for Mother’s Day 2023. This year, I’m not currently serving a church full-time as a pastor - but I am serving in this community through our Sunday Stretch worship and fellowship time together (and I’m so grateful for each of you, and our prayer and bible study practice!)
That also means that here again - I had a chance to talk about Mother’s Day in the context of our faith, and a God who created each one of us in God’s own image, before we were formed in our mother’s womb.
And again - I want to both honor the miracle of motherhood, the depth of value and meaning it has brought to my life and also the joy I’ve shared in my relationship with my own mom — as well as honoring the variety of ways women live in God’s image outside the roles of motherhood, and the challenges and pain that so many of us can experience in the journeys of having children or not, motherhood, and family relationships.
But maybe what I think is most important for us to do this Mother’s Day together - is to see the beautiful ways in which God mothers us, in a way that human mothers aren’t expected to live up to (God is God - not us) but also in a way that lifts up the value of female strength, love, and perseverance.
So today - instead of our traditional lectionary texts, I want to share some images of a mothering God. Maybe you can share them with your own mom or a mother figure in your life. Maybe you can see yourself in them. Or maybe you just want some brunch (this post is a must-read for me every year and it’s really been a fun way for our family to celebrate these past few years!) And I want to acknowledge, too, that maybe you’re grieving the loss of your mom today, too. I’m sending you hugs. I’ll have a special prayer for us for today at the bottom of the page, and I hope we can pray it together.
Happy Mother’s Day from the Bible!
Biblical Images of a Mothering God
Is. 49:14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Is. 66:12 For thus says the LORD:
I will extend prosperity to her like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dandled on her knees.
13 As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs,
and will tear open the covering of their heart;
there I will devour them like a lion,
as a wild animal would mangle them.
Is. 42:14 For a long time I have held my peace,
I have kept still and restrained myself;
now I will cry out like a woman in labor,
I will gasp and pant.
Reading these passages, I can’t help but think of the more popular modern-day American Christians conceptions of womanhood. The “Live, Laugh, Love” ethos. The “Proverbs 31 woman.” Purity culture. Submission. Abuse.
But these images of God from the prophets are very different. They lift up feminine, mothering strength as being an attribute of God, godself! They honor the power of women and of motherhood. They strike against a hierarchical, New Testament understanding of complementarianism, where women are held to be submissive to men. And these texts are from the Bible, too, and every bit as important as Paul’s letters to understanding who God is, and who God calls us to be as human beings, of all genders.
However you’re taking in Mother’s Day today - and whoever you are - know that you are exactly who God created you to be, and God is at work in you.
As promised, here is a special prayer for Mother’s Day adapted by Heidi Carrington Heath and originally written by Amy Young, shared with me by my colleague pastor and friend, Natalia Terfa.
I want you to know I'm praying for you if you are like Tamar, struggling with infertility, or a miscarriage.
I want you to know that I'm praying for you if you are like Rachel, counting the women among your family and friends who year by year and month by month get pregnant, while you wait.
I want you to know I'm praying for you if you are like Naomi, and have known the bitter sting of a child's death.
I want you to know I am praying for you if you are like Joseph and Benjamin, and your Mom has died.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if your relationship with your Mom was marked by trauma, abuse, or abandonment, or she just couldn't parent you the way you needed.
I want you to know I am praying for you if you've been like Moses' mother and put a child up for adoption, trusting another family to love your child into adulthood.
I want you to know I am praying for you if you've been like Pharaoh's daughter, called to love children who are not yours by birth (and thus the mother who brought that child into your life, even if it is complicated).
I want you to know I am praying for you if you, like many, are watching (or have watched) your mother age, and disappear into the long goodbye of dementia or Alzheimers.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if you, like Mary, are pregnant for the very first time and waiting breathlessly for the miracle of your first child.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if your children have turned away from you, painfully closing the door on the relationship, leaving you holding your broken heart in your hands. And like Hagar, now you are mothering alone.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if motherhood is your greatest joy and toughest struggle all rolled into one.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if you are watching your child battle substance abuse, a public legal situation, mental illness, or another situation which you can merely watch unfold.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if you like so many women before you do not wish to be a mother, are not married, or in so many other ways do not fit into societal norms.
I want you to know that I am praying for you if you see yourself reflected in all, or none of these stories.
This mother's day, wherever and whoever you are, we walk with you. You are loved. You are seen. You are worthy.
And may you know the deep love without end of our big, wild, beautiful God who is the very best example of a parent that we know.
**This has been a special FREE edition of the Sunday Stretch for Mother’s Day, because I want everyone to have access to these amazing images of a mothering God, as well as to share the prayer above. Typically, the Sunday Stretch is only available for paid subscribers. Subscribe below to receive it in your inbox each Sunday morning, and thank you to those of you who are already a part of this community! May God bless your day today, all of you.**
A Community that prays for one another is transformed by the power of the Spirit. We’ve been praying for and with each other now for about six months! For the new year, and about once a quarter, I will re-start this space for prayer requests and praises. Please email with your own requests and I will share here with your permission!
We continue to pray for a cessation of violence and war in Ukraine, and for refugees and migrants around the world who are without a safe place to call home. In the same vein, we lift prayers of rescue and safety for the people of Sudan, who have been victimized in a war between two military leaders that has threatened the lives of civilians.
For all who gather today in honor of Mother’s Day, for all who grieve mothers and mother figures who have died. For a Mothering God to show us how to love with courage, truth, and steadfastness.
For the people of Dallas, where a white supremacist shooter targeted innocent shoppers at a mass shooting at an outdoor mall last weekend. For the people of Serbia, especially all those impacted by the school shooting committed by a child there last week. For politicians around the world and in America to courageously oppose the gun lobby and seek common sense gun restrictions to protect innocent people and end the scourge of mass shootings committed with military grade assault rifles.
We pray for all people experiencing extreme weather, and those without safe shelter or a warm/cool place to sleep at night. For all those in need of food. For all those looking for work. For those injured in travel on the roads and on the sea and on the rails.
We pray for the people of Holy Land, for Israelis and Palestinians, Christians, Jews, and Muslims - that all will be treated with justice and be given equal rights before the government, to live, work, and practice their faith. We pray for an end to violence and protection of the vulnerable, especially children and the elderly.
We pray for the people of Iran, where protesters’ lives are being threatened and women are being arrested simply for advocating for their lives and criticizing an abusive government. We also pray for women and girls in Afghanistan, whose right to education and employment has been taken away by the ruling Taliban.
This Easter Season, God, be with all who lead congregations and serve in churches around the world. Help them to see your presence and find ways to lift up your justice, grace, and truth - while shunning all those who would proclaim hatred in your name.
Dear God, we pray for our awareness of your presence, and for our joy in your resurrection!
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Thanks for a very thoughtful Mother’s Day post, Angela, and for the scriptures and prayer you shared. Yet as I read, I couldn’t help but think about how complicated the day has become now that the nation is embroiled in a huge fight over motherhood, thanks to the Dobbs decision and the abhorrent laws being passed by many state legislatures, including my own -- the debate poses a challenge to our very understanding of motherhood when so many of our fellow citizens seem dead set on removing decisions about it from women themselves. The public, according to national polls, overwhelmingly rejects such laws, but red states continue to compete to see who can be more draconian in the limits they set on pregnancy and motherhood. Sorry for the downer reality check, but as an elder woman who always thought reproductive rights would be guaranteed my daughter and granddaughters, I am in despair over this issue.