Many churches commemorate Mother’s Day. In some churches, mothers receive gifts in recognition of their commitment and effort on behalf of their families. It’s nice, though sometimes a little corny. It’s also tricky.
Not every woman is a mother. Some made a choice not to be and, within that group, there are those who have regretted that choice. Others would gladly have become mothers had they ever married, but that never happened. Others wanted children more than anything but were denied the opportunity by infertility.
It gets trickier. Some women who are mothers have experienced broken relationships with their children. Their son or daughter never calls on Mother’s Day, doesn’t send a card or give a gift. They come to church with a feeling of rejection and failure, and the Mother’s Day tribute only serves to increase their pain.
Our church has tried to recognize these challenges while still honoring moms, but I am nowadays always aware that Mother’s Day brings feelings of sadness to some people. Should we just ignore Mother’s Day – after all, it isn’t a church holy day – and leave the commemoration to families?
It would not be wrong to do so. It might be easier. But at a time when our society finds it increasingly difficult to honor people (or even to want to honor people), I think we do well to honor those who are honorable. Yes, it presents its challenges and we will certainly do it imperfectly, but women who receive and live up to the calling to be mothers are worthy of honor.
Yet it must be remembered that God does not command the church to honor mothers (or fathers); he commands children to do so. Yet this can prove painfully difficult. Even those of us who had good mothers did not have perfect mothers, and some people did not have good mothers.
To honor one’s father and mother is one of the Ten Commandments, which outline a way of life for Jews and Christians. St. Paul, writing a millennium and a half after the Ten Commandments were given, tells children to honor their father and mother and reminds them that this was the first command to come with a promise: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
What happens if a person refuses to honor his or her father and mother? Will “it [not] go well” with that person? Will their life not be long on the earth or, if it is, will they not enjoy it?”
Serving as a pastor, I have met many people who do not honor their parents and, sometimes, even dishonor them. Whether their lives will be long on the earth I don’t know; I do know that many of them have struggled to enjoy the life they have had. Honoring one’s parents is a critical component of having an enjoyable life.
But how does one honor a mother who was not honorable? A woman once told me how, when she was a child, her mother would have men over to the house weekly and even allowed them to stay after she left for work. Some of these men sexually abused her repeatedly. Could anyone honor such a mother? Sometimes, the choice not to dishonor is all the honor a person can render.
Usually, the issue is not so black and white. Most moms do well in many things and fail in a few. Both the good things and the failures leave an impression. To honor mom, a child must pay tribute to the good she has done, including the great good of giving life, and forgive the wrongs she has done.
The humility, perspective, and confidence in God that are required to honor a parent, understand her failures, and forgive her wrongs are some of the main ingredients in a life that can be enjoyed. People who are haunted by their childhood can receive grace to honor their moms for what is honorable and to forgive what is not. To do so is an important step in driving away the specter of the past and establishing a life that can be enjoyed in the present.
First published by Gatehouse Media