Without Mine, on Mother’s Day

I vividly remember the day before Mother’s Day when I was 17.  My sister and I had stopped at a store to pick up a few toiletries.  We walked in, caught off guard by the up-front displays of cards, chocolates and flowers to celebrate mom.  I felt like I had been sucker-punched in the gut as I tried to catch my breath. We exchanged heartbroken and bitter glances with each other.

Five days earlier, we were on the oncology floor of the hospital with our young, joyful, forty-four year old mother, a million miles away from Mother’s Day tchotchkes and flowers.  We pressed our ears to her chest, wondering which heartbeat would be the last. We listened as her labored breathing waned. We savored the warmth of her body, knowing it would fade quickly. We curled up in a bed next to the woman who brought us into this world, and we watched her depart it.

That was the day that I first tasted the temptation to despise Mother’s Day.

A day that previously reminded me to celebrate and show gratitude turned in to a day that reminded me of all I had lost.

Years later, the loss was compounded as my husband and I faced the unexpected grief of infertility.  Friends around us welcomed little ones, and I felt like the parade of life–of family, of children, of being with infants and grandparents–was passing right on by.  Months turned in to years, and that second Sunday of May had more layers of hurt and temptations for bitterness, envy and anger.

Grace for the Hurting

One of the greatest comforts I have received is God’s word.

With failed pregnancy test after failed pregnancy test, I struggled.  But God did not leave me alone in my suffering. He left me no room to believe the lie that I was the only person to struggle with childlessness.  The Bible is not silent on the topic. Sarah in the book of Genesis. Hannah in 1 Samuel. Elizabeth in the book of Luke. Each of these mothers in the faith struggled with barrenness.  They wrestled mightily with their identity, with their shame and disappointment. Remembering Jesus’ grief when Lazarus died–or when he anticipated his own death–reminds me that my savior is not unacquainted with loss. He wept.  He petitioned the Lord. He grieved deeply.

This week, my fight club and I discussed Psalm 22 together.  Have you read it recently? It’s depressing at first blush. The authors of the Psalms use hyperbole and vivid imagery to convey their feeling and emotion, and here we find a grief-stricken David.  In his suffering, he cries out and yet feels utterly forsaken by God. But here’s what we observed about David. He preaches the truth to himself. He calls upon Israel’s history (in God’s Word) to remind himself of God’s character.  He recounts God’s faithfulness to his fathers. He leans in to what he knows of God’s character to bring comfort to his hurt. That is why we can rejoice in any trial–including the trial of grieving loved ones, grieving the deferred hope of motherhood, grieving the disappointment when our relationships with children or mothers are not as we hoped.

Another practical comfort to share:  It’s ok that Mother’s Day is complicated.  It’s not weird that it may be a tough day on your calendar, for whatever reason.  Grieving is not contradictory to gratitude. I can cry and long for my mother, while still celebrating God’s goodness to me in the gift of my 88-year-old godly, hilarious and wise grandmother. I can remember my sweet kids’ birthmothers with thankfulness, but feel a little sad that I did not carry them in my own womb.  I also have a sympathetic grief that this is a really hard day for those young women. I can celebrate that God has answered my prayers for motherhood, and yet the pain of infertility is not forgotten and I hurt for friends who are struggling.

The year after we buried my mom, I was asked to write a newspaper article for the Mother’s Day issue.  I was mad at first. Who asks a grieving teen to write a news piece about her dead mother? What could I possibly have to celebrate on Mother’s Day of all days?  Well, a lot, as it turns out. As I worked through my draft, I realized that, while I couldn’t celebrate in the way I wanted (spending the day with Mom), I could honor her by reflecting on her legacy in my life and praising God for that gift.

Through the lens of giving thanks in all circumstances (1 Thesselonians 5:18), I am able to take a broader view of celebration and give gratitude to God in the midst of grief.  I cannot send Mom flowers or call her to tell her how much I love her, but I can recount God’s faithfulness in my life specifically through the way she mothered me, and the way I see her legacy alive in my children.  I cannot undo the years of infertility, but I can give thanks that God used that season of barrenness to give positive formation to my future parenting. I cannot give my kids the experience of knowing their grandmother, but I am profoundly grateful for the way they can know of her because of how beautifully influenced I am by her example.

Endeavor with Tenderness

Brothers and Sisters, if Mother’s Day is mostly happy for you, and gratitude comes easily,  may I encourage you to be tender with those who may be hurting this week? Galatians 6:2 reminds us to carry one another’s burdens.  By all means, share that picture on Instagram of your cutie kids and their homemade cards and give thanks to God for their precious lives.  But I suspect that every single person who reads this article knows at least one person who has a reason why Sunday might be difficult. How can you show the love of Jesus to them by bearing their burden of grief or disappointment?  Would you ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to show tenderness?

A Prayer

For those of you grieving the loss of your mom or mother figure, your precious child, the deferred hopes of motherhood or the heartache of a strained relationship, my prayer for you is that you would find hope and peace in the comfort of Jesus, even as your senses are surrounded this week with reminders of what you long for most. I pray our hearts would also be inclined to gratitude, remembering the women God has used to shape us and grow our faith.  And, as we feel the pain of loss, we would lean in to the Lord for comfort and trust that he can use these hurts for good.


*This article is provided as part of City Life Church’s new Women’s Mentorship Initiative. Contact robie@austincitylife.org for more info.