Today is a bittersweet commemoration for many people. At first glance it seems rather innocuous, a tribute to the one who gave you life. Where is the trouble in that? But there are those who don't have a mother worth honoring or who have never known their mothers or many who have had wonderful mothers but have lost them and don't need one more reminder of that loss.
As a single person I've struggled with this day in varying degrees throughout the years and have watched as friends have fought similar feelings of loss, not for things they no longer have but for that which we've never had (yet!) Anyone who has longed for something and worked for something they've been denied will know that those feelings of grief and loss can be, at times, debilitating.
I've always wanted to be a mother. From the time I was tiny I carried around dolls and planned what I would name all 10 of the kids I was going to have and decorated countless imaginary nurseries. I've made most of my life decisions based on the off-chance of a potential wedding and future kids on the near horizon, chosen careers where I could interact with children and practice my mothering skills. But none of that has assuaged the longing in the pit of my gut when i see a glowing pregnant woman shopping in the baby section or hold the newest niece or nephew or even watch an idyllic child centered scene in a movie or read one in a book. I have shed innumerable tears over the children I have not borne.
In a family-centered church, this has become a touchy subject for many and I know countless people who stay home from services on Mother's Day rather than navigate the potential emotional landmine that exists in those pews. I happen to attend a singles-only congregation where we are extra sensitive to those feelings. There's no call for all the mothers to stand and be recognized and often the messages even purposely avoid the topic of motherhood. But despite all these precautions it only wallpapers the elephant that is always in the room, on Mother's Day or any day.
None of this is a new topic. Many others have spoken, blogged and expounded on the same subject much more eloquently but I had a great conversation with some friends recently that brought me some interesting clarity and perspective that I hadn't had before.
One band-aid we use to talk about people who mother vs. people who are mothers. Someone can give birth but never do an ounce of mothering while some of the greatest mothers I've ever known have never given birth. Our conversation took this turn and we started listing synonyms for mothering. A frequently used one is 'nurturing'. Nurturing entails nourishing (such as with a seed), protecting, helping to grow and reach one's potential. In real life that looks like self-sacrifice, active listening, support of all kinds. Sometimes it's unconditional love, sometimes it's tough love. And it can manifest itself in any relationship or interaction; family members, co-workers, or even the stranger standing next to you in the grocery line. We even talked about the importance of learning to nurture ourselves.
Christians frequently talk about being, well, Christian; emulating the attributes embodied by Christ. To me, this is motherhood encapsulated and opens the door to the idea that even men can nourish, nurture, or 'mother' those around them. With gender lines and roles blurred these days this is one area I actually feel comfortable in adding to the vagueness. It is up to us all to be a little more compassionate and nurturing to those around us--for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle and in our world of constant negativity, cynicism, and gloom, can't we all use a little more kindness?
I'll still have moments of longing and tears, that won't change just because I'm nicer to people or because people are nicer to me. the hole in my heart will be there until I have a child to fill it (and then I'm sure I'll have new holes, thanks to said child!) But I think my efforts and new perspective will make that hole just a little bit smaller and a little less dark and vacuous.
But I would be remiss if I didn't honor those in my life who have filled the role of mother and add daily to my desire to be a little more like them.
To all the friends who balance work, kids, husbands, church roles, laundry, groceries, soccer practice, and still find ways to maintain a friendship with me: I am in awe of your patience, longevity, and multi-tasking skills just to name a few.
To the friends, relatives, roommates and co-workers who offer constant support, nurturing and nourishing of all varieties; thank you for the listening ears, the unconditional love, the advice offered, the shoulders I've cried on, the gentle corrections and re-directions.
And of course, my own angel mother who has literally created and nurtured me from the beginning and continues to do so no matter the mistakes I make, the faults I have, no matter how short and hard I constantly fall, she is there to pick me up, re-plant my roots, give me the water and sun I need to begin growing again. Thank you just isn't enough. I love you!
Happy Mother's Day!