Growing up I dreaded going to church on Mother’s Day. It was a day that I knew I would hear a sermon pontificating more on the faithfulness of mothers than the faithfulness of Christ. I was growing up with a mom who was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive. She did not love me unconditionally, and she continually refused to fulfill basic responsibilities like feeding her kids.
The arbitrary blows from my mom were combined with the neglect of my workaholic father whose only intervention was to continually remind me that if I didn’t keep my mom happy I would face one of two outcomes as consequence for my behavior. Either I would have to move out of his house (which I eventually did) or my mom would have to be sent to a mental institution (which never happened). My family was a place of profound physical brokenness that I was continually told was entirely my fault for causing and entirely my responsibility for undoing.
This living situation made me desperately aware of my need for unconditional love. I needed someone who would forgive me of my wrongdoings and faithfully supply what I need for body and life. I needed Sundays. Sunday was the day I could leave a house of darkness for a place where I would surely hear the Gospel. I knew Jesus would not hold my sins over my head and beat the crap out of me. Sunday was the day I knew where my meal was coming from, and it was the most filling meal a kid could get. Yet ironically, Mother’s day was the one Sunday each year I was never really sure I would hear the Gospel preached. It usually ended up being a day I would hear how mothers are an icon of God’s love, how they embody sacrificial service and how they wear the mask of God.
It was a day I heard all about what my mom wasn’t. It was a day that left me feeling empty.
The emptiness was accompanied by fear. Not just fear of getting a black eye, but fear that my mother would continue in unrepentance, fear that I would never learn how to be a decent mom and fear that if my pastor was making generalizations about motherhood that maybe what he was saying about God’s care for me in other areas was also a generalization. What if I was the exception for forgiveness and salvation too? Emptiness, fear and doubt compounded on the day I needed to hear the Gospel most.
For me it was Mother’s Day; for another I’m sure it’s Father’s Day or Veteran’s day or the anniversary of a divorce. We all have that annual day that we are crushed by the sting of a past or present reality. Dwelling on it doesn’t help, but so often that’s what the sermon we hear on that day does. It points us to dwell on what we didn’t actually experience and neglects to point us to that place where we do actually experience God’s love.
Don’t get me wrong, the Lord provided me with older women in my life who were nurturing. They told me they loved me, forgave me when I screwed up, remembered my birthday and made sure my basic bodily needs were met. Their love and provision was certainly God’s care in the consolation of the brethren. Yet it never completely absorbed my desire for my biological mom to love me. The hole in my heart and the scars on my head are real. They can only be filled on the Last Day when I am raised whole by the God who bears holes in His body and scars on His head.
This Mother’s Day please tell me about Jesus. Tell me that He forgives the most heinous of sins, tell me that He will make me whole, tell me that He will bring eternal peace and tell me that today He comes to me this day with unconditional life-giving love poured out in His Word and Sacrament.
This Mother’s Day I need to hear Jesus.