Why is Mother’s Day so difficult for so many of us? And why does church make it even harder?
Hey TTW family! Hope you are well. It’s Mom’s Day here in the USA – one Sunday of the year to honor mom. But as a church pastor, I have to acknowledge a real dilemma. Mother’s Day is very hard for a lot of people. The reasons are varied of course. For some, it’s the pain of never having kids, for others, the painful reminder of their own broken relationships – with mom or with kids. Some have lost children – very difficult day. For many, Mother’s Day is just guilt – designed to remind you of your failure to be the perfect mom, or maybe reminding you that your mom was a long ways from perfect herself – or not there at all.
Sad to say, walking into church – can just make it worse.
But why is that? Why is church particularly hard on Mother’s Day?
I had a bit of a revelation this morning. Something clicked. I think perhaps what is wrong with Mother’s Day in church – is the same thing that’s wrong with the gospel in so many churches. I call it the fake-it-til-you-make-it gospel.* Everyone pretend you’re a good Christian on Sunday until you magically are one. But that’s not Christianity, it’s not the gospel, and it doesn’t work. And Mother’s Day is about the same. Everyone pretend like your mom is perfect… and you’re a perfect mom… and we all have perfect relationships with our moms.
The effect of that pretense is about the same as our pretend gospel. People walk out either ashamed, arrogant, or angry. Either they feel ashamed that they don’t live up to the image of the ideal mom, or in vain pride they fool themselves into believing that they do. Or they see past the whole facade and walk out angry that Christians are fool enough to believe this rot.
But Jesus came to the broken. He came to the hurting. And He never told anyone to fake it.
Honor your mother. That is God’s command. Honor does not mean pretend she’s perfect. Motherhood is beautiful, but it is not for the perfect. It is for humans (animals too, but that’s another story). Motherhood is hard, and it is endless work every day, and the truth is that most of us take a whole lot of our mom’s hard work for granted. And it is right for us to honor our moms, human as they are. Jesus certainly honored his mom – right to the end. Some of His final words were honoring His mom – the only person who was there for Him from beginning to end. But Jesus also showed grace and compassion to a lot of very broken people, and you can rest assured that many of them were moms who were far from perfect.
So why is church so different? Why does church bring shame when Jesus brought grace? And how can we fix it? A little story about my wife…
My wife is a pastor’s wife. I realize that is stating the obvious, but bear with me. The title of Pastor’s Wife comes with a lot of expectations. If moms are expected to be the ideal mom, then the pastor’s wife is expected to set the standard – the absolute model of feminine Christian perfection: perfect wife, perfect mom, lead the women, teach the kids, run the homeschool group, and set the fashion standard. Proverbs 31 to a tee!** It’s a recipe for burnout. It creates unbearable pressure for her and sets an impossible standard for all the other women. It can also create a grown up version of the high school popular crowd. What on earth made us believe that is Christianity? Now we don’t do any of this on purpose, and it certainly isn’t the fault of the pastor’s wife. She’s doing her best. It’s just something we fall into when we lose track of grace.
But here’s the amazing thing about my wife. Andrea. Did I mention her name is Andrea? She’s the best. In reality, she really is pretty phenomenal. Wife, mom, teacher, friend… and her service to our church and community amazes me. She’s so good at all of it, and she never stops caring for our kids. Ever. She could wake up at two in the morning and her first thought is: Are the kids okay? Me: I don’t know! Probably. We’ll find out eventually. Now go back to sleep! But she just cares. And she works at it all the time. She carries so many burdens. Truly she amazes me. And yet, above all of that, my wife knows that she is saved by the grace of God. And that changes everything. There is no arrogance, no sense that she has this down and you don’t. She is beautifully humble.
The gospel does that. Not the fake-it gospel, the Jesus one.
Andrea leads a Bible study at a women’s shelter. Every other Tuesday, we drive out of our suburban haven into inner-city Long Beach. A bunch of us play with the kids, and my wife and another mom head upstairs with all the shelter moms to open the Bible together. The moms at the shelter are there for a variety of reasons: some escaped abusive men, others are getting sober, several escaping prostitution, gangs, drugs, or all of the above, and many of them are fighting to get their kids back from CPS and foster care. Out of about twenty, only one of the moms is married. All the other dads are in jail, in gangs, dead, or just gone. The stories that my wife hears – what these moms have been through and done- are mind-boggling. Now this is the part that really gets me. Not once have I ever seen one of those moms feel judged by my wife. Not once has my wife shown even an ounce of I’m-better-than-you. Many of those women were scared to walk into church. They already felt lousy about themselves, why heap on more shame? But my wife shows nothing but grace, love and compassion.
See here’s the thing. If my wife walked into that shelter as the perfect Pastor’s Wife – got it all together, living the Christian dream – she would have nothing to offer those women but shame. But the gospel is for them. Grace is for the broken and the hurting. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. The truth is that those women desperately want to be good mothers, to provide home and stability and love and nurture. And I have to say that I am often blown away at the courage and resilience of these single moms who fight to keep their family together and raise their kids through unimaginable struggle. Most of them have been hit hard by life and by sin – whether it be their sin or someone else’s or both. And setting up for them a Christian ideal of perfect motherhood would only kick them while they’re down.
But Jesus doesn’t do that. The gospel is God’s grace for every sinner. My wife and I know full well that Jesus loved us when we were at our worst. How can we offer anything less? God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
This is the beauty of the gospel. Not the fake-it gospel, the one for sinners like me. It brings people together. The gospel humbles without humiliating. It brings us to a place where we realize we’re all the same. We are sinners saved by God. The truth is that my wife and I have a stable and loving family, and we owe much of that to wisdom found in the Word and to a lot of hard work to get it right. But we wouldn’t have any of that without the grace of God. And thanks to that grace, we can come right alongside families that are broken and hurting. And my kids don’t imagine for a moment that they are somehow better than the shelter kids we work with (my kids are 13 to 21 btw, so they are there holding babies and playing with kids). The gospel frees us to love and be loved – to be who we are – and become who we were meant to be. And those shelter kids are awesome, and their moms are truly amazing people. We are so blessed to know them, to call them family. We would never have had the chance if we had just been busy keeping our perfect Christian family. And we don’t have to offer them a standard of Christian perfection. But we can offer them grace – along with the wisdom that comes from a couple decades of humbly struggling through life, trying to get it right, thanking God for grace every day.
So to every mom, we honor you today. Not for perfection. Just for being mom. You are loved by God just as you are. And so, we love you too.
*The fake-it-til-you-make-it gospel is also known as legalism: following rules instead of following Jesus. Almost every epistle warns against it, and it’s the subject of the entire book of Galatians. Check out our guide through Galatians for more insight on that one: https://bible.com/reading-plans/1609-galatians-real-grace-real-freedom-real-jesus/
**Can I point out here that Proverbs 31 was not actually written to women, and it was never intended as instruction on how to be the perfect wife. I think it’s fine to look there for a good role model, but it should not be set as the unattainable standard. In context, it was written by a mom to her son, as an instruction to him that he should find a noble wife and that he should honor her and empower her. Men, honor your wife! Kids, honor your mom! She does a lot! But I digress.