For myself, Mothering Sunday has evoked different emotions depending on my life circumstances.
It has always been an opportunity to say a special ‘thank you’ to my own mother and express my gratitude to her. My mum has always been the voice of common sense, my moral compass, the one who gently, but honestly rebukes, and gives constructive feedback. My mother has been a model to me of sacrificial service, unconditional love, and patience. She was always there for me when I was growing up, and I know she is always there for me now, even as an adult.
Mothering Sunday evokes many different emotions in people.
For some, it is a painful day, because they grieve the loss of a beloved mother who is no longer with them. For others, a difficult day, where there is a disappointment and sadness because they have not been able to become a mother.
For some, there is excitement and joy as they are cherished and thanked by their family: And for others, there is a sense of guilt and failure, as they don’t feel they are doing a good job.
Struggles not being a mum
As a young graduate, my only ambition was to get married and start a family, longing to be a ‘stay-at-home’ mum. I didn’t get married until age 38, so that dream seemed more unlikely with every passing year. This made the annual Mothering Sunday celebrations increasingly difficult for me as I remained single, and was not able to pursue my dream of motherhood. I came to dread the day, especially in a church full of babies and young children belonging to people my own age. Sometimes I thought that God had overlooked me, or been unkind in withholding this gift to me. I often felt envy, resentment and tearful as I saw how God had blessed others with the gift that I desired so badly.
In those times, it was a huge comfort to be able to take these feelings to my heavenly Father in prayer, pouring out my heart to him, and sharing my private tears. I knew God understood my pain and disappointment, and he poured out his grace and comfort, enabling me to carry on in faith.
It wasn't wrong to have the desire to be a mother, but it was wrong to let that become my idol (something I must have) and to let it affect my relationship with others. I very much needed God’s grace and wisdom to keep a right perspective in my pain.
I loved the verse in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, when Paul likened himself to a mother:
But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her children.
I learnt to use my maternal instincts to serve others sacrificially and to nurture them in Christian discipleship. The more I was willing to serve, the more I felt fulfilled and joy at seeing others flourish and grow. It began to erase the jealousy and resentment, and brought me tremendous blessing and joy.
I was inspired by the example of an older couple at my previous church, who had been unable to have children, but they had many ‘spiritual children’, whom they had nurtured in the Christian faith.
Struggles being a mum
I had imagined I would be a natural mother figure. Having a qualification in primary school teaching and seeing six nieces and nephews grow up, I thought I knew everything about raising a child.
Having my own children has humbled me. I hadn't bargained on the long term effects of tiredness, the monotony of the routine, the washing basket that is never empty, and my own lack of patience to deal with toddler tantrums. I am no longer the expert but the one seeking the help, advice and support of others. I am no longer the teacher, but the one who is constantly learning from my mistakes. I had longed to be a mother, but I had no idea of how difficult and daunting that responsibility would be.
In my weakness and failure, I turn to my Heavenly Father who understands, and who comforts and accepts me. God is not surprised by my impatience, my laziness, my selfishness and he loves me unconditionally, even when I failed and lost my temper. God’s grace is bigger than my failings and my mistakes. God gives me strength to keep going, he gives me wisdom when I am unsure of how to respond, he gives me energy to get up in the middle of the night to care for an unwell child.
STRUGGLES WITH GUILT
I have never been the kind of person to struggle with guilt - until I became a Mother. There is always something to feel guilty about - having a short fuse, resenting the lack of time for yourself, longing for independence and space, not being able to spend enough quality time with the children, dividing my attention between two children, who both want me at the same time.
I feel guilty when I spend time doing housework rather than playing with the children, and guilty if I neglect my chores to play with the kids. Mums feel guilty if they stay at home to look after the kids, or guilty if they go back to work - no-one escapes the guilt trip.
In my guilt and fears, I turn to my Heavenly Father and he offers grace and forgiveness. He calms my fears, and he helps me remember that I am loved and accepted by him. In Jesus, my sin and guilt has been removed from me as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12).
What kind of mother do I want to be?
I reflect on how my God is a father to me. He brought me into being, he loved me when I was unlovable, he served me sacrificially by giving up his Son to die, he forgives my selfishness and sin. Because of Jesus he loves me unconditionally, and accepts me even with all my faults. This is the kind of mother I want to be - serving sacrificially, loving unconditionally and accepting my children with all their faults.
I am far from being this kind of Mother, but to this end I pray, and ask for God’s enabling and grace each day.
Please join with me in praying for the Mothers in our congregation, as they have an incredibly difficult job. And also pray for those who are grieving their loss of their mothers, and for those who have not been blessed with this gift.