Mothers around the world are soon to be celebrated. For many mums, sticky-fingered coffee mugs will arrive at their bedside, some with generous lashings of vegemite toast and some without. Misspelled cards of the homemade variety may well accompany slobbery kisses. Perhaps even a day off from chores or a gift or two will be added to the mix. It may be a day of delight that ends with a few extra crumbs and a contented sigh.

For many women, it will be a hard day: a reminder of lost dreams or failed hopes.

But for others, there will be no cards. Family forgetfulness or crises or hurts will crowd out remembrance. For many women, it will be a hard day: a reminder of lost dreams or failed hopes. A mum far away. A mum passed away. A mum never to be. A mum never known. Every celebration in presents and platitude will be a stab at a wound already pulsing in pain.

Knowing that the great joy experienced by one is the very deepest pain of another, should we celebrate Mother’s Day in the public ways we so often do in our churches and Christian spaces? Yes, but only quietly? No, it’s simply insensitive? How can we both celebrate motherhood and care for those who have experienced loss? 

These are questions that have followed me for many years. In fact, it prompted an article similar to this one long before oceans and continents separated me from my own precious Mum and Mum-in-law. At the time, I wondered how I would feel one day when I was motherless or if I was bereaved as a mother. Would the joy around me hurt deeper than I could bear?

Little did I know that my first taste of such an ache on Mother’s Day would be due to grounded planes and an inhospitable virus. Yet, even as I find myself in this uneasy space of being reminded of both my own loss and my own joy as well as that of so many others, I find that my conclusions then are my conclusions now. 

I do not know. 

I do not know whether celebrating Mother’s Day when it hurts so much for others is simply insensitive and unwise or worth it no matter what. I do not know what is best for the masses or for me. I do not know how I will feel when even a phone call will no longer allow me to reach my mum or one of my children.

When a loss causes great hurt, it’s most often because its presence is worth great joy. 

But what I do know is when a loss causes great hurt, it’s most often because its presence is worth great joy. And great joy is worth great celebration. God gave us the gift of mothers. God compares his comforting of Israel to the comfort of mothers (Isaiah 66:13). It is to God’s praise when a woman is at long last able to bear a child—memorialised in the stories of Abraham and Sarah. And Hannah. And Rebecca. And Rachel. In the pages of God’s Word, mothers mean much.

So, I concluded that when the day comes when Mother’s Day is more a reminder to me of devastation than delight, I hope that, in my pain, I will still be able to recognise the joy worth celebrating in the gift that God has given us in mothers.  I hope that I will:

  • honour the gift of life that came through the pain of birth;
  • bask in the memories of joy when the tears are heavy;
  • celebrate the friends I have for the life their mothers gave them;
  • rejoice in mothers of the heart as they love another’s birth child;
  • delight in those who mother in small and big ways;
  • still be able to give—give smiles and hugs or gifts and words or acts of service and kindness, whether to mothers or daughters, motherless or daughterless…

And if it’s all too hard, too painful or too soon, that I will be honest with my pain and say, “It’s too hard, too painful, and too soon, but even so, it’s good and worthy and wonderful and deserving of celebration. Please … celebrate for me.”