When Prayer is Bittersweet (Praying on Mother’s Day)

It has been said that emotional maturity including the ability to accept the possibility of having two conflicting emotions at once. If true, then we might say the Bible is quite an emotionally mature book. For the Bible regularly places joy and suffering side by side. For instance, psalms of praise and lament are regularly placed adjacent to one another unashamedly.

The Bible regularly places joy and suffering side by side.

Yesterday—Mother’s Day—I sought to bear witness to this biblical testimony in the way I led our brief time of prayer. I did so because I have witnessed two equal and opposite errors in church services on a day like Mother’s Day (or indeed Father’s Day). The first danger is insensitive celebration that is too careless of the widespread grief that many feel on such occasions. The second danger—perhaps an overcorrection in response to the first—is to give only attention to the sadness. This muffles the proper response of joy and thanks for a good gift from above.

I sought to craft a prayer last Sunday that avoid either of these two errors by articulating before God both praise and lament at once. I share it here in the hope it might benefit others that have been wounded by either of these two common missteps.

A Prayer on Mother’s Day

Almighty God and Heavenly Father,
This Mother’s Day we lift our hearts and prayers and imaginations to your throne.
Today we consider your vastness; the manifold ways you reveal yourself.

With the Prophet Isaiah (66:13) we delight:
Like a mother comforts her child, you promise to comfort us.

With the Prophet Hosea (13:8) we tremble:
Like a mother bear you defend your cubs from harm.

As your precious Law (32:11) says:
You shield and care for your people like a mother eagle.

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft.

You—Lord—lead your people.

And most of all, Lord.

Today we remember the mother-like compassion of even our own Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 23:37):
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.

Let these images of love and compassion in your Scriptures move us today, Lord.
Help us to see in the best moments of motherhood something of your very nature.

To this end:
I want to praise and thank you for Mums of all stripes and kinds.
For those who have raised children from their own flesh.
For those who have welcomed, adopted, or fostered children.
For those who have been spiritual mothers or disciple-makers.

This day we honour this often-hidden labour of love before you.
Today, Lord, we want to recognise this love as a glimpse of your very nature.

And yet whilst we grasp joy in one hand today we hold lament in the other.

For—Lord—we weep with those who are weeping today.
For those without mothers.
For those estranged from mothers.
For those struggling with mothers.
For those struggling as mothers.
For those longing to be mothers but unable.
For mothers who have carried children in their bodies who have died.

Lord, today we rejoice and weep at once.
Lord, we praise motherhood for all its created goodness.
Lord, we lament all its wounds and difficulties.

In all this Lord, in both the joy and grief that comes with all earthly relationships:
Help us—by your Spirit—to bask in your perfect love.

Almighty God:
In our griefs…
Extend your mother-like comfort.

In our fear…
Protect us like a bear with cubs.

In our uncertainty…
Lead and guide us like an eagle.

We pray Lord:
Gather us your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,