Mother’s Day is no longer as simple as it was. When I was young it was nothing more than giving a card to the one woman I knew called mom but much has changed since then.
A Complicated Cluster
I gained a step-mom in my mid-teens and a mother-in-law in my early twenties. Soon after I was also celebrating my wife as the mother of our children. But as most of you reading this already know, there have been losses as well. My first wife Amy died a year after the birth of our third child and my own mom died only a couple years later.
Happily, I married again but that adds to the complicated cluster of what Mother’s Day involves. This weekend is a mix of celebration and grief. It can be difficult to know what to do and even what to feel. Besides the two who have passed away, at this point I have a step-mom, a new wife who is step-mom to our kids, a technically former mother-in-law from my first marriage (who is still very much family), and a new mother-in-law from my second marriage. That means my kids remember their mom and their Grandma who died but now they have a new mom as well as three Grandmas (my step-mom, my first mother-in-law, and my second mother-in-law).
We buy some yellow flowers for Mother’s Day because it was Amy’s favorite color. The color is more important than the kind. We leave them at the cemetery by Amy’s gravestone but we do not spend the whole weekend grieving. We have received a lot by way of mothers. These women have all been instruments of blessing in our lives and we have much to celebrate. But it is complicated. There is a point where celebrating your new mom can seem like disloyalty to the one you lost yet to only grieve is surely a disservice to all that we enjoy now.
The goal is not to find the exact balance of celebration and sadness. This is a reminder that Mother’s Day must be a mix because the reality itself is complicated.
Mother’s Day is further complicated for us because of our development as a step-family. Christiane’s relationship to each of the three kids is at a different place because they do not all attach the same level of mom-ness to her. That is not a problem in itself, but it does make Mother’s Day more complex. It can be difficult to celebrate together if one child is still figuring out how to call her “mom” and another has never actually called anyone else “mom.” Each should be free to appreciate Christiane for what she is to them in particular. The one who is farther along should not be held back. The one who has farther to go should not feel guilty about it. How do we properly commemorate a day together that pulls us in so many directions at the same time?
Let It Be Complicated
Here are two points that come from all this. First, remember that Mother’s Day is complicated for many people. Our family is not like the Swiss Family Robinson, marooned on an island of issues that no one else faces. We need to give space for this day to mean different things to people. We must not assume that it is an easy or even a happy day for everyone. We need to think about mothers who have lost children and those unable to bear children. There are also many whose experience of motherhood has not been joyful. Relationships with our own mothers can be difficult or destructive. Give space for Mother’s Day to be complicated.
God is in the Complicated
The second point is the reminder that Mother’s Day is complicated because life itself is. Family life is not an isolated corner of difficulty in an otherwise idyllic existence. We live continuously tasting both bitter and sweet. Both our fall from God and his insistence on giving grace have a hand in shaping every day of our lives. Family life (and so motherhood) is a mingling of groaning and glory because both sin and salvation crowd our days.
Letting Mother’s Day be complicated will help us face a complicated life. Both good and evil are going to follow us all the days of our lives. In fact, there is joy in seeing the complexity because it is a sign of God’s grace to us. Life would be simpler if God had chosen to let us pursue our own ways unhindered. It would be astonishingly bleak, but simple. The reason it is a mixture is because God has put in what we could not: blessing. Life is complicated because blessing is to flow as far as the curse is found. Mother’s Day is a good way to remember that we live in the gap before the blessing engulfs the curse entirely.
This Mother’s Day, take note that God does not need the murk to clear before he can step in with grace. He can do indestructible good amidst an eruption of troubles. Jesus does not need to calm the sea before he can walk across it and the water need not be still before he can call a disciple out toward him. There are many things meant for evil in our lives that God turns for good (Genesis 50:20). It is not a good thing that my parents’ marriage ended but my step-mom has been wonderful for my family. The cancers that cut short the lives of my first wife and mother were not good. But what we have been given because of these losses is not trivial.
God does not need to clear up all our troubles before he can do us good. We need this reminder because in this world we will have tribulation. God is not waiting for clear skies so that he can rain grace upon us. The Word did not become flesh because all the unpleasantness of flesh had been cleared up first. On Mother’s Day, we will grieve and we will rejoice. By doing both we will remember that God is strong and wise enough to do good amidst the complications of our uncontrollable lives.
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