"Women will be saved through childbearing." -- 1 Timothy 2:15
For some, motherhood has given purpose to your life. God has called to you be a mother, and you are living out your call in this sacred vocation. Most days, you experience the Divine in your role as mother.
Through life circumstances, many of us have not experienced the blessing of motherhood. Some have not found the right spouse or partner with whom to raise a child, and single parenting is not an option. Others suffer from medical conditions that prohibit them from birthing a child. Many women in our midst have recently experienced a miscarriage, have given birth to a still-born baby, experienced an unsuccessful adoption attempt, given up a child for adoption or have lost a child because of death.
Does your church reward the woman with the most children or the newest mom? During your Mother's Day worship, do your leaders ask all moms to stand up while all of the other women sit in shame? Many women skip church on Mother's Day because the pain of childlessness will hang heavy on their hearts. One woman experiencing this, Amy, wrote of her ordeal of being in church on Mother's Day as a childless woman. When mothers were asked to stand, she noted that "Real women stood, empty shells sat."
Many women in our lives are not nor will never be mothers -- either because of infertility or because they do not feel called to have children. But their value is not less as they are still equally cherished by God.
In looking at Scripture, we can see that motherhood is not a prerequisite to being useful in the eyes of God. In Esther 5, Queen Esther defies the laws of the kingdom and enters the king's hall to stop the genocide of the Jewish people. Deborah was a judge and prophetess. Because of this role, she is called "a mother in Israel" (Judges 5:7b). Furthermore, Mary Magdalene is never portrayed as a mother but as a woman of great faithfulness. She is the first to see the risen Christ and spread the good news in John 20. Their calls from God had nothing to do with whether or not they had children.
God continues to use the gifts of all women in our society. God looks at each of us as complete humans today just as God does in Genesis 1. With this being said, motherhood should be entered into with love and freedom. Motherhood and mothering are beautiful calls. Yet if a woman is not called to be a mother or can not have children for various reasons, she should not feel shame. Childless women should continue to be accepted as whole members of the Body of Christ.
When the church gives awards to the oldest mother, new mothers or mothers of the most children, or gives gifts to only the women who have children, the church continues to reinforce specific roles of women. By the church neglecting the hearts of women who are not mothers, women continue to feel a sense of shame for "forgoing" the role of motherhood, even if it wasn't a choice.
Granted, we should continue to appreciate mothers in our society and churches. Mothers spend countless hours trying to make lives better for their children. This should be celebrated but not at the cost of the hearts of the childless. What can we do to make Mother's Day in churches a more inviting time for all women?
First of all, let us call forward the women of the Bible who would have struggled on a Mother's Day. Sarah struggled as she watched Hagar give birth to Ishmael. Rachel watched as Leah gave birth to her husband's children, while Rachel went, year after year, without birthing her own children. Tamar, daughter in law of Judah, watched as her husbands died, wondering if she would find the man who would get her pregnant. The daughter of Jephthah mourned the end of her life with her friends, knowing she would never bear children. Naomi lost both of her sons, and Ruth never had a child with her husband before he died. Hannah dealt with Peninnah, her husband's other wife, as she teased Hannah relentlessly for being childless. Michal never bore the children of David. And Elizabeth suffered the upset for many years of never being able to have a child with Zachariah. Here we have a cloud of witnesses to childlessness and suffering. These are women whose experiences can speak to those of us without children. While most of these women eventually did give birth, their suffering is real. But we see the presence of God with each of these women as their wombs were closed or their circumstances did not afford them children.
Creating liturgies based upon these women in the Bible would validate the voices of the childless women in our congregations. It gives women a sense of validation to their pain and their circumstances.
As a church, it is crucial that we extend prayers to all women on Mother's Day. We remember the women with many children, young children, a child who has recently died, those who have experienced miscarriage, infertility or painful births, those who have broken relationships with children and women who have not experienced motherhood at all.
Finally, Mother's Day can be expanded to appreciate the contributions of all women. Mothering is more than being a mother. Our churches and societies are filled with nurturing, encouraging and strong women, whether they are mothers, teachers, pastors, neighbors, leaders or any women who takes us under their wing. Instead of giving gifts to only mothers, consider giving gifts to all adult women or any person who identifies as a mother. Let us validate the lives of all women -- whether or not they are mothers. Let us encourage all women, whether married or single, mother or childless, as we continue the journey together. By doing so, women will be saved by being the women God called us to be.