I have never enjoyed Mother's Day sermons at church. Too often, the rhetoric and recognition only serve to further damage the tender hearts of moms with no babies to hold in their arms and moms with children who struggle and test them in ways most of us cannot imagine, those who have lost mothers recently, moms who chose not to be moms and who must replay that decision when deciding whether to stand, women and men who are separated from their children, or who desperately want a child and do not have one. Sometimes, those aching hearts receive a nod, too often they simply break in silence. And then, the words offered up fail to do justice to the moms who do have both feet deep in the mucky work of parenting every day.
But today, the sermon I heard made all others pale in comparison. The words not only damaged every tender and vulnerable heart in the audience, they ripped at the self-esteem of every woman present - mother or not. I'm not sure what the intent of the message was supposed to be. But I know what the take-away was. The phrase "complete and virtual annihilation of yourself" echoed around the room no less than a dozen times. Held up as inevitable, and lauded as sacrificial, in order that women could somehow understand the depth of God's love. Frustration in motherhood equaled sin. The all too prevalent depression women experience upon giving birth brought a woman to the place where grace could be experienced. Giving up hopes and dreams to protect and propel progeny garnered applause.
Every mother I encountered afterward expressed deep incense and anger. Every young woman not yet a mother expressed fear. Is this REALLY the message we want to communicate to mothers, future mothers, former mothers, husbands and fathers of mothers? That the experience of motherhood draws us somehow closer to God through bifurcation, pain and ANNIHILATION of self? WTF?
I struggle with my flawed community of faith. There are positives there for my family. But I am tired of needing to debrief my daughters after the sermon. I found some affirmation today in the fact that I was not the ONLY one. Several other mothers left fuming and expressed their frustration. Often I feel alone in my protest, but today we found solidarity in our status.
Every week, I move closer to leaving, but it is not as simple as just walking away, for reasons too complicated to write. One of these days I will. But in the meantime, I will reach out and debrief, not only my daughters but anyone else who will listen. I will provide counterpoint to the 4 alliterative points. I will do my best to speak up, speak out, speak the TRUTH to anyone who will listen - even as I count the cost. But no cost is as high as "the complete and virtual annihilation of SELF" - that is a price I refuse to pay.