Sunday, May 9, 2010

Motherhood - The Complete and Virtual Annihilation of Self

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.


  1. Well said. I concur. Agree. . .with everything. . .

  2. Oh, Renae, I understand. I would have been equally angry, frustrated, upset!
    My mother, raising seven children with a pastor husband, completely lost herself in us. That's what you were supposed to do back then. [Truth be told, I find the consequences of this are MARRIED women in the church, acting like single parents. How lonely is that?] My mother's just beginning to learn (at almost 70) who she is and what her strengths are. Funny thing is: we kids didn't know ourselves ANY better (because of her sacrifice). How could she teach us, if she didn't know how FOR HERSELF? So. We've had to learn that it's okay to live our lives, SHOWING our own children how to live, how to navigate, THROUGH the depression or the dreams or the frustrations or the joys.
    It's all about being good sages...of how EVERYTHING is part of life.

  3. Right on target, Renee!! You speak volumes as usual. My own experience Sunday (sitting next to son and his wife) was a slightly shallow sermon that never really lauded mothers much. The pastor, however, had a good point: Whether functional or dysfunctional, we all need to find ways to put the FUN in family, whatever our relationships or what our family looks like.

    Later in the day, I called my mother. She was quite upset about the sermon preached by her Baptist pastor because it was to the men on how to treat their wives while saying nothing to affirm the women. The congregation, filled with many greying widows, might have wanted more. She certainly did. Sounds like he might have gotten a C at least, from women who had just endured your Mothers' Day "greeting!"

    As a minister's wife herself until Dad died in 1985, I doubt Mom has come as far as Elissa's mother who is almost a generation behind Mom. In fact, she might have missed half of the insults in your pastor's sermon.

    "At least he didn't preach on hell, Mom," I replied. She joined me in laughter at a very old and familiar family story that the two of us know well. It happened when I was only a few weeks old....My father stood to preach the very first Sunday morning in his very first church on Mothers' Day. His proud mother was present, but as shocked as anyone when he preached a rip-roaring hell-fire and damnation sermon! He got a lot more than rumblings from the women, though. Even the men were upset. The church with-drew the "call!" Shortest pastorate in history!!! Followed by a well-deserved tongue-lashing from his mother.

    Dad had an excuse that your pastor doesn't. He told his mama: "I only have two sermons. The last one I already preached when they voted for me to come here."

    On a more serious note, you inspire me to speak more clearly to my offspring about why I have virtually left the insulting patriarchy of most institutional churches--I find myself more spiritually connected, both horizontally and vertically, the further I get from the enmeshment.

  4. Wow! Just ... WOW!!!! Unbelievable, except it's so absolutely believable.

    I truly believe the old concept of religion is about to split wide open. There are too many of who already saw the sinking ship and jumped, and so many more who are up to their eyeballs in the green mucky seaweed who are asking if this is really what Jesus intended. They know the answer, but like you, they are waiting for the last straw before making the exit.

    I don't know what the new will look like, but it's going to be absolutely awesome. Maybe that's what 2012 is all about?

  5. Well, Angie, I don't know - I may not make it to 2012, we'll see. But something has to break open. I liked somewhere that you said - stop trying to change the old system and just create a new one that does it differently. Lots of energy here - just wish I knew what to do with all of it. Welcome. Come by and see me regularly. I'll be dropping in on you, for sure!

  6. Oh my goodness! I am completely speechless right now and I think I just threw up a little in my mouth. What else is there to do but make jokes?

    And I don't know who Angie is but her comment rocks and is right on!

    This is my first time visiting (found you through Lindsey at A Design So Vast) and I am having a wonderful time poking around :)

  7. Renae, you might like our church family. Your journey sounds like so many others in our place of worship. I'm not trying to make you leave your congregation, but if your family ends up looking for a new "home" you might want to check out ours.