Mother’s Day Sermons….Ugh.

Caryn: After church this past Sunday, “Pastor Gregg” (which is his actual name, but I thought for some reason it would be funny to make it seem sketchy) asked me if I had any wisdom to impart as he prepared his Mother’s Day sermon for this coming Sunday. The text apparently is Genesis 29ish where Jacob marries Leah and Rachel (we’re working through a series on this crazy family. Seriously, it’s been a blessing because these OT guys make me feel so much better about my own fam!). But because of this text he was understandably feeling a tad unsure of how this could tie into Mother’s Day in any sort of nice fashion.

So I did my quick little Mother’s Day thing about how the truth is that most of us just actually want the day OFF, a day AWAY from the children and husbands we love so so much. How the perfect Mother’s Day really requires no mothering. Then I went into my little joke about how I think we really could use another wife in my house. “A good one, though, this time,” I said for the millionth time in my life because I don’t think “Pastor Gregg” had heard my spiel (he’s new). “One who can clean the house and watch the kids.”

He didn’t think it was quiet as funny as I do, I don’t think, but he didn’t look at me like I was TOO insane, which was good.

So anyway, all this to say I totally blanked in any wisdom I could impart on this topic, so I said I’d get back to him. This is my getting back to him.

Here’s what I really think about Mother’s Day at church. I like when we hand out those yummy free-trade chocolate bars at the end of the service to ALL women (but I will be okay if we had to ixnay those due to budget concerns!). I love that my pastors always mention the women who long to be mothers but have not yet had that dream fulfilled (the Leah and Rachel thing works well for this!). But I always get worried that a Mother’s Day sermon will feel forced, or worse, “light.”

I mean, I just got a catalog from a local Christian book store, featuring all sorts of crap for Mother’s Day. Tea cups. Stupid plaques. Gift books. (Of course, I’m bitter because MY book wasn’t featured, but this bitter bias doesn’t mean it’s not true). Essentially a bunch of Jesus junk that no mom actually needs. Nothing to encourage moms to go deep into their gifts, to focus on their Maker to see how we’re made and who they’re made to be. Nothing to challenge them in to live out faith in daring, dangerous ways. Nothing to get to know God better. Nothing deep, powerful, impactful, moving, meaningful, eternal….

Now. If you like this sort of stuff, great. Fine. Good. But I’m so tired of Mother’s Day being light and fluffy. I think moms should be celebrated—but not coddled. Mother’s Day just perpetuates the lowering-the-standard thing that happens to women when they become moms. Like having children should zap out every other meaningful, challenging thing (including getting deep with God, if we’re honest) in our lives.

Back to my advice to “Pastor Gregg.” Say Happy Mother’s Day. And then preach the sermon that God spilled into your heart and head. Don’t make it about Mother’s Day. Where the Holy Spirit guides you is where it needs to go and what mothers and fathers and non-moms and non-dads and kids and old people and singles and gay people and whoever else is sitting in that building needs to hear.

But Carla, you’re the one-time-seminarian (she claims she simply didn’t finish so she could study MacDonald in Scotland, but I smell a story. A scandalous getting-kicked-out-of-Fuller-Sem bit….). You might even be preaching! What do you think?

Carla: Okay, first, let’s give “Pastor Gregg” kudos for asking an actual mom for her thoughts on his Mother’s Day sermon. While I’m sure it’s mostly because you are the resident expert on all things maternal at your church and he’s probably afraid of ticking you off–and I can’t say I blame him what with you and your persnickity-ness–it still speaks well of him that he doesn’t see himself as the sole arbiter of truth and wisdom.

Moving on. I am totally with you on this. Yes, mothers should be honored and I am all about getting a little special lovin’ from the fam one day a year. And like you, all I really want is the day off. What I don’t need or want or believe ought to happen is for Mother’s Day to be a church event.

When we went to an episcopal church, there was no acknowledgment of Mother’s Day at all. It’s not a church holiday so typically it doesn’t get a mention in high liturgical churches.

At our current church, we note that it’s happening–we note lots of other stuff too, like the May Day parade last Sunday, recent marriages or babies or retirements, and particularly nice weather. We hand out flowers to all the women–young and old, mothers and non-mothers. There is a verbal acknowledgment that Mother’s Day is not easy for a lot of people for various reasons–they want to be mothers and aren’t, they are the mothers of children who have died, they have difficult relationships with their own mothers, their mothers have died, and on and on. So we honor what is good about motherhood, name what is difficult about motherhood, and then move on.

But so much of the Mother’s Day hoopla undermines motherhood in a weird way. It suggests that every mom is the same, that we have universal tastes and needs and that all we need is a good brunch once a year to make us happy. They all work together to create this dreamy, perfect view of motherhood, something that is rarely dreamy or perfect. The same thing happens with Father’s Day, I know, but they can have their own revolution. So if you don’t fit in to the ideal model of motherhood, all the lovely books and teacups and sermons end up being a reminder of how not like “all the other moms” you really are. I would rather see motherhood celebrated as the complex, mysterious, unique-to-everyone experience that it is. It is too incredible to be codified or sentimentalized. It is too profound to fit on a card or a plaque. It’s a relationship, not a Hallmark moment.

So I hope “Pastor Gregg” skips that sermon and lets the Holy Spirit speak to him about what his community needs to hear about Jacob and Leah and Rachel. The moms–and old people and kids and singles and gay people–will thank him.

Caryn: Mostly the gay people, I think. But, total kudos to “Pastor Gregg” for asking. He’s a great guy. Married to a great woman too (though I’m a touch jealous of her still because she spent part of this past week at a monastery forming her spirit…). I’m sure “Pastor Gregg””ll be thrilled about the way I’ve repaid his thoughfulness.

So what about you Revolutionary Mommies? How do your church’s “handle” the big MD?

32 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Heather on May 5, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Carla and I attend the same church, so she already touched on that, but I will add that I have gotten some weird responses from people when I say that I’m doing my yard sale on Saturday and Sunday…this weekend. Some people have cocked their heads to the side and said, “But it’s Mother’s Day!” To which my response has been, “Yes, and I’ll get all the people coming out of mass that they’re attending for the second time (assuming Easter as the first) this year with their mothers (you know as the mothers day gift prior to taking her to Old Country Buffet), not to return until Christmas Eve!”

    Even my husband questioned my timing. Are you kidding! being outside, selling my crap to other people for some extra pocket change…what more could I ask for. Okay, yes, I’ll choose a place to go eat dinner, probably later in the week, but I make that decision most of the time anyway! This is only my 5th mothers day, and it’s just really not a big deal to me.

    I MUST remember to call my mom though! Which is crappy, cause what am I supposed to say on Sunday that I’m not expressing throughout the rest of the year? A Hallmark phrase, that’s what!

    I’ll stop now and go to bed.


  2. Posted by Robyn on May 5, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    Mother’s Day means a lot to me. Because it was a long, hard journey to motherhood for me. However, it’s not a church event. It’s not a biblical holiday. I really prefer for it not to be celebrated at church. Because if I hear one more sermon about “biblical womanhood” I’m going to vomit. If I have to listen to another (male) pastor preach about how “the man is the head of the house” and fathers are “the final authority for children” I’m going to give up church completely. I’m so not kidding. I’m done with that crap. I’m an equal partner in this marriage, in this household, and in this childraising. So don’t tell me who and what I’m supposed to be as a mother or as a woman. I’m working that out on my own thankyouverymuch.

    Sorry for the rant. You all are on the receiving end of a bad day. Love you!


  3. Posted by Kirsten on May 5, 2009 at 10:13 pm

    Oh my. Can open–worms everywhere. Love it. My family moved to a new state since Mother’s Day last year, so I have no idea what to expect from our new church…and I’ve been trying to approach the day with open-mindedness rather than cynicism. Trying. Not always succeeding, but trying.

    I can’t say that I’ve ever heard a Mother’s Day sermon that I’ve connected with. You’re right: they’re often fluffy, and imply that all moms feel the same way about this part of their lives–or that this mom-thing IS their lives. I’ve often left Mother’s Day church services feeling crappy rather than happy, I must admit. (Although I have liked it when they’ve given me chocolate.)

    Every year around this time, “the sermon I wish someone would preach on Mother’s Day” again starts kicking around in my head. Maybe I will go ahead and write it. Maybe someday, someone will actually ask me to deliver it.


  4. Posted by Kim on May 6, 2009 at 12:08 am

    I really don’t like mother’s day very much. It’s one of those “holidays” that has way too many expectations that can’t possibly be met, so inevitably it ends up disappointing. Plus there are just too many mothers vying for attention on mother’s day — me, my MIL, my mom (not really since she lives far away, but you get my point).

    I don’t really have any problems with my church’s approach to mother’s day. I think they handle it pretty well, and I’ve enjoyed the sermons the last couple years. It’s more everything else associated with mother’s day.

    Turns out I’m going to end up working this mother’s day… I don’t usually work on Sunday, but some friends are coming in from out of town and want me to take their family portraits and Sunday was the only day that worked for all of us before they headed back home. I totally forgot that it was mother’s day when I said I’d do it… and honestly I don’t think our friends have realized it either. Though sadly enough, by working I have the perfect excuse to not have to juggle how to please the other moms in our lives, so it probably works out for the best.


  5. I’m not a big fan of mother’s day sermons. Just give me 20-ish minutes on the gospel–Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. I’d like it if pastors were worried more about that–how to tie whatever text they’re preaching in to the truths of the gospel. All aspects of the gospel–not just the ones I want to think about.

    We don’t celebrate it much, although I do try to get my way a little more than usual on this day.


  6. Posted by Angela on May 6, 2009 at 6:35 am

    Sorry Caryn, no chocolate this Sunday, (and I should know – I’d be out buying it right now,) but I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the Mother’s Day acknowledgment we are working on outside of whatever Gregg says in the sermon. It’s meant to be a fun way to recognize moms at all stages, and to celebrate not just being a mom, but having a mom. I hope it works.

    BTW – I’m not a fan of Mother’s Day sermons either.


  7. Posted by Pixie on May 6, 2009 at 6:47 am

    This is my second Mother’s Day so I am relatively new to the whole experience. Growing up in churches that celebrated Mother’s Day, I know that I enjoyed it – it was nice to have something to make for my Mom and give to her because Dad certainly didn’t bring out the “craft box”. Anyways, our church is a little off-kilter & we like it that way. For instance we had “pine sunday” because in New England we don’t have Palm trees and we forgot to order them and they cost money and pine is plentiful & free but very sappy. Plus, we observed St. Patrick’s day in a religiously celtic manner so I would be a little miffed if we forgot Mother’s Day. Generally the pastor’s wife preaches on Mother’s Day and this year she roped me and another mom into it as well. We have total control over the service which is kinda cool. We went for a topic that could relate to everyone and has been much discussed here: sometimes expectations & reality don’t match up. We’re all using different texts because really the topic is all through Scripture. The thing I like about bringing a Mommy Revolution is showing the joy & pain of motherhood & using it to identify with all the rest of humankind.

    And Genesis 29? Goodness, Jacob wakes up to a different wife (sometimes I wonder about the alcohol use in the OT – no one ever seems to know who they’re really having sex with). Talk about upset expectations & dashed hopes. Still God decides to use this twisted situation to form His People. That speaks to me as a mother & I think it would speak to the eldery, singles, children, and gays as well.


  8. Oh my gosh–Pine Sunday is too great. Love it. Love it.

    And Angela–I think the no choloclate was a wise move, considering….! Honestly, when Gregg asked if I’d be at church next Sunday, I said, “Yeah. Why?” Had no idea it was Mother’s Day. So were it not for Gregg’s asking, I wouldn’t have been wondering at all about the service. But I know it’ll be great!


  9. This is from a blog post I wrote after preaching a Mother’s Day sermon a couple of years ago –
    So I preached the Mother’s Day sermon this morning (perfect way to honor moms – let them lead and don’t make them cook). Thinking back over the Mother’s Day sermons I have heard at various points in my life – at best they were pathetic attempts to tell moms that they really are contributing something worthwhile to society and at worst were excuses to tell women why God doesn’t want them to work outside the home.

    Obviously I wasn’t interested in rubberstamping gender roles today. I didn’t preach on what women have to be like or should be ‘allowed’ to be like. I just told stories. Stories of women, of mothers, who worked to make this world a better place. Stories that highlighted that often it is the women who are the only ones who can be heard and make a difference in certain situations. Stories of justice.

    But why stories of justice on Mother’s Day? The origins of Mother’s Day in America are rooted in mothers coming together to work for peace, justice, and equality. Women who see their identity as women and mothers (as human beings) as being more important than battle lines and nationality. As Julia Ward Howe wrote as she called for the first Mother’s Day for Peace –

    Mother’s Day Proclamation – 1870
    by Julia Ward Howe

    Arise then…women of this day!
    Arise, all women who have hearts!
    Whether your baptism be of water or of tears!
    Say firmly:
    “We will not have questions answered by irrelevant agencies,
    Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage,
    For caresses and applause.
    Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
    All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
    We, the women of one country,
    Will be too tender of those of another country
    To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

    From the voice of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with
    Our own. It says: “Disarm! Disarm!
    The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
    Blood does not wipe our dishonor,
    Nor violence indicate possession.
    As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil
    At the summons of war,
    Let women now leave all that may be left of home
    For a great and earnest day of counsel.
    Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
    Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
    Whereby the great human family can live in peace…
    Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
    But of God –
    In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
    That a general congress of women without limit of nationality,
    May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
    And the earliest period consistent with its objects,
    To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
    The amicable settlement of international questions,
    The great and general interests of peace.


  10. Posted by Robyn on May 6, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Pixie, you are my new favorite person.


  11. Posted by Robyn on May 6, 2009 at 8:25 am

    Oops. Julie is tied for “Robyn’s new favorite person.” Can you please come preach at my church? (Not that they would let you.)


  12. Julie: Duh. Yes. Talk about JUSTICE. The real origins of the big day. Denise George wrote a post about this for us at Gifted For Leadership last year:


  13. oh man, just seeing the title of this blog post revved up all manner of ugly angry feelings in me. I grew up in the church – every Sunday morning, sometimes Sunday night, always midweek study and sometimes more…many different churches. So I got 28+ years worth of multiple mother’s day sermons – and they all SUCKED.

    Handing over the day to the pastor’s wife? I’m not even going to touch that because I sense some love the idea.

    Preaching about women’s roles and how VALUABLE we are? gag

    Playing little mom’s games (they did this at our last church) about who has the most horror stories and handing out cheesy trinkets? gag

    Listening to a MAN for the umpteenth time talk about how great his wife is? gag

    The whole thing just makes me want to hit some one. While I can appreciate the heart behind it, it’s all disgusting to me…primarily because I grew up in complementarian churches that deified the nuclear family and relegated women to certain “godly roles”. again I say – GAG.

    This moms day I will thank GOD that I’m not in any of THOSE churches anymore and that I will get a break, my kids and my husband will take care of stuff on that day giving me a rest and I will go to Revolution where I will snark and talk irreverently about the Bible laughing and talking about what an ass paul is and discuss deep matters of justice and hope. And I will again be thankful….for my mom…but mostly that I won’t have to sit through another mother’s day service.


  14. I feel about Mother’s Day the same way I feel about Earth Day. Every day should be mother’s day. We should cherish, honor, love, and respect our mothers every day (and be cherished, honored, etc.), not just on one day of the year. Just as we should be caring for the earth every single day. Also, it seem to me that Mother’s Day, along with most other secular holidays, is just a marketing ploy made up to get us to buy more stuff!

    That being said, I won’t refuse a little chocolate this Sunday if anyone offers it. Of course, I’ll eat chocolate every other day as well!


  15. Posted by Robyn on May 6, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Um, can I have THREE new favorite people? Is that allowed?


  16. Posted by Robyn on May 6, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Cause I heart Makeesha.


  17. I am letting go off my stress about Mothers’ Day! I don’t care if we’re late, my child looks like a ragamuffin, my clothes are too tight, and we don’t have gifts for the grandmoms! I am giving it to God…

    We live in the same town as my mother and my husband’s mother. We were going to try to visit both. Though I protested, we are planting the Children’s Garden Sunday during Sunday School. The kids are going to be muddy for church service. When this decision was made, I pointed out that some families may have to go visiting and cleaning up could be a problem. The committee of 4 (including on e mom, one dad, two grandparents) looked at me like I was from another planet!

    If anyone reading this would fill me in, I’d appreciate it. Am I way off the mark here?

    Sigh. So, we’ll pack extra clothes and a wet wash cloth and towel.

    I talked to my mother in law about what she would like, trying to maybe move it to Saturday. She thought that would hurt her other (grown) children’s feelings. (Really?!?) Again, have I become a sociopath immune to others’ feelings?

    My mother generously said she would take Saturday (and my sisters could not care less, bless them), but now our whole weekend is blown and my husband’s miffed that he won’t have time to mow the lawn and hang out at the hardware store. ( And I have to find two presentable outfits that fit my “still haven’t lost that baby weight” body since there’s not enough turnaround time for laundry.) Agh!

    This whole motherhood thing is like a body slam from God, “Get over your perfectionism already you whinning, whimp.”!


  18. Posted by Melissa on May 6, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    I must confess that I am excited to celebrate this Mother’s Day. This year will be my second one as a mother and my daughter actually wants me to be her mom! Last year she hated me and wished me dead. This year she has informed me that she can’t wait because she wants to do something special for me. I don’t really care about that, but it really is wonderful to have moved ahead in our adoption story.

    I too think that Mother’s Day sermons leave much to be desired (especially because I go to a church with complementarian views). Plus Mother’s Day has always been a sad day for me. My mother died when I was 7 years old and the emphasis in church has always been painful. This makes me wonder about my daughter. How does an adopted kid, especially a kid that was adopted as a teen, view this day? I know it is painful for her, and that’s okay. I just want to limit how much she has to hear mothers extolled and get to thinking about why God gave her such a crappy birth mother. I love the idea of a sermon on peace, justice, and equality.

    My favorite part of Mother’s Day is lavishing gratitude on my stepmother. Can’t seem to get away with it on any other day, but on Mother’s Day I can be extra sappy and corny…and its okay.


  19. Thanks for asking. I’ll read the comments after I post mine…simply because there is some stirring from the napping children, and I actually want to write a comment and finish it well enough to post on here. (It might actually be a first.)

    Last MD, our pastor actually asked me to teach. It was coincidental that it landed on Mother’s Day. And my very dear friend, and extremely gifted worship leader, led worship. We planned the service, start to finish. The great-yet-challenging part was that I had a barely three month old and she had a barely six month old.

    So despite the sleep-deprived-fog, the extra tummy roles, the internal pressure of sounding clear minded rather than hormonally whacked out… it was exhausting and wonderful and honoring to be part of the service. The only time he mentioned Mother’s Day was introducing and praying for me, and saying how great it was that our church had the opportunity to hear from two young moms. Who knows if the ‘great’ part was there, but the statement (and opportunity) was blessing and affirmation of who we are, and that being a mom was one of our roles, but we also had something else to offer everyone there that day.

    Great post today, as usual, ladies! One to distribute to male/female alike…


  20. Posted by Stacy on May 8, 2009 at 12:09 am

    As one who sleeps with the pastor (*gasp*) and as one who thinks that it is horrible that Hallmark dictates what we celebrate, when, and how….I am grateful for the family I have. The pastor (yes, my dear husband) is in the middle of a series on Revelation. I don’t know that he will detour from that series because of a Hallmark dictate. Praise the Lord. 🙂 The family will do what we normally do on Sundays…be together.

    For me – every day is Mother’s Day…for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer – I am their wife, their mother – and they are mine.

    And I thank God for them…that’s just where I am at right now.

    By the way – I do think that the “drawing attention” to the day in church is a difficult issue. What will people think??? Either way – the pastor isn’t doing it “right.” He can mention it and make people mad; he can not mention it and make people mad. I feel badly for the pastor, honestly. If it were me, I would want to stay in bed that day. 🙂


  21. Thank you for your thoughts on MD…. I’m currently reading one of your books and recently blogged about it… and am so happy to have found your blog!
    Your humor clicks with me and I appreciate your insightful words.
    Have a great weekend!


  22. Speaking as a pastor who is looking for inspiration for his Mother’s day sermon tomorrow, I find these comments very interesting. I pray that God would give me the ability to say something tomorrow.

    It is rather discouraging to read about all the bad experiences everyone has had with Mother’s day. (Makeesha, you comments are always challenging to me)

    May God have mercy on my congregation as I stumble through…may my sermon not SUCK, (oh and may the gays and lesbians find God’s truth and love in my words)

    Interestingly, I was also supposed to preach on Jacob, Rachel, and Leah and chose not too because polygamy did not seem to be a good fit. Instead we are discussing the fruit of the Spirit.

    Thank you Carla and Caryn for your insight.


  23. For what it’s worth, Pastor Gregg knocked it out of the park today. Really great sermon. He just preached what needed to be preached. No sugar coating or sweeting the topic for the moms. And double kudos for calling Rachel a “shepherd” not a “shepherdess.”


  24. Posted by Stephanie on June 1, 2009 at 1:06 am

    Interesting how many different points of view there are. I must concur with those of you who don’t enjoy mother’s day sermons. I used to avoid church on mother’s day because I wanted to be a mom so much that it pained me to hear the virtues of motherhood extolled or to watch them pass out the roses to all the mothers. (It is nice that some of your churches recognize women who are longing to be mothers – or that every woman gets the candy or flower. Our previous church wasn’t like that. Note that it is our previous church.)

    As for what to do with the day – since I wanted to be a mom for so long, I now LOVE to spend mother’s day with my children. They made me a mom and I want to be with them to celebrate the joys of being their mom.


  25. Posted by Beth Duke on May 13, 2013 at 9:03 pm

    Hi, I attended a church as a guest for Mother’s Day. The sermon was
    disturbing because it was really about how great and necessary dads
    are – and I am not making this up – how totally unnecessary moms are.
    The pastor totally stole Mother’s Day from the moms and elevated the
    dads to God-like status.


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