I thought I was ready for Mother’s Day. I spent the week meditating on what a gift mothers are and on how spiritual motherhood is real motherhood. I read a few old messages from former students thanking me for being their mom. I woke up today to a dozen people wishing me a happy Mother’s Day–the mothers of my godchildren, a friend from high school (who offered her Mass for me today and not for her mother), one from college, a former student, a new friend, my own mom. Most of them are moms themselves, but they reached out because they see me as a mother, to them, to their children, to other spiritual children the Lord has given me.
I went to a different church today because yesterday’s had been rather more focused on motherhood than on Jesus, and the music at today’s church was powerful. I praised God and thanked him and surrendered my heart to him for the thousandth time. It was beautiful.
And then they asked all the mothers to stand. And as much as I try to believe that spiritual motherhood is really motherhood, I knew they didn’t mean me. So I sat. And they handed flowers to every woman I could see. They asked me to pass flowers to the women who had earned them. And I trust God so much and I love him so much and I’m so content to be in his will, I really am, but I sat there and sobbed.
Not just for me, for the thousands of devastated women in pews around the country. Women who have lost children or aborted children or placed children for adoption, women who long for motherhood or resent their motherhood, women for whom today is already painful. And then they’re asked to watch every other woman stand and be recognized, not knowing if they should stand too, or certain that they shouldn’t. I thought of the hearts being broken by well-meaning people in churches across the country, and I wept.
This is why we ask you, Fathers, not to do this. It’s not because people get offended, it’s because people’s deepest pain is laid bare in a place that ought to be safe.
I didn’t sing the closing hymn–I couldn’t sing without starting to ugly cry. And the moment the song was over, I knelt, hoping that the people around me wouldn’t turn to tell me what a nice voice I have or ask if I was visiting. I didn’t want to deal with it.
But a young woman came over, a student at Texas A&M, and told me she recognized me from St. Mary’s. She thanked me for the work I do and told me how much it matters. And she prayed over me, a little balm for my soul.
Another lady came over afterward and asked how I was doing. The body of Christ, my friends.
And when I finally got myself together and finished talking to Jesus, I turned around to grab my things and saw that someone had given me a flower. Had given me *her* flower, most likely. Had seen me in my pain and reached out to tell me that I count, too.
So I cried some more and took the flower over to Mary, who had asked her Son to send those women to love on me. And I didn’t really feel any better, but at least I felt seen.
If you’re struggling today, I see you. I’m sorry it’s hard and I’m sorry we’ve made it harder. If you’re missing your mother or wishing your relationship with her was different, I offer you the Mother of God to take her place. If you’re feeling your empty womb or empty arms or empty home, I promise you this: spiritual motherhood is not a consolation prize. It’s not the same as physical motherhood, but it’s real and it’s essential for the salvation of souls. You matter. Your motherhood matters.
If you’ve got someone in your life who might be struggling, take a page out of the book of the many people who love me far better than I deserve and reach out. Tell her how she’s been a mother to you or your children. Thank her for the way she loves the people around her. Offer to pray for those grieving the loss of their mothers.
I wanted to spend today just celebrating the many, many amazing moms I know. But instead, God asked me to sit with the many other women who are suffering. Their pain shouldn’t take away your joy–you don’t have to feel guilty about having children or a great mom. But knowing how other people are suffering today should make you even more grateful for what you have and should call you to reach out to them in their pain as well.
It’s a hard day. It’s a beautiful day. Because motherhood–womanhood–