It is the best of days, and it is the worst of days – Mother’s Day. In many of our churches there will be a lot of empty seats this Sunday. Why? Because while for some, Mother’s Day is one of the happiest days of the year, for others, it’s the most dreaded and painful day of the year.
For many, it’s another chilling reminder that “mom is gone.” As one woman recently shared with me, “It has been 30 years now since I lost my mother to cancer and each year around Mother’s Day it just seems to get harder and harder. To most, Mother’s Day is a day of joy and happiness, but I spend the day with a broken heart and in tears. When my mother died I not only lost my mother, but my best friend.”
For others, Mother’s Day is an incredibly painful day because they want to be a mom, but they can’t. For those that have had abortions, this day only seems to re-open the wound. And even for some that are moms, behind the smiles and the Mother’s Day outfits there is deep hurt, deep anxiety, deep regret, or deep condemnation.
However, it’s not enough to say that Mother’s Day alone can be a painful day for so many. It’s more accurate to say that the general pattern of a woman’s life is often one that is characterized by pain and suffering. In fact, the Bible tells us it’s going to be this way. In the very beginning, following Adam and Eve’s initial sin, Genesis 3:16a says: To the woman He (God) said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children.”
This “pain” that God says will come to the woman is not merely a physical pain experienced during the pregnancy and birthing process itself (although this is a part of it), but it is a much deeper pain that affects all of a woman’s life.
Perhaps the most obvious example is Mary, the mother of our Lord. In Luke 2:35, following the birth of Jesus, Simeon prophesied to Mary that a “sword will pierce through your own soul also.” When did this happen? The clearest example is when we see Mary staring at her Son, Jesus, as He is being nailed to the cross. As Jesus cried out from the cross in John 19:26, “Woman, behold your Son,” certainly, the words of Simeon proved to be true, and at that moment it is as if a sword pierced through the very soul of Mary. Tragically, the curse promises us that a similar experience will come to all women who would come from Eve’s line. Thus, the call to be a mother is a call to suffer. Yes, it’s more than that; but it’s not less.
Over the next three blogs, I will discuss seven swords that pierce through the souls of so many women.
The first is the sword of infertility. One of the reasons there are so many empty seats on Mother’s Day is because the sword and the pain of infertility is so sharp, and it only seems to cut deeper on a day where the idea of “mommies and babies” is everywhere. For many of these women, every time they hear the word “mother,” it literally cuts them as it reminds them that although they want it so badly, it seems like they may never have the chance to be a mom.
Maybe they hear mothers complaining about a lack of sleep because the baby is up crying during the night and think to themselves that they would do anything to just be able to hear a baby crying during the night. Or maybe they hear mothers talk about how expensive children are and think deep down that they would sell everything they own just to have the chance to have a child.
One woman in our church wrote the following words to me, “This isn’t some rare disease. This affects people you know. It is also a silent disease because those of us who struggle with infertility often are treated like Job was treated by his friends; somehow, we are told, it is our fault. We are told to repent, or get prayed over by so-and-so, or told to ‘just adopt,’ or that if we just relax or just get our priorities/finances/lives in order that God will then give us children. The shame we feel and the fact that the subject is treated as taboo means many of us never ‘come out of the closet’ to our church family. What this infertile wants you to know is that infertility isn’t a spiritual condition, it is a medical one. We have a diagnosis; we know why we can’t conceive. Like cancer, or kidney disease, or heart disease there is a medical problem involved. You wouldn’t tell a cancer patient to ‘just relax’ so please, don’t say that to us, either. Heartbreak. Despair. Guilt. These are the feelings that dominate Mother’s Day for those of us in the infertile community. And there are more of us than you know.”
In response to this, my counsel for the rest of us is as follows: First, to those who have been able to have children by birth, be careful what you say to other women. Sometimes we’ll make comments to people like, “well it’s about time y’all start having children, or what are you waiting on?” And sometimes we even kind of subtly scold people, but what we don’t realize is that maybe they’ve been trying for months or years and they can’t get pregnant. And every time we say something like that it cuts them like a sword. Be sensitive. Have tact. Don’t assume anything about anyone. Some of us have likely wounded other women very deeply by words that at the time seemed very innocent.
Finally, to those Christians that are struggling with infertility: We do not understand why sometimes God opens the womb and sometimes He does not. But we do know that a Christian’s inability to have children is not because God is mad at them. It is not a punishment. You are not a second-class woman or a second-class Christian. Your identity and your worth are not in whether or not you have children, but your identity and your worth are in Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone.
So whether a woman has 17 children or zero children: she is deeply loved by God and she is precious in his sight because when God looks at her He sees the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ. So having babies or not having babies has nothing to do with your value and your worth as a child of God. Even if you are not a mother to a child, you are a daughter of the King.
**Tomorrow, we will consider the swords of “when a child leaves,” a wayward or rebellious child, and the pains of watching a child suffer.