Most of us have noticed that Mother’s Day has widely different meanings for everyone. I am grateful that mothers are acknowledged, but the vast differences in how we experience our mothers or being a mother elude the composers of greeting cards.
Each sibling will experience a different mother. My two sisters and I would laugh that there was always a favorite who wasn’t one of us. That, we realized, was existentially impossible. My older sister and I were not our mother’s favorites and our sister finally admitted it but didn’t know why. At least our experience was validated after our mother’s death.
Mothers cannot satisfy all their children’s needs. They are not allowed to have their own needs. On the other hand, there are women who did not choose to be mothers or can be harmful to their children’s development. Such is the lost cause of one-role meaning for a person.
Because there are so many differences in the way that one woman’s version of mothering plays out, Mother’s Day seeks to at least say it was good she allowed us to be born. But even that comes under attack.
Recently a remarkable young woman, Rachel Held Evans, unexpectedly passed away from a reaction to antiobiotics she was given to treat flu-like symptoms. Such a random and senseless cause of death has those who appreciated her reeling. Even worse, she leaves a 3 year old and a baby less than 1 year old with her grieving husband.
What has made her death even harder to bear is the harsh words used by some in the faith community of which she as a part. Rachel had increasingly sought to uphold Jesus’ gospel of love rather than legalism. A skillful writer, researcher and journalist, she reached out to those who had been hurt by the judgmentalism and rejection of some in that faith tradition. With discoveries of wide-spread abuses in some churches, large and small, those who felt outcast and in despair had in Rachel a voice that encouraged them to believe in their own worth and in God’s love for them.
But, just as in some families, while one sibling adores mother, another sibling feels animosity toward her. For some reason, Rachel’s emphasis on love angered some who believed her doctrine was not correct. They felt compelled to mar the grief many felt with their criticism and name-calling.
Why are some offended by a gospel of love? They were in Jesus’ day and they are now. Why is love so threatening to some people? Is it fear? Fear they won’t be the chosen, the favorite child? Comedian John Stewart recently said that the entire Jewish religion, in his view, was the search for the father’s approval.
The elder brother felt it in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Martha seemed to feel it, the producers, the ones who do all the right things, the compliant ones, the performers, often feel slighted if love is extended to those who don’t conform as they think they should out of duty if not love.
As the saying goes, we can be happy or we can be right.
So why do some hate those who love? What makes us resistant to the experience of what we crave and need so badly? Love often does not play by the rules and that can feel scary. Is it the need for power to control?
I suggest widening our emotional economy. There is not a scarcity of love. When one person is loved, it doesn’t mean the other person is not loved. But each love is different because each person is different. As in the idea of five different love languages, it is not always easy to find out what way each person experiences feeling loved.
But for those who are threatened by love’s freedom, I hope you will forgive those who love for not measuring up to your definition of law as more important. It doesn’t mean you aren’t loved. I am sorry if you don’t feel loved. But please save the mean-spirited remarks and let us mourn this lost mother peacefully.