Every year, as Mother’s Day rolls around, we are met with a number of posts ranging from honoring mothers to exhorting mothers to manage their expectations of the day. There are posts that acknowledge that the day is hard for many women. There are posts that work to be inclusive. I’ve even written a number of these types of posts over the years.
Mother’s Day can be a tricky one for Christians. On the one hand, we want to honor the blessing of motherhood, both as mothers and as children of mothers. Every person was brought into the world by a mother, so we all have some stake in this day. But it also can be an incredibly painful day for many women, so for the Christian, the call to “weep with those who weep” rings truer than ever.
I’ve been on all parts of this spectrum. I’ve been the grieving woman, facing my first Mother’s Day without my baby. I’ve been the infertile woman, unable to conceive year after year. I’ve been the grumpy mother, ungrateful for the ways my family showed their appreciation for me. I’ve been the overjoyed woman, brimming with thankfulness over the children filling my arms. There can be many different types of women coming into your churches on Mother’s Day.
And Christ’s work speaks to all of them.
I am all for celebrating mothers on Mother’s Day (who doesn’t like a day devoted to them on top of their birthday?!), but I think we should expand the guest list. Motherhood is a beautiful gift, but it is only a picture of something greater. It was never designed to be ultimate, or even the only thing a woman could or should do. It was designed with a purpose—“be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” with more image bearers (Gen. 1:26-27). So we get our calling as mothers from this initial calling in the cultural mandate.
But the cultural mandate isn’t the final mandate. And as quickly as Adam and Eve ate the fruit in Genesis 3, the ability to be fruitful and multiply was soon destroyed. Adam and Eve still were fruitful and multiplied, but it became a lot harder. Barren woman after barren woman is listed not only in Genesis, but also all throughout scripture, until Jesus is born. And then after Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we aren’t met with as much barrenness in scripture anymore (though I’m sure it continued just as frequently throughout the world).
In the Old Testament, the way God’s work went forward was often through physical birth. It was even promised in the Garden (Gen. 3:15). With every barren woman, creation groaned aching for the promised redeemer to come. With every opened womb, hope sprung anew. But it wasn’t enough. And it was only a shadow of what was to come. Each barren woman and each filled womb showed yet again that God was the author of all life.
But then Christ came—and with the coming of his kingdom came the promise of making all things new. Did he make barren women full? Did he raise children from the dead? Yes, he did those things. But what else did he do? He gave everyone the hope of being fruitful in multiplying.
Listen to Jesus’ words in the Great Commission:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
With the coming of Christ, his finished work on the cross, and his resurrection a new mandate was given to all bought by his blood and raised to new life—be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth with more image bearers. But in this mandate, the multiplying is for all people—male and female, married and single, barren and fertile. The way the Messiah came was through physical birth (hence, the emphasis on birth in the Old Testament). The way the Messiah works is through spiritual birth (hence, the emphasis on discipleship in the New Testament).
Perhaps the most counter-cultural thing you can do on Mother’s Day is not to say that the day doesn’t matter, but acknowledge the myriad of ways women are “being fruitful, multiplying, and filling the earth with more image bearers.” Praise the physical mothers for their labors in the home. Praise the spiritual mothers for their labors in disciple-making. Praise the women in your church who spend their days (both in the home and outside the home) working to see Christ’s commission realized. Mother’s Day can be an incredibly isolating day for many women, but never should be in the church. Physical motherhood is great, but spiritual motherhood is for all.
God is the one who gives the “barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children” (Ps. 113:9). So whether your children came from the labor of your body, or came from the fruit of your labor elsewhere, you are not forgotten. Every woman has a place and every woman can fill the earth with more image bearers.
This doesn’t remove the sting of infertility and loss. For many, it’s a lifelong sorrow. We live in the already/not yet of Christ’s kingdom. So he may have given us hope and a commission, but he hasn’t made all things new yet. The day still carries a large amount of hurt for many women. We must not fail to recognize that. But let’s also seek to honor the women in our churches who are fulfilling not just the cultural mandate, but the Great Commission one as well.