I am not a huge fan of Mother’s Day.
Let me rephrase that. I actually love the concept of a day set aside to honor the hard and wonderful nurturing work that women do, but here in the U.S. we’ve gone far afield of what was originally intended by those who first sought to establish the special Mom’s day that we celebrate every May. Retailers have hijacked our holiday.
This year, it is estimated that Americans will spend more than $21 Billion on Mother’s Day gifts, the most on record since the holiday was first observed in the United States ($2.4 Billion will be spent on flowers alone). Retailers will reap huge profits from compulsory purchases made by husbands and children who will splurge on jewelry, flowers, and meals in pricey restaurants, all in an effort to convey to mothers that we are loved and appreciated by those closest to us.
I like flowers and candy and extravagant demonstrations of my family’s affection just as much as the next girl. I love the opportunity that Mother’s Day provides each year to daughters and sons to pay tribute to their mothers, to express their love and gratitude for the women who went without sleep and hot meals and many comforts so that their children would have what they needed to grow up healthy and well-loved. I happily paid tribute to my own mom each year when she was still with us and I love my own children’s attention on this special day.
But, is it just me or do you wonder what wonderful and noble things might be done with $21 Billion?
Mother’s Day wasn’t always this model of consumer consumption. While there is some disagreement about the historical minutiae behind exactly when and why a day was first set aside for mothers, there seems to be consensus among historians that Mother’s Day dates back at least as far as the ancient Greeks who dedicated an annual spring festival to maternal goddesses. This initial celebration of women (divine or otherwise) continued to evolve through the centuries. During the 1600’s, the early Christians in England established the fourth Sunday in Lent to honor Jesus’ mother Mary. The British clergy later expanded the celebration to include all mothers, establishing what is known as Mothering Sunday. Many other countries set aside a day each year for a similar recognition of women.
Here in the United States, records indicate that the initial efforts to establish an annual Mother’s Day celebration came about during the American Civil War. From 1861-1865 more than 620,000 men and boys died during this bloodiest of wars on American soil. Widows and grieving mothers living on both sides of the Mason Dixon line were saddened beyond what they could quietly bear as the fighting divided their families and left their farms and cities in shambles. They banded together to form peace groups that worked within the camps on both sides of the conflict. These Mother’s Day Work Clubs provided comfort to both Union and Confederate soldiers and made improvements in the poor sanitation that pervaded their camps.
After the war ended, these strong and compassionate women sought to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day” to unite the mothers of soldiers from both sides of the war with the objective of comforting one another and mending their fractured families. Julia Ward Howe, then a well-known activist, poet, and author of the famous Civil War song, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, took up the cause, pressing women to rise up against war in her famous Mother’s Day Proclamation, which reads…
Appeal to Womanhood throughout the World –
“Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.
Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly: We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall 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, 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 bosom of the 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 out dishonor, nor violence vindicate 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 council.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at 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.”
– Julia Ward Howe, 1870, Boston
In her famous speech, Miss Howe championed her vision of women coming together for peace, convinced that once mobilized they could have a profound impact on the world. Later, she called for an official celebration of mothers which would be held annually, in June. While her speech was impassioned, her vision garnered marginal support and her effort was, in the end, unsuccessful. Our current Mother’s Day was established several years later, in 1914, absent the noble cause of the women who had banded together for peace after the Civil War.
While, l can’t envision a world without war (it’s just too big of an idea for me to grasp), I believe as Miss Howe believed that, when mobilized, women can be a powerful force. I can see women, rising up in our homes and offices, while making peanut butter sandwiches and driving kids to soccer practice, writing proposals and performing surgery, waiting on customers and buying groceries, all doing our part to ease the burdens of women who suffer unimaginable hardship as they raise their children amid poverty and disease and war.
After all, who can better understand the needs of women than other women? Who else can look in their eyes and know what is in their hearts?
If we all do something (it can be ever so small or Biblical in its proportion), our efforts will combine and good things will happen.
Because we are a gender that gets things done.
We know that inch by inch, brick by brick, we can build something strong and beautiful. There is no effort so small that it cannot make a difference; combined with the efforts of others it can move mountains.
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”
– Mother Teresa
I want to keep the best things about Mother’s Day (children offering us flowers picked from our own gardens, phone calls and FaceTime visits, home-cooked meals, warm hugs and sloppy kisses…) and join with other women to make it MORE.
I want us to remember the women who first thought to establish a Mother’s Friendship Day and think about all we can do together.
Let’s slip away, between the beautiful brunch and the opening of presents, to pray for our sisters all over the world; for their peace and comfort, for justice for those who have no voice, for the courage to go where God leads us to help a sister, even if that takes us to dark places that we wouldn’t choose to send ourselves.
This Sunday, let’s lift up in prayer the mothers in Nepal who, in the wake of a devastating earthquake, want only to find a safe place to lie their children down to sleep. As we have so often done in the past, we will pray for others to go and do. And, then let’s search for an organization that is doing good work there and join with them to, in some small way, help those mothers survive the crisis.
Let’s pray for the mothers in India who work in steamy rice fields and gather cow dung for fuel so they can feed their children and keep their babies warm at night. Let’s remember them as we breathe in the fragrance of the Mother’s Day flowers that our children and grandchildren will give us. And, then let’s make a small donation to help one of these mothers from India start a cottage business that will make all the difference in her daily life and the lives of her children.
Let’s remember the mothers in Uganda who dig jiggers out of their children’s tiny toes with a sharp needle; jiggers that make their way into those precious little feet because there is no money for the shoes that will prevent the sand ants from burrowing into the soles of their feet as they play. Let’s think about them as we read the sweet Mother’s Day cards we receive from our children. And then let’s make shoes for those little Ugandan children. I will show you how at our next FIRED UP! gathering.
As we sip icy champagne and savor the Mother’s Day brunch that our families will prepare for us, let’s think of the mothers in Afghanistan who are powerless to educate their daughters or prevent their kidnapping, abuse, or murder at the hands of men who pervert Scripture to justify the oppression of women. It’s hard to imagine how to help these sisters, but we will learn.
And…let’s remember that not every woman who makes a profound difference in the life of a child has carried that child in her womb. Let’s remember the foster mothers and aunties and teachers and next door neighbors and co-workers who love our kids and help raise them to be kind, loving adults –and let’s thank them profusely on this special day.
Let’s enjoy the flowers and the food and the demonstrations of how much our families love us, and then let’s pull out our laptops or our iPhones and put our money where our mouths are; joining with organizations that send a message of hope and love, saying loud and clear “I see you and you matter to me”. Here are some of my favorites: