Saturday, May 13, 2017

Love and Loss on Mother's Day

Tonight I spoke at an interdenominational memorial service "for any who mourn a child lost through miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth, abortion, or infant death." Never having personally lost a child, it was a sobering and honoring experience to hear the stories of many who are grieving. 

Until last year, I experienced Mother's Day exclusively through the lens of a child. One year I wrote about the love and faithfulness of my own mother toward me. Another year I wrote about the "mommy wounds" many of us carry and how the motherhood of God heals us. This year is the first time I've really reflected on the pain of Mother's Day from a mother's perspective. Below are  some notes from that reflection in honor of all those who have lost children. 


I’m speaking to you tonight as a new mom- last year around this time, my first Mother’s Day, I was sleep deprived with a brand new 3-week-old son. It’s been a wonderful, life-changing first year, in which time I’ve had a recurring thought-- a thought that's new to me since I became a mom-- and that’s this: the worst imaginable loss anyone can experience is the death of a child. 

And I’ve asked myself why is that? I lost my father when I was a teenager, so I know—many of us know— that any kind of death is horrific, but I think that children especially represent to us what is most pure and good and beautiful about this world; and so when a child is taken, we encounter the worst kind of evil. 

So at this service it’s appropriate for us to be talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is a model mother, but also a woman who has experienced the death of a child. Now Jesus was an adult when he was crucified, but his death was a weight that Mary carried with her even from his infancy: in Luke 2:35, Mary and Joseph take baby Jesus to the temple and Simeon prophesies to Mary that ‘a sword will pierce your own soul also.’ Anyone who has lost a child, or who is watching a child suffer, can relate to these words: A sword will pierce your soul. 

If you are here tonight and you are grieving for a child, whether it’s because of miscarriage, stillbirth, abortion, or some other form of loss, please know that your grief is valid. Someone close to me suffered a miscarriage this past year, and she said it’s a strange loss because in many ways society does not give her permission to acknowledge it. People don’t talk about miscarriage-- they don’t treat it like a big deal. So it took courage for her to express her pain. Maybe you can relate to that. Or maybe you’ve lost a child to abortion and you feel guilty about admitting your sadness because it’s something you chose at one time. Or maybe you have other children and you feel that you shouldn’t be so sad over the one you lost.
But whatever your circumstances are, the fact that you feel this ache is part of what makes you a mother, or a father: We identify with our children so closely that their pain pierces our own souls also. And Mary shows us that this pain we feel is not a sign of our weakness, but it’s a sign of our humanity. Mary, the ideal mother, was not above grief. She did not dispassionately sit back while her son suffered and died; so you have a friend in Mary. She knows the pain you feel, and it is a pain that pierces the soul. 

But tonight I encourage you, whatever your circumstances, to also know that you have a friend in Jesus. He is unique in all the world b/c not only can He relate to our suffering, but He shares in it. This is what the Cross is all about: in dying for our sake, Jesus took our suffering onto Himself. He took the sword that pierces our souls and drove it into His own hands, his own side, his own feet. 

And then he rose again three days later so that you and I might also rise with him; so that the evil in this world that snatches our children away from us will one day be put to an end, so that one day all will be healed. Every tear will be wiped from our eyes, and every child will be restored. 

When we come to know Jesus as our friend, He gives us hope in the midst of our pain, because He is proof that our loss doesn’t have the final say. There is death, but because of Jesus there is also resurrection. And when we come to know Jesus as our friend, He gives us courage to continue in the painful ministry of motherhood and fatherhood: of opening ourselves to life, come what may.

That’s what I want to leave you with tonight. Each time you welcome the other, whether it be a child in the womb or a neighbor across the street or a refugee from across the world, you are being the ideal mother or father-- following in Mary’s footsteps, saying yes to God, saying yes to life, even if it means a sword may one day pierce your soul because of it. This is the Christian vocation, and it does come with scars. But it also comes with resurrection.