(Image courtesy of retailmba.com)
This past Mother’s Day increased my awareness of how much society attempts to dictate how we should feel, especially on certain holidays. Many national holidays, such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, are secular, non-religious in nature. It is an important distinction, because religious holidays often acknowledge both ends of the emotional spectrum, from the joyous to the sorrowful simultaneously. For instance, even Christmas, while filled with joy and celebration at the birth of Jesus Christ, implicitly contains the mourning that such a human state of sin exists that God would have to offer God’s self for us in Jesus Christ upon the cross, and so be born in human form that day. The Bible not only acknowledges the full breadth of human emotion, but it catalogs it from the awe and wonder of creation in Genesis, to the mourning and sorrow of Lamentations, to the anger and injustice of Job, to the joy and celebration of the resurrection in the Gospel accounts. We are not compartmentalized beings that only feel one emotion at a time. Often we find one emotion spilling over into another, such as when a moment of happiness gives way to sorrow that a loved one who passed away is not there to share in it.
That is normal, healthy, and even part of the design of humanity. God can love us and simultaneously mourn our broken, sinful state. God can be angry at us for our willful disobedience, and still pour out blessings upon us. As those created in God’s image, we manifest this emotional ability with regularity, so why should we submit ourselves to a human designed plan of forcing ourselves to conform emotionally on an specific occasion? I would argue that we should not. I am a mother, but I am also a woman that has lost a child, so Mother’s Day is not all brunch, flowers, and smiles for me. Yet I was very aware of how taboo such feelings are, much less their articulation on Mother’s Day, but they are authentic and true, so why should I pretend to be otherwise? Tomorrow many people will celebrate Fatherhood and their fathers. I love my father, and he is still around for me to honor, but you cannot be clergy and not be aware of how many people find such a day difficult, if not impossible. There are those who never had a man to call father, whether due to death or abandonment. There are others who lost their father for the same reasons. There are those who have a very broken relationship with their father, those that suffered abuse at the hands of their father, and those that simply feel ambivalent about their father. A day where we assume all men are fathers is equally painful and unjust. There are a good deal of men who wanted nothing more than to have a child, but could not.
I am not saying that Father’s Day is evil, or that any secular holiday is innately antithetical to Christianity, but I am saying that as the Body of Christ we need to be extremely cognizant of what we are calling forth in secular holidays and how that will impact people, many of whom are extremely vulnerable on these days due to the emphasis they place upon feeling a very specific way. So let us not assume anything tomorrow. I’m not going to say “Happy Father’s Day,” because I don’t know what that might conjure up in other person, but I feel called to say, “God bless you,” and, “God love you.” Those are true statements that are for all people. They are true and valid for fathers and mothers, widows and orphans, young and old, men and women, sinners and saints. Those kinds of statements are more than tag lines and Hallmark epithets. They are verbal reminders of grace and love from God and embodied in God’s people. They are redemptive statements that seek to heal the hurt of this world, soothe the sorrow and ease the burdens. These statements express, not only what we feel, but who we are, and who others are that receive them: they are beloved. Being a beloved child of God is not about appreciation, but restoration and no secular holiday could ever promise that, much less deliver. So no matter how you feel about tomorrow, may we strive to help all people feel a little more loved and discover a little more hope. For that is the will of God, the Father.