Open Wide the Family Frameworks

language

We’ve passed Mother’s Day, I recognize. But I still find myself pondering questions around it all — in part, because I know the day can be acutely painful for many, even as it can be authentically celebratory too.

Though I am writing five days after the date itself, today I want to 1) raise some questions — what might be possible if we opened our frameworks for family much wider? — and I want offer 2) a very powerful prayer voiced by the Rev. Krystal Leedy, my friend and colleague. I believe these words are an example of opening those frameworks, and they represent the array of emotions that are felt on days like Mother’s Day. If the day was challenging or grief-filled for you, I hope you will find this post comforting.

First, some questions. . .

Last Friday, I offered up a post in a Facebook group of young clergy. Because of the context of the group, I raised questions about how we might talk about Mother’s Day in churches. There are a variety of ways to open up frameworks for family and belonging, of course — that is, not only using Christian language — but I wondered if the language of theology might be especially helpful in naming the array of experiences and emotions of Mother’s Day, ultimately expanding the frameworks for family and belonging themselves:

TL:DR Family-of-Choice; The Kin-dom of God; Queering Family; What if we just totally expand what family and belonging can mean this weekend?

Each year in this online community, we have some important posts around this weekend as we approach Mother’s Day. People are wise to name the array of feelings and experiences that folks may bring into our sanctuaries – celebration, longing, grief, connection, estrangement, adoption, birth, infertility, pregnancy, and more – and I know that lots of us ponder how to make space for all of it, because we’re ultimately trying to create an inclusive posture and avoid opportunities for exclusion, especially if people are already feeling pain.

I’ve also appreciated that in other social media spaces this year, people (nod to Layton E. Williams!) have raised questions about why we tend to voice some of these experiences and feelings *only* on Mother’s Day – like, what do we create if we only speak and pray about experiences like infertility on Mother’s Day itself? Of course, we shouldn’t leave such things out, but how might a one-day-per-year mention itself be hurtful? And what might be possible if we talked and prayed about these things at other times of year too?

Along with these good questions and ponderings, I’d also like to raise another set of conversations as well:

What might be possible if found ways to open up what family and belonging look like in the first place? I mean, isn’t that a major piece of our shared faith?

– At times, we use language of the Kin-dom of God.

– We hear Jesus say things like,

“Who are my mother and brothers? Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

and

“Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age — houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields. . .”

and

When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

– We also see Jesus receiving and blessing children as if they are his own.

Because here is something I feel most years when I walk into sanctuaries, not only on Mother’s Day, but on any of the days we tend to uplift family relationships in worship —

I am immediately reminded that in church, we tend to frame family relationships in the same traditional frameworks as folks do in pretty much every other space. And I know this can hurt.

Alongside  our families of birth, there are times when our wider experience of family simply does not fit a lot of these traditional frameworks. For instance — not only in church, but in general — we don’t really have adequate shared language around family-of-choice. How do we make space to celebrate those relationships? Especially when this is actually a very natural and central piece of our faith tradition? I mean, church could actually take the lead on this in some ways.

On traditional family holidays, I think we do a good job at trying to make space for the variety of feelings around family (grief, celebration, etc) but we don’t necessarily do much to open up those frameworks for family themselves — the variety of ways we are connected in kinship, including in the Household of God (I like that the NT uses household language for church!)

What if we did find more ways to open things up?

With all of this in mind. . .

I spent Mother’s Day at University Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas, and I absolutely loved the Prayers of the People voiced by the Rev. Krystal Leedy. These words, adapted from a prayer by Amy Young, voiced the huge array of emotions that people feel on Mother’s Day. Along with that, the expressive language of the prayer expanded frameworks for family and belonging, even opening wide the word Mother itself. This prayer is spacious. I hope you find yourself in it. With permission, I offer it below:

Let us pray:

God, who like a mother hen gathers all of your children under your wings, hear our prayer on this Mother’s Day, where we experience a wide array of emotion. We know that you are our creator, who continues to form and shape us to be like you, who protects and teaches us to be more like you.

Teach us now on this day to care for those who take on the roles of mothers, for there is no one right way to be a mom, and hear us now as we pray for them and how we may best serve them:

Teach us to celebrate with those who gave birth to a child this year.

Teach us to mourn with those who lost a child this year.

Teach us to appreciate those who are in the trenches with children every day, wearing the badge of food stains, forgetting the sippy cup on top of the car, lifting up little ones to smell their diapers, and comforting humans both little and not so little who cry without reason.

Teach us to mourn with those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away.
Lord in your mercy.

Teach us to walk with those who must take the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment. Forgive us when we say foolish things.

Teach us to thank those who are adoptive moms, foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms for they carry extra.

Teach us to celebrate with those who have a close relationship with their children.
Teach us to sit beside those who have distance from their children for we know their hearts ache.
Lord in your mercy.

Teach us to grieve with those who have lost a mother this year.
Teach us to pray with those whose mamas are sick.
Teach us to acknowledge and respond to those who experienced abuse at the hands of a mother.

Teach us to honor those who live through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood.
Lord in your mercy.

Teach us to listen to the mothers of Scripture, even if they don’t speak. As we read your word, help us to stand in the shoes of the mother of Jesus, the mother of Peter, the mothers of the Twelve, the mother of Matthias the forgotten, and even the mother of Judas.

Teach us to stand in the midst of grieving and rejoicing with those who have become “empty nesters” this year.

Teach us to anticipate joy with those who are pregnant with new life.

Teach us to be an empathetic friend to the Reh family, and the mother country of Burma that nurtured them for as long as it could. And to be an empathetic friend to Mama Reh who birthed children in a refugee camp in Thailand. Though we cannot imagine, help us to try to put ourselves in her shoes.

Teach us to be a mother to these children of the church that you have entrusted to our care, to teach the faith even when we don’t feel like we know it well enough.
Lord in your mercy.

Teach us to be a good enough Mother Church,* whom you love deeply, in all of our circumstances, and teach us to care as you care for us. Teach us to take good minutes as a church, not because it’s what we’ve always done but because we cannot bear NOT record the good that you are doing in the world. May our notes be a living scrapbook of your goodness. Because in all of these circumstances, you celebrate and stand and grieve and walk beside us. For your life’s example and your saving act of love, we thank you.
Amen.

*This language was influenced by the Rev. Ted Wardlaw, President of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in a commencement sermon.

Here is some good news: We can open up these frameworks for family and belonging all the time, even more than one day per year. I hope you find yourself within it.

Renee Roederer

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