Dear Pastor,

When I stepped into your office two years ago, Diet Coke can in hand, I don’t think either of us could have foreseen how far and wide our conversation would go. Turns out to every country in the world, save six in Africa and one in the Middle East with hundreds of thousands reading our letter.

And it got me thinking there has got to be a better way to honor mothers without alienating those who don’t fit into a tidy box. Turns out we were right, there is. What I have come to understand the last two years through the responses to our letter is that Mother’s Day can have complexities and nuances far beyond the binary approach to motherhood.

Either you are or you aren’t a mother doesn’t begin to capture it.

We can (and need to) create space for fuller truth. If life is a stage, allow me to pull back the curtain.

Beyond the Surface of Mothering

One comment from the letter comes to mind – she said Mother’s Day is complicated for her, because on the surface she has “the perfect family,” a husband and two healthy boys. But on Mother’s Day she feels sad when she sees the images on the screen at church of a mother with her young daughter and knows that part of her story is also the loss of not mothering a girl.

In my mind’s eye, she is standing on a stage with her husband and sons, whom she loves and enjoys. And it is the truth of her life, but it’s not complete. If we pulled the curtains back a ways, we’d also see her longing for a daughter.

Another woman commented, “One of my four children survived. The other three died in utero, after I had seen a heartbeat.  For the ones who have lost their babies, it isn’t about jealousy. It’s about ‘what if?’ It’s about ‘what would my child have looked like if she had survived?’ It’s about ‘what would my life be like if my child were here today?’” Her stage includes the child we can see, the three we can’t, and a whole heap of questions.

This comment sticks with me too: “I am a single gal in my early 40s and not married and no children. This year I started praying for ‘just one egg’ to be left for me, just in case I am ever so lucky. Thank you so much for writing such a tender essay that captured the gamut of Motherhood/loving other. As I work with the elderly, my ‘mothering’ comes in working with other people’s family members!”

This stage gets to me a bit because she’s been willing to let go of so much and only asks for “one egg,” standing off in the wings.

We have our public truth, and our beyond the surface truth. The stage is big enough to hold all of our reality.

I am a proponent of preserving the line between public and private – not everything should be shared. It is sacred and holy to have parts of ourselves known only to God and a few.

In light of this, I offer the following prayer or blessing for Mother’s Day.


Beyond the surface of mothering

Forgive us when we assume that what we see on the surface is all there is to your story. We know in our midst there are women and mothers who:

Like Eve, have children with serious rivalry.

Like Hagar, have been discarded for a new family and are mothering alone.

Like Naomi, have tasted the bitterness of a child’s death.

Like the mother of Leah and Rachel, knows what it’s like to have one child favored over another by society.

Like Hannah, have been separated from your child at a young age.

Like Mary, have a complicated pregnancy story or

Like Tamar, have tried multiple ways to become a mother or

Like Rachel, have counted the months and years while other women in your family and circle of friends become pregnant.

Who like Rebekah, are drawn to one of your children more than the others.

Like David’s mother, is raising children after God’s heart and though you rejoice in watching them, don’t want to rub it in friends’ faces.

Like Ham’s mother have children whose substance abuse can cause problems.

Like Bathsheba, have sick children who may die.

Like Joseph and Benjamin, experienced the death of their mother.

Like Mary, have children with public legal situations and all you can do is watch.

Like the Shunammite woman when told by Elisha she would become pregnant, replied, “No, please do not mislead your servant!” Like her, not wanting to open doors to hope, only to have them slammed in your face.

Like Hannah, have known the provoking of a family member.

Like many, watched their mothers age and waste before their eyes.

Like Moses’ mother, reluctantly gave up her child because it wasn’t safe for you to bring her child up herself. Or

Who like Pharaoh’s daughter, were called to love and nurture children that weren’t yours by birth.

Like Timothy’s mother and grandmother, are steadily and without much fanfare or recognition teaching your children about the truths of God, sowing seeds for eternity

Like the unnamed women who never quite fit into the norms of society, either never marrying or having children, yet wanting to.

You are in our midst. 

We are called to be a people who rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Today our stage is big enough to do both.

For the seen and known joys of motherhood, we rejoice and smile and celebrate with you. For the seen and known suffering in motherhood, we ache with you.

For the private unseen and unknown joys of motherhood, like Mary, may you treasure them in your hearts. And for the private unseen and unknown sorrows and suffering of motherhood, may you know you don’t always have to be happy in our midst.

You are engraved on the palms of God, both the seen and unseen, held together by Him.

I’ve created a PDF of Beyond the Surface of Mothering.

I’m an unusual advocate for Mother’s Day, I know. Single, beyond child-bearing years, not a mother. But isn’t that God’s pattern? Take the second brother, the barren woman, or the forgotten shepherd and use them. God’s system can be a bit upside down.  All I can say is, we tapped into something.

Thanks for listening and for continuing to mother us in a shepherding way. Even though I think we’ve moved beyond the whole “stand if you’re a mother awkwardness”, if you do make us stand, I might just exit stage right =).

Warmly and in your corner,


p.s. The letter that started it allDear Pastors, It’s me again {what a few days, eh?!} and Another open letter to pastors {lessons from the comments section}. There is also a resource called 10 ideas for pastors on Mother’s Day


Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via flickr

Categories: Faith, Holiday



Leave A Comment

  1. karen May 1, 2014 at 6:37 am - Reply

    Amy, I so appreciate your words here (and in the original letter, which I clicked over to). I love how you intersect and weave the modern motherhood journey with our Biblical sisters and foremothers. One thing I’ve come to appreciate – and want to honour – is how women have mothered me and my own children, irregardless of their own circumstance as (or as not) mothers. I truly feel like God has given us all to eachother and one of the blessings of the body of Christ is how we come alongside, teach, serve, love, and caretake for one another. These are beautiful, sacrificial, *motherly* traits, and I am a better mother for the women who come alongside me and give of their own giftings. They fill in the areas I find myself lacking in, and give to my children from a place of Christlikeness. This is such a wonderful gift of women, and a reflection of motherhood I hope will be honoured by all this Mother’s Day. (I’m linking to the post I wrote on this last year if you’re interested:

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      Amy May 5, 2014 at 6:47 am - Reply

      Ah, yes, the weaving :) … it never grows old, this weaving, does it?!

    • eunice May 11, 2015 at 10:36 pm - Reply

      Yes, I think there are many women in my life who have mothered me. And as I now raise my own son, I am grateful for all the other women who are helping me with this. I think we should all esteem to be mothers, not necessarily just of our own biologial children or legally adopted children, but to be experienced women who share wisdom and love with those who are younger. On Mother’s Day, I had my son give gifts to women who are active in his life. I don’t think I could survive motherhood without these other “mothers” for my son. Kudos to those women who can do it alone… but God obviously knows that I need the help. And I commend these other women as mothers too.

  2. morielle May 1, 2014 at 10:07 am - Reply

    In tears less than half way through. We serve such a God, with such a heart to use ladies to do amazing things, oftenat great cost.

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      Amy May 5, 2014 at 6:48 am - Reply

      It is a pretty stunning reminder of God, isn’t it? The Bible is so rich!

  3. Danielle Wheeler May 1, 2014 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    I love that God chose you to be an advocate for Mother’s Day, because you’re doing the job beautifully. Thank you for pulling back the curtains, for going beyond the surface, because, yes, there is always so much there… Love you and this piece!

  4. Jill Richardson May 2, 2014 at 9:56 am - Reply

    Thanks for the reminder to look beyond the surface. We have so any complicated stories in our midst we never see unless we look. It took me many years to not hate Mother’s Day after my mom’s death. It’s a beautiful and deeply difficult day. That’s why there are people like you to help.

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      Amy May 5, 2014 at 6:51 am - Reply

      Ah, yes, it’s easier to stay at the surface at times, isn’t it? But then, I’d miss the richness of a comment like yours that shares a piece of you that is far more interesting that the mere surface of you. Thanks Jill!

  5. Amy L. Sullivan May 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm - Reply

    I think there is something more to a couple blog posts on this topic. I think when you find a topic which resonates like this, you take it a step further. Excited about your message.

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      Amy May 5, 2014 at 6:45 am - Reply

      Thanks Amy, and for hosting your #RiskRejection series! YOu help us be braver!

  6. Jessica Sideways May 3, 2014 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Huh, I thought Christians were about avoiding truth at all costs, promoting their bs mythology instead…. You think one day, Christians will wake up instead of believing in something obviously untrue as the Bible?

  7. Lisa notes May 5, 2014 at 8:44 am - Reply

    Yes, this is so needed. Mothering isn’t a one-size fits all category. You’ve definitely tapped into something. Thanks for continuing to share this message.

  8. Beth Hess May 5, 2014 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    I think I gave an audible “Ugh” when I saw the teaser video for next week’s sermon entitled A Mother’s Eyes. I am a “finally mother” with a 9-year-old son after years of infertility and a miscarriage after him. And I still ache so very much every mention of Mother’s Day. Hope you don’t mind if I link here to the post I wrote last year and will like repost on Sunday: I love, Love, LOVE your message. Many blessings on it and on you.

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      Amy May 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm - Reply

      Beth, don’t mine at all! Am going to pop over and read it :). Thanks sharing a bit of your story/journey with us.

  9. HisFireFly May 5, 2014 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    I have no chlldren
    and as of April 2013 no mother either
    makes it a hard day
    so thank you
    thank you for your heart here

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      Amy May 6, 2014 at 6:28 am - Reply

      Will be thinking of you and others this week. Thanks for the comment and sharing a bit of your “stage” with us. Blessings …

  10. Wick May 6, 2014 at 8:56 am - Reply

    As a son, a husband of an incredible mother, and a pastor who wants to love every bit of the community he serves – thanks for what you’ve written here. A great resource/reminder, for sure.

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      Amy May 6, 2014 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome! I hope it’s useful to you, your flock, and reminds us all of God. Blessings! Amy

  11. Cyd May 6, 2014 at 8:59 am - Reply

    Oh wow… I just realized that one of the women you quoted… was me.

    Thank you for acknowledging that the road to motherhood is not always an easy one, and that anyone who has tried to be a mother or who is mothering someone is a mother, not just those who have had the good grace to birth a living child.

    For my sons and daughter who never made it to see the light of day, and for myself and my family, I thank you.

    You are an inspiration… And you yourself are a mother to many, although it is not by blood, but by heart.

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      Amy May 6, 2014 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      Cyd :) … glad you saw it. You, and others!, have taught me so much these last two years. I enjoyed reading your post as well. :) Amy

  12. Michael Sorcinelli May 6, 2014 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    Respectfully, the focus of Mother’s Day ought to be on mothers, not on how we might offend non-mothers. In being so careful not to offend non-mothers we might inadvertently end up offending mothers by not giving them the recognition they are due. It’s not my desire to offend non-mothers in any way, but on Veteran’s Day my focus is on honoring veterans, not on how I might offend someone who isn’t a veteran. And on Mother’s Day my focus is on honoring mothers, not on how doing so might offend non-mothers. The Bible says “Give honor to whom honor is due.” It doesn’t say “Don’t give honor to whom honor is due, because is so doing you might offend someone who isn’t being honored.”

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      Amy May 6, 2014 at 2:33 pm - Reply

      Michael, I’m a bit confused by your comment. I’m not sure how this second letter didn’t point you (and other readers) to mothers … with all of the mom’s mentioned. :)? You might find: interesting as to the tie-in to Veterans Day (esp point four). Respectfully received :). Thanks for the comment!

    • tara May 11, 2014 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Michael, it’s not about offending, it’s about causing pain. I don’t mind not being honored on Veterans Day, because I’m not a veteran. Then again, how many people have ever begged God to make them a veteran? How many people have cried tears night after night, year after year, because they never enlisted? It’s very different. It’s not about including everyone, it’s about not causing more pain to people who are already hurting in some way (infertility, divorce, singleness, death of a child, etc.) in a place (church) which is supposed to be a safe haven. Personally, I’m a happy mother of 3 myself, but I would gladly give up the Mother’s Day references at church if they cause pain to others.

  13. Kelli Woodford May 7, 2014 at 1:31 pm - Reply

    This is fabulous. How easy it is for all of us to overlook those whose perspective differs from our own, to marginalize their unique experiences. And (sadly) this is as true in the church as it is in the culture at large.
    I love how you’ve stood for those who have been shoved to the side, those who have remained voiceless. I love your heart to pull back the curtain and see the story behind each face.
    *This*, I believe, is how Jesus sees.

    So honored to have this linked with the Unforced Rhythms community. Thank you.

  14. Patty May 9, 2014 at 1:54 am - Reply

    Amy, I am so impressed with the way you linked “modern” situations with women of the Bible.
    This post is such a beautiful reminder to communities of faith to value and honor all the parts of the body.

  15. Laura May 11, 2014 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Thank you! I experienced secondary infertility with my husband years after I chose adoption for my son when I became pregnant in college. What an interesting ride that has been. Thank you for honoring my journey as well.

  16. Jane May 11, 2014 at 5:06 pm - Reply

    Even as an ordained minister, I skipped mother’s day for years. My own mother abused me and my son fell into the pit of drug use 30 years ago. I even avoid FB on mother’s day. In the past fifteen years, ministers have become sensitive to the fact that all of us don’t have children or fond memories. However, this morning I’d forgotten it was mother’s day–denial probably–and appreciated the service which recognized those for whom this day brings only pain.

  17. David Rupert May 12, 2014 at 3:06 pm - Reply


    I appreciate your heart and your words. I know you wrestle over these things — you live them and that’s why they are so real.

    keep writing!

  18. Yinka March 17, 2015 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    Hello Amy, it was Mother’s Day in Englad last Sunday and “beyond the surface of mothering” was read out during the service and was very well received. Thank you ever do much for the all inclusive message of mothering, it was a blessing. Please can we have permission to include it in our monthly news letter, including a credit to you. Thank you very much and keep writing.

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      Amy March 19, 2015 at 6:24 pm - Reply

      Hi Yinka, I’m thankful this was a blessing to you and others! Yes, you can use this in your newsletter with credit. With blessing, Amy

  19. Gloria May 7, 2015 at 2:48 pm - Reply

    I can understand how it might be painful – because obviously when the pastor asked mothers to stand, the writer started thinking about herself. Comparing herself to everybody else. She’s not focused on other women. She’s not even thinking about her own mother. But okay, for the sake of argument, let’s agree. And then let’s not ask military men/women to stand up either – out of respect for the families whose son or daughter died while serving and will never stand again… or fathers – in case there are persons whose mother was raped, because those folks will probably never know their bio dad… or graduates – so that we don’t offend those who never finished high school … C’mon. If you want to stand up and you’re not an official mother (whatever the heck that means), I’m okay with it. I’m not looking at you anyway – and I’m not asking YOU to honor me! In fact, I probably won’t feel like standing up either … because, honestly, I look more like my child’s grandmother than his mother. So in addition to polite clapping, I get stares and a few whispers. Heck, she’s probably right. Let’s all just stay seated – and not acknowledge it at all – except maybe in our hearts, which is where real love resides anyway.

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      Amy May 7, 2015 at 4:54 pm - Reply

      I’m not sure who you are talking to Gloria :)

  20. AmyK May 8, 2015 at 2:09 pm - Reply

    And then, there are those of us who simply chose not to have children. We get no respect or thought. We decided we would not make good mothers, healthy mothers, happy mothers, so we chose to leave that gift to others. We knew we would have to apply for government assistance if we got pregnant and determined if we couldn’t afford to feed and clothe a child without help from the government, we would not have children, and would leave those resources available for those who needed them.
    We decided there were too many physical and mental ailments in the family to wish upon our children, and that we had entirely too many hang-ups and neuroses to properly, lovingly raise a child in the right way. Our reasons are many and varied.
    We are childless by choice and frequently, there is no place in the church for us. Room at the Cross, yes, but no room at the inn. They don’t know what to do with us there. We don’t know what to do with ourselves. I won’t be at church, either this Sunday. Not a mom, and since that is by my choice, no one knows what to do with that. Women have told me they’re so sorry, that they just know I really wanted children, deep down. It’s insulting.
    We really need to stop expecting people to order their lives closely after our own. God bless you for writing these letters.

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      Amy May 8, 2015 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      “We are childless by choice and frequently, there is no place in the church for us. Room at the Cross, yes, but no room at the inn. They don’t know what to do with us there.” … so true :)

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      Amy May 8, 2015 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      And though not married, this is pretty close to my story too :)

    • Kimw May 8, 2015 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      I actually left a comment making this same observation at another web site that ran the original letter today – including us on that “continuum of mothering”, by observing that so many of us may have jobs where we “mother” people by being doctors, lawyers, teachers, librarians, farmers, etc. And there are also those of us who help “mother” our friends now and then. That choice should be respected, is all.

    • Judith May 7, 2016 at 10:43 pm - Reply

      That is precisely my story. I knew at FIVE years of age that I would not have children because of how scorched I felt by my parents inability to cope. My mother was fifteen and my father was nineteen when I was born.

      The years that followed only reinforced my decision. It turns out that my mother has been diagnosed as a borderline personality with manic depression when I was 26 years old. I grapple with her unpredictable and destructive behaviour to this day. I am going to be sixty years of age this year.

      I mother my mother. It’s more than enough.

  21. Anne K February 29, 2016 at 6:25 am - Reply

    Hi Amy,
    Thank you for your Mothers Day prayers/ reflections. Both are very moving. It’s Mothers Day in UK on Sunday. I’m leading the morning services in our church and would like to use them, with acknowledgement, in the services( have to choose which yet!). Can I use them and make copies if people ask for them?
    God bless you richly,
    PS Messy,but wonderful, is the way I always describe our congregation! I think God smiles at messiness!

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      Amy February 29, 2016 at 3:09 pm - Reply

      Anne, Yes to both :)!! I’m so happy they are of service to you and your people. (I think God smiles at messiness too :))

  22. […] “Beyond the Surface of Mothering –  A Prayer For Mother’s Day” […]

  23. Amy Hawk May 11, 2017 at 12:46 am - Reply

    Postpartum depression has stolen motherhood from me. No answers for four years, and I have trouble taking care of and enjoying my daughter. Constant illnesses, injuries, doctors, therapies, medical bills…it has taken over our lives. Motherhood has been pain for me and my family.

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