Possessive or Plural?
I’ve been noticing that there is a dispute, of a sort, with how this day is written in various ads, articles and messages. Is today Mother’s Day? Or is it Mothers Day? I’ve seen both in print this past week. But is the day possessive, using an apostrophe, which indicates that it belongs to your mother and you honor her? Or is the day plural, as the second writing of it tells us, saying in effect that we need to honor anyone who is a mother?
I’ve done some research on the day and, from the beginning, the apostrophe was there in the title. Today however, no matter how we write it, the plural meaning rules. This has become “Mothers Day” celebrating all mothers and it is known mostly as a time for brunches, gifts, cards, and general outpourings of love and appreciation for all mothers. In a few hours I am going (happily I might add) to a brunch with our extended family. We’ve already heard tales of how hard it was to find a place to reserve as so many other families are doing the same thing.
There seems to be no end to the pluralization of Mother’s Day. I know a sweet single woman who has presents for her mother, her sisters who are mothers, her nieces who are mothers, her little-girl grandnieces who might one day be mothers, and her unmarried sister who probably wishes she was a mother. To be sure she didn’t offend; she also has presents for her grandnephews who she feared might feel left out. I’m sure the purveyors of various Mother’s Day goods love her.
Churches struggle with Mother’s Day. They are aware that, in their midst, sitting alongside the mothers expecting some sort of honoring, are unmarried women, childless women, people who have lost their mothers, mothers with rebellious children, and yes those who have had terrible mothers. What should they do?
Most churches choose one of three options. They can do “Mothers are Awesome!” messages, telling us all how much God loves mothers and how important they are. They can do “How to be a Better Mother” messages risking the inducement of guilt if some fail to live up to “biblical standards” being touted. Or they can just shove in some sort of short honoring, like asking mothers to stand to be applauded or giving them a rose, and just go on with whatever message they want to give.
When you look at the history of this celebration you see it was founded for women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace. It all started in the 1850s, when West Virginia women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and milk contamination. From 1861 to 1865 the groups also tended wounded soldiers from both sides during the Civil War.
In the postwar years her daughter, Anna Jarvis, and other women organized Mother’s Friendship Day picnics and other events as pacifist strategies to unite former foes from that divisive war. Julia Ward Howe, best known as the composer of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” issued a widely read Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870, calling for women to take an active political role in promoting peace.
Largely through Anna Jarvis’s efforts, Mother’s Day came to be observed in a growing number of cities and states until U.S. President Woodrow Wilson officially set aside the second Sunday in May in 1914 for the holiday.
For Jarvis and the others it was a day where you spent time with your mother and thank her for all that she did. It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers; it was to celebrate your mother. She stressed the singular “Mother’s Day,” rather than the plural “Mothers Day.” But Anna Jarvis’s idea of an quiet Mother’s Day quickly became a commercial gold mine centering on the buying and giving of flowers, candies, and greeting cards—a development that deeply disturbed her. She gave everything she had to fight this trend and ended up dying penniless and broken in a sanitarium.
So how should we celebrate this day? For me there are two key issues. Our celebration should be sincere. I worked for six years on the night shift of a 24 hour store. On the Saturday night before Mother’s Day, or even during the pre-dawn hours of the day itself, I always saw men racing in to grab anything, literally anything, to give to their mothers or wives. Many seemed convinced that any gift would do. Some even seemed frustrated or annoyed that they had to do it at all. How you celebrate is up to you but do it with a whole heart.
The second comes from Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Mothers, you are not condemned by messy homes, personal sins, disobedient children, or other people’s ideas of the perfect mother. Single women and childless women you are not condemned; even if you have no desire to be married or be mothers.
Mothers and non-mothers alike, in Christ your identity as a sinner before a holy God is replaced with the righteousness of Christ. Enjoy this day in peace because you live in the in the unending love and acceptance of God. You can do so because your true identity is as a daughter secure in the steadfast love that flows from your Father in Heaven.