By Amy and Cade Campbell
Mother’s Day weekend is really hard to get through.
I miss my brother. I don’t know of a greater pain than that felt by a parent who’s lost a child. It sends a shockwave through our system, physically and spiritually. We know, deep down we know, that it isn’t supposed to be this way. Children, regardless of their age, shouldn’t die before their parents, and when they do, the grieving mamas and daddies never really get over it.
Oh, I know people say you’ll get over it. People say it gets easier in time. People say it won’t hurt quite so much, but I don’t know if I believe them. It isn’t true for my family.
When I was thirteen my little brother Johnathan, who was two at the time, died after accidentally falling into a swimming pool. A lot of time has gone by. We’ve all grown up. My older brother Chris is married with two adorable kids. My parents are grandparents now. Life is good, but I’d be lying if I said we’ve ever really gotten over what happened that summer. It’s not something you do get over. Johnathan is still gone. There’s a little boy who will always be a little boy in our memories who should be a young man by now, but he isn’t here. That really hurts.
The older I get the more I ache for my mom who has a little boy in heaven who can’t celebrate with her or send her a card. Cade hurts for his mom who also has a little baby in heaven whom she lost through a miscarriage.
And I miss my grandmother. This year will be the first Mother’s Day without her. My mom will be going through this day for the first time without her mom. I know other friends who’ll be doing the same.
And I really want to be a mother too, but I’m not. Mother’s Day rubs the wound of our own childlessness raw. Cade and I both want to be parents. We want a baby, but God hasn’t given us one yet, and that sadness is related to the sorrow felt by those whose children have died. Losing a child makes you mourn by looking back into the past and remembering someone who isn’t here. Longing for a child causes you to mourn by looking into the future and hurting for a child that isn’t here either, reaching down for a little hand that isn’t there to hold, listening at night for the sound of little feet that aren’t there to run.
Those are some of the reasons I’m not looking forward to the weekend, and I know I’m not alone. There’s a lot of you reading this who feel the exact same way. Maybe you’ve lost a child who died too young. Maybe, like me, you really want to be a mom yourself. Maybe you never really had a mother, so this weekend just pours salt into your heart’s hurts by reminding you of what so many other people have that you never got to experience. Maybe you’re still grieving your mother’s death and would give anything just to be able to pick up the phone and tell her you love her one more time. Mother’s Day casts a really painful shadow, and regardless of what your own story is, I bet that you can relate, I bet you know why we are all just trying to get through the next few days any way we can.
If I’m honest I want to get through the next few days by avoiding them altogether. Mother’s Day is the one day of the year I want to forget because it’s the one day of the year I dread the most. I wish it would disappear, and I’d like to avoid it by avoiding other people, by staying home and secluded, calling in sick, and not seeing anyone until it’s over. Can I be honest? I don’t even want to go to church on Sunday. I don’t want to stay seated when all the other moms stand up. I don’t want to force a smile at my friends who are enjoying their first Mother’s Day with beautiful little babies. I don’t want to have to endure the awkward words of well-meaning friends who’ll call me an “honorary” mother, or want to give me a rose just so I won’t feel left out. I don’t want any part of it. I’d rather just grieve alone. I want to block it out. I want to clock-out on Friday and not leave my house again until Monday morning.
And yet, as much as I may want to close the curtains, lock the doors, and boycott the weekend, I’m convinced that I can’t.
As a believer in Jesus’ gospel, I know that’s not the way we grieve. This weekend is going to hurt no matter what I do, and avoiding people and skipping church won’t help. Wallowing in a pity-party won’t remove the pain. My heart won’t feel less heavy by staying home. It would just feel worse. So on Sunday morning Cade and I will both call our moms and then drive to church. We’ll gather with our church family. We’ll sing songs of praise. We’ll hear God’s Word preached, and I know that in spite of the wound(s) that I’ll feel, that’s really what I need.
In the midst of our grief, the gospel teaches me to hope, and I don’t need a weekend where I forget it or act like it isn’t true. I desperately need to be with other believers because I need to celebrate the gospel that tells me that the grave isn’t the end. I need to anchor my life in the fact that the tombstones on my little brother’s and my grandmother’s graves won’t get the last word – Instead Jesus, who will one day say “get up,” will. In the same way, I need to have the gospel applied to my own heart to bear my own childlessness during this time of my life. If the task of a believing mother is to “treasure Christ when her hands are full,” my calling right now is to treasure Christ when my hands are empty. I have to embrace the pain of Mother’s Day because I desperately need to be reminded that Jesus is better, sweeter, sufficient, and sovereign.
What I’ve lost and what I lack do not get to dictate how I grieve. Jesus does. He gets to set the agenda for the way I mourn. If I really believe that he walked out of his own grave and crashed his own funeral, then that fact has to impact the way I practice my own grief, not just on most weekends, but even on Mother’s Day weekend. My identity is not found in either death or infertility. It is found in Christ’s resurrection, and that makes me a part of his community of dead people who come back to life. I am part of a community of the risen, and my calling in life is to live like it.
Scripture teaches me to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Christ’s resurrection tells me that I don’t get to pick and choose which part of that verse I want to apply to my own life. And it doesn’t tell me I only have to obey it when I feel like it. I want a fellowship of believers who will mourn alongside me. And I really want to be faithful to rejoice alongside those who celebrate.
The Bible also calls me not to mourn like the rest of the world, not to grieve in the same way as those who have no hope, and ultimately not to confront my childlessness like those who don’t know Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And that’s true for all of us, whether our pain is infertility, abandonment, or loss. We have hope because Jesus is in charge. Even in all of the sadness Mother’s Day brings, it’s still a day when we need to join with one another in hearing, speaking, and singing the message of the cross and the crucified carpenter who wouldn’t stay dead. It is his life, death, and life again that teaches us how to hurt.
I can’t hurt by pretending the hurt will go away. I can only hurt by resting in the promise that the gospel will never go away. We can’t mourn by pretending to be okay. We must mourn (even on Mother’s Day) by living all of life rooted in the soil of God’s promises, promises that assure us that even in our brokenness, hurts, sadness, darkness, disappointments, and wounds, there is a good and gracious God who loves us and is wisely governing his creation and orchestrating all things for the ultimate and eternal good of his people (Romans 8:28). Since that’s true, I can cast my cares on him, knowing that he understands, relates, and cares (Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:7).
In other words, I can go to church on Sunday not holding a little hand only because his wounded hand is holding mine.
Amy Campbell, a native of Natchez, Mississippi is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi (B.A.) as well as the Seminary Wives Institute of Boyce College (Certificate in Women’s Ministry Studies). She works in the central office of Communities in Schools of Clark County, Indiana. You can follow her on Twitter at @itsamycampbell.
Cade Campbell serves as the Associate Pastor for Preaching and Discipleship at First Baptist Church Henryville, Indiana. He is a graduate of Mississippi College (B.A.) and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div). You can follow him on Twitter at @DCadeCampbell.