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How many of us, if we were really honest, would admit that we don’t look forward to Mother’s Day? We dread this day devoted to celebrating mothers. It conjures up feelings of inadequacies in our own parenting or maybe how we didn’t live up to the expectations our parents had for us. Maybe it even reminds us of the shame or condemnation we felt at the hands of our parents—especially our mothers.

Mother’s Day isn’t always about bouquets of flowers or a box of chocolates for mom. Sometimes it is filled with bitter memories of a childhood loss due to abusive parents, a longing for the birth mother we never knew, or regrets from things we said or did that can’t be taken back. Maybe your mother has died and you miss her presence in your life.

Those kinds of painful memories can also leave us questioning God or turning our back on him. Ultimately, I think, Mother’s Day can leave us yearning for something more.

What is that something more? It is the filling of the hole in our heart left by unforgiveness and broken dreams. How do we fill it? Maybe we turn to alcohol, drugs or sexual fantasizing; or maybe it is to acceptable forms of addictions like busyness and people pleasing—whatever it takes to make the ache go away. Haven’t we all done it or experienced it to some degree?

To all of you daughters and mothers who are in a painful place this Mother’s Day, I empathize with you; for I used to be there too. Don’t give up hope. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

We can choose how we want to react to all of these circumstances. We can choose to walk in the light and hope of Christ, or we can choose to walk in the doom and gloom of the past. The past doesn’t need to define us. We have a choice.

As believers, we belong to the family of God, the body of Christ. If we don’t have a mother who bonded with us or nurtured us in loving ways, we can still get that kind of nurturing from our spiritual family and friends. Our family of birth does not have to define us. It is Christ and the family of God that define our identity.

Every day can be a day to celebrate mothers, if we view it from God’s perspective. Choose joy.

Dear brothers and sisters, I close my letter with these last words: Be joyful. Grow to maturity. Encourage each other. Live in harmony and peace. Then the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Corinthians 13:11, NLT).

~ Ardis A. Nelson