Several years ago, my children became friends with a girl who lived in our neighborhood. After school one day, she appeared at my house, wanting to play. I quickly discovered that this girl came from a very troubled family. She arrived at the same time most days after school and spent several hours at my house on Saturday. Soon, she began attending church with my family.
That year, Christmas fell on a Sunday. Knowing the mania that intensifies as Christmas draws closer, I had long since finished my shopping and had our wrapped presents hidden in a closet until Santa arrived. But a few days before Christmas, my ward became aware that this family would need help with presents, and I was asked to shop for her.
On Friday, December 23, I bundled up my children and made the snowy drive to go shopping. I wandered the crowded store and browsed the empty shelves looking for Christmas gifts for a girl I hardly knew. With the help of my young children, we decided on a winter dress and some snow boots. As a mom of only boys at the time, I did my best to estimate what sizes she would need and stood in the long line to purchase them. When we got home, we wrapped the presents and dropped them off with our ward leaders who would deliver them that night.
The next day was Christmas Eve. Late in the night, my children came down with a stomach bug and spent the rest of the night and early morning vomiting. My husband and I awoke that Christmas morning as best we could when we had hardly slept the night before. Because our kids were sick and it was a Sunday, we decided to skip church. But at precisely 8:50, our doorbell rang. It was our neighbor, and she was ready for church.I scrambled to get ready, and I’m certain I set a record. I left my sick kids with their newly opened Christmas presents and our traditional Christmas muffins fresh out of the oven, and I went to church with my neighbor.
When we arrived, we removed our coats, and I smiled when I saw that my neighbor was wearing her new Christmas dress. But my smile fell when I noticed it was several sizes too big. We walked down the hall to the chapel, and with each step, her feet slipped out of her new snow boots.
Only a few families were in the chapel as we made our way to our seats, most likely at home celebrating with their families, and I wished I were at home, too. I reached into my bag for a snack, knowing she probably hadn’t eaten breakfast. She took a bite, then turned to me and said, “Santa didn’t come to my house last night.”
Thankfully, the beginning of the opening song saved me from replying, because I didn’t know what to say. Years later, I’m still not sure what I should have said, and her sad eyes haunt me.
I sat in the church that Christmas morning not feeling the spirit of Christmas at all. I was tired, I was angry, and I was on the verge of tears. It was, I was certain, the worst Christmas I had ever had or ever would have.
You may be thinking that this story should have been shared closer to Christmas. That might be true, but I actually think of it every year around Mother’s Day. Because on Mother’s Day, I think many people sit in church feeling the same way I felt that Christmas Sunday: tired, angry, and on the verge of tears. There are several reasons for this.
1. Life Still Happens.It happens on Christmas, and it happens on Mother’s Day.I should have woken up to the sounds of delighted children discovering their Christmas presents. Instead, I woke up to the sound of my kids throwing up. Instead of cleaning up wrapping paper all over the floor, it was vomit. Instead of a Christmas feast, it was a day of Sprite and Saltines. Christmas didn’t prevent life from happening. And on Mother’s Day, life happens, too. While we may dream of waking up to a delicious breakfast in bed, surrounded by the faces of our smiling children, we probably won’t. And even if we do, their faces will probably be dirty, and we’ll have to fix breakfast for them when we’re done eating. And then we’ll have to get them ready for church. We’ll also have to change diapers and listen to the same knock-knock joke fourteen thousand times. Sometimes on Mother’s Day, we resent our motherhood responsibilities, even though that is the very role the world is celebrating. After all, shouldn’t we have a break at least once a year? But unfortunately, we don’t. Life still happens, and our responsibilities still demand our attention, even on Mother’s Day.
2. My Best Efforts Weren’t Good EnoughI did my best to find a good Christmas present for our neighbor, and I did my best to make sure it would fit. But it didn’t. I should have asked for help determining her size. I should have included a gift receipt or a written reminder to try it on before removing tags. Maybe I should have said no when they asked me to shop, because surely someone else would have done a better job.
It can be frustrating, especially on Mother’s Day, when we feel our best efforts aren’t good enough. Our children may refuse to go to the front and sing the song they’ve been practicing or refuse to attend church at all. We may we find ourselves with screaming toddlers in the foyer or with teenagers who won’t speak to us. It’s frustrating when we try our best to teach our children and they choose other paths. Then the speakers talk about their saintly mothers, and we all know we can’t live up to that. We may find ourselves saying, “I should have done this, and I should have done that.” Then maybe we’d be married, or have children, or have our children behave the way we think they should. Sometimes Mother’s Day leaves us sitting in church feeling like failures.
3. There’s Heartbreaking DisappointmentFor my neighbor, it was the fact that Santa Claus hadn’t gone to her house. It made her cry, and let me tell you, it made me cry, too. It still does.
On Mother’s Day, we have our own disappointments, and it’s heartbreaking. It may be about children who struggle, children we’ve been promised but haven’t met yet, or the opportunities we’ve lost because of our roles as mothers. Sometimes it’s heartbreak with our own mothers who aren’t with us. Maybe they passed away, live far away, or the relationship is strained, which can feel like the greatest distance of all. Mother’s Day may be the day when we cry the most tears.
And I understand that, because on that Christmas Sunday years ago, I cried, too. But as we sang the opening song, I pointed to the words in the hymnbook and heard the child’s voice ring out with the rest of the congregation, “Glory to God, Glory to God, Glory to God in the highest.”
As I sang along, I cried more tears, but this time with a different meaning. The Spirit testified to me what a blessing it was to be in church that day. Taking my sweet neighbor to church and allowing her a chance to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was the greatest gift I could have offered her, it was the greatest gift I could have given my Savior, and the opportunity to play a part in that was His gift to me. I had forgotten the true meaning of Christmas and what was most important.
Sometimes, I think we forget the true meaning of Mother’s Day. Just like I felt the spirit of Christmas away from my decorations, gifts, food, and even my own family, we can find the true spirit of Mother’s Day even when it doesn’t match what we had planned in our heads.If we take a minute to put aside our expectations and all the ways reality falls short, we may find peace—Peace about our own mothers, and peace about our roles as mothers, whatever shape that may take. We may find that fulfilling our divine roles as mothers, mother-figures, and righteous women of influence is the greatest gift we could offer the world and our Heavenly Father. We may also find that our unique experiences as mothers, mother-figures, and righteous women of influence may be one of the greatest gifts our Heavenly Father has given to us.
This Mother’s Day, whether she is here or gone, take a moment to love your mother for doing the best she could do. And if she didn’t, take a moment to love our Savior, whose infinite Atonement compensates for our all our losses.
This Mother’s Day, take a moment to let yourself be loved by your families for the divine role you play, for your unique strengths, and for how you shape the lives around you in a way nobody else could.
And this Mother’s Day, take a moment to love yourself, because, in the words of the beloved apostle, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, “You are doing better than you think you are.”