Today I made the annual trip to the local grocery store to get cards for my wife and my mother for Mother’s Day. Standing there in the card section with several other men who were eyeing the rows of pastel cards with lacey covers and calligraphy lettering of various sentimental sayings about motherhood I began to have a strange feeling. I looked at some of the sayings on these cards and thought to myself, “I would never say something like that to my mom.” The truth is I don’t know too many men that would ever say half of the things on those cards to their moms, much less ever think the words on those cards. Those guys are standing in line because, well, it’s just what you’re supposed to do… isn’t it? I suspect that for many men Mother’s Day is a sort of obligatory day that can be summed up in the philosophy of “If mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” And one thing we know for sure is that cards make moms happy! The reality is that in our culture Mother’s Day has become more of a day of appeasement rather than appreciation, of sentimental dribble than of heartfelt thanks, a day more about obligation than celebration.
And few of us are immune from feeling that way. The truth is that I stood in that card section today in rebellion against my own wife’s wishes. Last year I had spent close to 20 dollars on cards for Dina from me and the kids and she was not in the least bit impressed. In fact she made it very clear that she did not want another Hallmark card for Mother’s Day. It’s not that she is opposed to cards. She has received cards from myself and others on various occasions that have meant a whole lot to her. But there is something in the obligation of Mother’s Day, of the mindless tradition of Hallmark cards, that was not only not honoring or affirming her in her motherliness, but in fact cheapening the whole thing.
So why then was I standing there looking at the cards today? I am not sure other than, well, that’s what you’re supposed to do isn’t it? Surely she didn’t mean that she really didn’t want a card did she?
But as I looked through the plethora of cards that range from funny to sentimental to religious, to cards that play music and tell jokes, I realized that at the very best I would be relying on the words of some other poet or stock writer to capture how I feel about my wife as a mother, and while the occasional card might come close to how I feel it won’t really get at how I truly feel about my wife as the mother of my kids or even how I feel about my own mother. The Mother’s Day card represents obligation, and obligation does not equal honor.
As I was thinking about this it occurred to me that what I see in our culture concerning Mother’s Day is not much different from the way folks tend to view God. There is a general sense in America that there is a God and that we are obligated to give him ‘cards’ on certain days because we think that he must want them. The ‘cards’ we give him are any of a variety of things we do out of obligation from showing up at a church on Sunday mornings, to dropping a check in the plate, to reading the Bible. And while none of these things in and of themselves is wrong it is certainly not honoring to God if it is simply obligation.
Dina doesn’t want a card because it’s pointless… empty tradition. What does she really want? A husband and kids who love her, and appreciate her, who have taken the time to notice what reaches her heart, and who have made the effort to do just that, not out of obligation or even cultural pressure, but just because their world is better because she is a part of it.
I suspect that it is the same in our relationship with God. In the Old Testament book of Amos, the prophet delivers a word to the people of Israel condemning them for their solemn days, and festivals, and worship services to God. God says to Israel (Amos 5:23-24):
“Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
In other words God is saying through the prophet, “I’m not interested in your Hallmark cards, or your flowers, or even lunch at a nice restaurant. I want you to get what I am about—freeing the oppressed, setting wrongs right, compassion, mercy, love, and justice… Do you really want to honor me? Let me see by your actions that you get what I am about! That is truly better than innumerable cards because it shows me that you know me, that you know my heart, that there is something more between us than empty tradition and obligation.”
With this in mind, how can we truly honor and appreciate God?
And with this in mind how can we truly honor and appreciate our mothers and wives?
Just some things to think about.