By Tanya Cowley
I have two demons. Their names are Sorrow and Anger. They constantly lurk in the shadows, taunting and threatening. The only day they come out looking for an actual brawl is Mother’s Day. As a mom, I long to spend the day savoring the precious goods offered by my family. But as a child twice abandoned, once by a selfish choice and again by a premature death, I spend the day wracked by despair and fighting for peace.
Sorrow & Anger
Sorrow’s weapons are memories of the mom I knew and loved. She wasn’t mine by birth, but she was mine by deed. She took in both my twin sister and me as infants and raised us as her own. Her love and dedication never wavered.
Terminal illness claimed her as I had barely reached adulthood. This woman who sacrificed everything to be my mother never saw the fruit of her labor. She never met my husband, never knew her grandchildren, never saw me as a mother, and can’t answer my questions or soothe my fears. When I think of those things, grief strikes fresh and fierce.
Maybe I could win if it was just Sorrow and me. But demons don’t fight fair. Sorrow always brings a partner, Anger, armed with all the things I never say to my biological mother. She gave me up. She didn’t want me. For the longest time, I preferred believing it was for the best. At that precise moment when hope succumbed to desperation, it was the only valid option. After all, my mother promised to return and reclaim us as her own.
But once relegated to spectators, we grew up on sidelines watching her pull her life back together. My biological mother found stability, remarried, and had two more children. She returned to college and obtained a degree. She even became the primary breadwinner for her new family. But in the process, she forgot to come back. She never put us back in the game.
Our guardians wished to adopt us, but our mother refused, denying us of the one thing we longed for—belonging. All so she would not be the kind of mother who ultimately gave up on her children. She claimed to want us, but the only time she showed any interest was when we initiated. Then obligation called her bluff, and she couldn’t stand to lose. Showing up when we asked proved she was there for us. It justified her stark absence during the other 50 weeks of the year. By her thinking, not asking meant she wasn’t invited to participate in our lives. Ironic that she, in turn, never invited us to participate in hers.
So I asked, partly because I needed my birth mother to be a part of my life, but mostly because I didn’t want to hurt her. I couldn’t give up on her. I didn’t want her to feel rejected because I knew how dreadful that felt. Around June, I made my yearly long-distance call, asking if I could stay for a while. My sister wised up and rarely bothered to make the trip at all.
I squandered my life waiting for my mother to care, and I have nothing but disappointment to show for it. That makes me angry.
3 Players in the Showdown
Perfunctory celebrations and glib sentiment stand like trees in the forest of Mother’s Day. But among those cedars, many of us are fighting a war. We were abandoned. We grieve for those we lost or those we never had. For me, it is my mom, but maybe for you, it is your child. On the surface, this day is sunshine and cards and roses. But for anyone like us, the day is dark and dreary. Powerful undercurrents of bereavement wash away the sugar coating and leave us raw and exposed, trying to fend off the elements. We can’t appreciate carnations while we are battling demons.
Sorrow and Anger form a vicious duo, hard to defeat. But we can turn the tide in our favor by preparing for the showdown. There are three key things we need to know:
1. Our opponent
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesianas 6:12).
My biological mother is not my enemy. The ladies standing in front of the church, reeking of perfection and ease, are not my enemies. God, who called my real mom home, is not my enemy. The faceless masses telling me to be happy on Mother’s Day are not my enemies.
Satan is my enemy (1 Peter 5:8). He masterfully exploits my weaknesses and expertly wields the blade of temptation. He tells me I don’t need help because I can fight this battle alone. He questions my faith, asking, “Where is God? Why did he give you this lot?” He lies to me, telling me I am fine, unaffected, and not struggling. He feeds my preoccupation with the world as I wonder what everyone would think if they knew my story and how it still affects me. All of those tactics fuel my pride. The glare of my hubris obscures the glory of God.
We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices (2 Corinthians 2:11). But we need to be aware of the specifics. How is Satan manipulating our particular situation to his advantage?
From the moment we put our faith in God, we became new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17) and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). But that does not negate the fact that we are walking around our sin-filled world wearing sin-filled flesh. The struggle does not end when we give ourselves to Christ. It begins.
John Piper explained, “When we were born anew by the Spirit of God, we were born for battle—the battle of perseverance (Mark 13:13), the battle to hold fast to our confession of hope (Hebrews 10:23), the battle not to shift from the hope of the gospel (Colossians 1:23).”
God gracefully gave us everything we need to arm ourselves for the fight, but it only works if we use it. “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground” (Ephesians 6:13-17). Without the Lord’s armor, we are defenseless against the attacks of the enemy. On days like Mother’s Day, when we knowingly move to the front lines, we especially need it.
It is worth reiterating, the only weapon in our holy arsenal is the Word of God. It is the fierce and sharp and accurate sword we raise against the enemy. But to use it, we must know it. Which means on the days we aren’t fighting this battle, we prepare for it through practice and study.
3. Our ally
“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Again, Christianity isn’t a magic cure-all for life’s problems. In fact, under the magnification of conviction and persecution, it can make life harder. But we know how the story ends. We understand how the world ends. Jesus’ words confirm, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
We are not alone in this fight. The commander of Heaven’s hosts dwells within us. He is mighty, and he fights for us. Yes, the battle hurts. Yes, disappointment, betrayal, loss, and hopelessness leave scars, but we are not the sum of those scars. We are the manifestation of God’s glory. We are all broken vessels mended by God’s grace and full of God’s love and mercy. Remember that God delights in us. In his delight, we find strength and take refuge (Nehemiah 8:10).
This Mother’s Day, let’s refuse to be superficial. Celebrate those who have impacted our lives for the better, but recognize that it may not be ideal. Make space for sorrow. Make space for anger. Make space for the conflict consuming some of our brothers and sisters. Celebrate the true spirit of motherhood by embracing those who mourn and surrounding them with love and support. Help them put on the full armor of God and stand to fight with them.
Tanya Cowley is a wife, homeschooling mom, and part-time librarian, who occasionally blogs (boldlytanya.com).