Sunday is Mother’s day. It appears that a day honoring mothers dates back to ancient history. Our modern official holiday was begun by Anna Marie Jarvis. According the historical record Ms. Jarvis swore at her mother’s grave-site in 1905 to dedicate her life to her mother’s project, and establish a Mother’s Day to honor mothers, living and dead.
In 1907 Ms. Jarvis passed out 500 white carnations at her mother’s church, St. Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church, in Grafton, West Virginia — one for each mother in the congregation. Next, on May 10, 1908, St. Andrew’s responded to her request for a Sunday service honoring mothers. Others began to join the movement and a bill was presented to the U.S. Senate proposing the establishment of Mother’s Day by Nebraska Senator Elmer Burkett, at the request of the Young Men’s Christian Association. The proposal was killed by sending it back to committee, 33-14.
By 1909, 46 states, Canada and Mexico joined in the recognition of the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. West Virginia became the first state to recognize officially the holiday in 1912. Finally in 1914 the U.S. Congress passed a Joint Resolution, and President Woodrow Wilson signed it, establishing Mother’s Day, emphasizing women’s role in the family.
The first commandment with promise is the fifth Commandment: "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you," (Exodus 20:12, NIV). In one very real sense then the concept of a special day for mothers can be traced back to the ancient Hebrews. Of course the concept in this command is not merely a "special day" to honor a mother or father, but rather a lifestyle of honoring them.
The founder of our modern Mother’s Day story is an all too familiar and sad one. Anna Marie Jarvis, it seems, was consumed with the establishment of Mother’s Day. She quit her job to push the concept forward. She was arrested for disturbing the peace on one occasion, opposed any group whose practice of Mother’s Day was deemed contrary to hers and eventually died embittered and penniless. What drove this woman to these extremes? On the positive side was her desire to fulfill her mother’s dreams. Anna Jarvis got the inspiration of celebrating Mother’s Day quite early in life. It so happened that one day when Anna was 12 years old, Anna’s mother Mrs Jarvis said a class prayer in the presence of her daughter. To conclude the lesson on ‘Mothers of the Bible,’ Mrs. Jarvis said this prayer, "I hope that someone, sometime, will found a memorial mothers day commemorating her for the matchless service she renders to humanity in every field of life. She is entitled to it." Anna never forgot this prayer. And at her mother’s grave-side service, she recalled the prayer and said, "...by the grace of God, you shall have that Mother’s Day." The words were overheard by her brother Claude.
Commendable indeed. But persistent rumor has it that Anna’s grief was intensified by guilt over the fact that she and her mother had experienced a sharp disagreement and Anna’s mother had died before they had a chance to reconcile. Thus Anna’s tenacious pursuit of fulfilling what she saw as her mother’s dream.
I report this not in criticism in any way of Ms. Jarvis, but rather as an important reminder to us all: we need to keep our relationships current and the records clear lest we too find ourselves trying to repair breaches after the wall has fallen.
Honoring our parents is not a one day a year affair. Certainly we want to recognize our mothers on this special day, but let us make sure that our honoring of them does not stop on this one Sunday.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church in Covington. He can be heard on the radio on WMVV 90.7 (FM) at 8:30 p.m. Thursday nights.