We are living through the strangest of times. Normality has been thrown out of the window, the safety we find in our usual patterns of life, our rites and our rituals, seem to be slipping out of our grasp.

Many of us would ordinarily be anticipating today as one such place of certainty and consistency – the celebration of Mothering Sunday.

For those of us who are mothers, we might have been planning a meal out, or a country walk with the family. For those of us with mothers we might have been preparing a treat for them – afternoon tea at the local National Trust house, or a trip to the theatre. We wouldn’t have dreamed of not even being able to see them. And for those who are not mothers and who do not have mothers who are living, it may already be a bittersweet day, usually perhaps allayed by a caring church community.

Yet here we are now, plunged into exile, many of us in isolation and unable to leave our homes. Some are even in isolation within our own families. How do we negotiate a day which, in the past, has brought joy, and now ushers in pain?

I have spent many of my Mother’s Days in my own isolation at home, due to long-term lung diseases. My children have grown up through many of these days looking on as others go out to celebrate, with Mum in bed sick again. Yet over the years we’ve found joy in our own exile-celebrations, and so I’d like to share a few thoughts and ideas about celebrating with you today, for those who feel stripped of their usual norms..

1. Allow children to use their creativity to come up with ways to celebrate.

You’ll be amazed what they come up with. One year when I was recovering from pneumonia, stuck in bed and not feeling much like eating, my two children randomly decided to make me brownies laced with Baileys and a mug of hot chocolate, also laced with Baileys, and bring them up on a tray with flowers and cards for ‘breakfast’. That was a particularly memorable surprise which stands out as so precious to me because instead of bemoaning the circumstances they embraced them. Kids love to experiment.

2. Use your own creativity to come up with family activities that foster relationship building. 

If you are able, try treasure hunts, roasting marshmallows on fire logs (if you can get marshmallows in the supermarket, that is…), baking crazy Mother’s Day cakes, watching movies huddled under blankets together, playing board games that usually gather dust (but not Monopoly. Never Monopoly, if you don’t want the big family fight). If you are in isolation within your own home, do use technology to connect – could you play an online game with the kids, or watch the same movie upstairs and down, with running commentary via video or messenger chat?

3. Being in isolation doesn’t have to mean being alone.

We live in a time of great connectedness. Over the last few days I’ve been using video chats all the time to keep in touch – there’s Facetime, Messenger, Skype, Zoom – I even managed to get my tech-averse parents set up on WhatsApp because Skype “wouldn’t work”, apparently… If you are unable to see your Mum on Mothering Sunday, you are often still able to see her on a screen, to communicate all that love through cyber waves

4. Instead of going out for a meal, how about going in for a meal?

Set up your dining room like a restaurant, with candles, flowers, background music etc. The children can ‘help’ prepare a three-course meal and serve it to Mum. Bonus being when the toddler gets bored you can let her roam around the room and find her favourite toys, rather than try and entertain her in a restaurant highchair with a few blunt crayons and a colouring page that looks like it comes from the seventies.

5. Think outside of the box. 

It is difficult for those who would love to take elderly mothers out for dinner, but at this time the government advice is to stay at home as much as possible. Remember it is more of a kindness to not take them out. Even if they are not online, a phone call can still mean so much. If you are nearby, think about dropping off flowers and a meal on their doorstep (use gloves and try not to touch the dish or the vase!). If your mother is online, perhaps you could set up screens on your respective tables so that you are eating dinner and celebrating together.

6. Send a surprise message. 

Think about those women in your church who are alone, not able to celebrate Mother’s Day. How could you reach out through their isolation, from yours? Perhaps you could make a video of you and your family speaking kind words about this person, telling them how much you value them and how much you want to celebrate them on this special day, and send it to them as a surprise. In a time when even sending cards to the elderly and vulnerable isn’t always safe, we need to find new ways to communicate our care and love.

7. Remember that isolation is not lesser.

It’s so easy to think that we are missing out when we cannot leave our homes, that somehow where we are is not enough. Psalm 42 is so helpful in this situation – the psalmist, exiled from the temple, mourns his past, how he “used to go out with the multitude…with shouts of joy and thanksgiving”. Now, he says, his tears are his food day and night and his soul is downcast. He wishes things were the way they were. Yet he makes an active decision in the centre of his grief: he remembers God’s saving work and he chooses to “yet praise”. What this psalmist is doing is turning around the despair of his exile into a resolution to take courage where he is and to find ways of thriving within that.

For those who are living in uncertainty this Mothering Sunday, may you catch enticing glimpses of the hope that shatters darkness. The hope we find in Jesus is long and deep, it’s high and wide, it’s far reaching and inexpressible, it’s soothing and it’s glorious.

In our isolation we can reach for this hope and take hold of it and live within the great wild spaces it offers to us. May you know the peace that goes far beyond understanding and the love that sustains in times of exile.

Liz Carter is a writer and blogger from Shropshire who likes to write about finding treasure in the painful times of life. Her book, Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied (IVP), explores how we can reach out for peace in Jesus even when life doesn’t work out as we’d hoped, and can be found in most online bookstores and some Christian bookshops.

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