“What was that book Mom said she wanted?”

“Dad, what’s in Mom’s Amazon ‘save for later’ list? I need gift ideas.”

“Oh, no! I haven’t crafted what I will write in my Mother’s Day card yet! What can I say that I haven’t said already?”

While Mother’s Day is an annual event, choosing a special way to honor my mom is a repeated quandary. Because I love her dearly, I want her to feel cherished on her day, and I want to say “I love you” in a manner she receives best.

In the hubbub of life, I frequently fail to make my mother my target for gratitude. Sure, I tell her “I love you” on a regular basis, but Mother’s Day reminds me to attune my attention toward the woman who has given me much.

Yet, not all people receive love through the same channel. While my mom may cherish receiving a new outfit from her children, your mom might give anything to have someone cook her a meal. Matthew 19:19 records Jesus’ saying, “Honor your father and your mother, and, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In essence, then, our process of deciding how to honor our mothers should depend on the answer to: how does Mom experience love the most? It’s not about how much I enjoy buying her gifts; it’s about doing for her what speaks clearest “I love you”.

Gary Chapman’s excellent book The 5 Love Languages lends us a helpful grid to assess how we each best experience love. The five languages of which he speaks include:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

Considering these five means of communicating love can help you discover which avenue speaks clearest to your mother.

1. Spend time. Some mothers couldn’t care less about what they receive or what they do, as long as it’s done with those they love. Time is the ticket.

If only a few ZIP codes stand between you, take the afternoon to share a meal with the family. Perhaps consider hosting a multigenerational Mother’s Day celebration with as many mothers, mothers-in-law, and grandmothers as you can gather. Enjoy some good food, and frolic the way the moms like best. Purely rest in each other’s company, and let your mom spend time with those she loves.

If time truly is the ticket to her heart, the kind of activity done together may not make much of a difference. For instance, when I was 13, my dad single-handedly installed hardwood floors in our downstairs living space. This involved removing the tile in our kitchen and troubleshooting how to remove the white paint beneath. After numerous attempts to strip the paint, we found that grinding it off did the trick.

While this removed it from the floor, it merely transported a layer of white dust onto every exposed surface in the house. Hence, when Mother’s Day came around in the middle of this endeavor, we spent the day’s “quality time activity” wiping the house down. Perhaps this wasn’t my mom’s first choice for her special day, but at least we spent it together as a family.

2. Share words. Words are powerful things. They express specific emotions, and those with greater detail than the hopefully common “I love you” tend to sink in deeper. I personally feel cherished and known when someone expresses specific things they admire about me. They might tell me I am loved a hundred times, but it never sinks in as deeply as when they remark “I love it when you …” or “I love how you …”

In fact, I have stashed away a number of letter boxes holding meaningful cards and notes I’ve received over the years; every so often, I return to them in nostalgia. Perhaps your mom would prize another thoughtfully written card to add to her collection to treasure over the years.

God tells us who we are in His Word all the time. In Ephesians 1, He uses the Apostle Paul to tell us we are “adopted,” “chosen,” “redeemed,” and “forgiven,” among other things. This is not simply nice to know but has the power to change how we live in light of how we see ourselves. Helping our moms understand how we see them can be greatly impactful. Are words significant to your mother?

3. Send gifts. When people ask me what my favorite flower is, my automatic answer has always been “tulips.” Why? Because they have been my mom’s favorite since I can remember. Mother’s Day is one of the occasions in the year when they make an appearance in the Miller home, and even though the petals seem to drop faster than other flower varieties, they are lovely while they last.

Maybe flowers aren’t your mom’s thing, but maybe a gift of new dish towels, a new family photo, or a book you’ve enjoyed would touch her heart. Something she can admire or use may signify more to her than a card laden with thoughtful words.

4. Serve her. I don’t know about you, but I love it when others offer to serve me. You can offer to clean my house, cook me a meal, or run my errands and I will be your friend for life. Knowing that one thing is checked off of my list is a blessing.

If words or gifts don’t seem to communicate much to your mom, maybe offering to run to the grocery store for her would leave a lasting impact. Will preparing a meal for her say “thank you for all of the meals you have prepared for me” better than a thoughtful gift would? Even if having a meal cooked for you may not be your primary love language, it might be hers.

Think of the humble service Jesus embodied during his earthly ministry. He stooped to wash the feet of sinners and surrounded Himself with crowds so they could be healed. When you find it challenging to serve your mother, look to the humble Servant and find joy in imitating Him.

5. Squeeze her. When was the last time you gave your mom a long, quality hug? This is not the same as a brief, socially acceptable hug. I know some moms, my grandma being one of them, who desperately crave hugs from their kin.

Holding someone close can be therapeutic and reassuring. Is your mom a snuggler? Maybe plopping down on her couch and snuggling up next to her is the kind of connection she’s longed to share with you. This may feel insignificant to you if physical touch lies at the bottom of your priority list, but it may be the thing that gives her life.

Yes, there are legitimate obstacles to making this a possibility. I, for one, live multiple states away from my mother, leaving little chance for me to hold her close. But for those with the luxury of close proximity, take advantage of it. Communicate your appreciation for her by holding her tight.

This is her day—so make it hers! It’s not about how you feel most equipped to love her, but how she will feel the most loved. Regardless of her response, know the joy of offering what clearly communicates love to her and honor her in the process.

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