Photo Credit – Jan Johnson
It’s hard to fit motherhood in a box. Taking care of children wraps you up in ordinary tasks like laundry and lunches, but it also wraps you up in noble tasks like discipleship and instruction. To be a mother is to be a leader. To be a Christian mother is to be one who leads her children to Christ. And every day we are either leading them to Christ or we are not. It is therefore ordinary, honorable, and terrifying to be called “mother.”
“Whoever is not with me is against me and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:30
I’m figuring out that motherhood touches something greater than the sum of my tasks and responsibilities. It touches something greater than my identity. I am learning that the ultimate matter of motherhood is not in the quality of the work and whether it is too ordinary or too profound for me. The ultimate matter is not even in the significance of my position. The ultimate matter is the Master. Am I ultimately in this for Jesus? Am I mothering “unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23)?
If I’m in this ultimately for the kids, then I may start feeling entitled. Maybe I want to be “paid back” somehow. Maybe I try to manipulate my kids rather than parent them. I may forget to respect them as separate people. I may base my identity around who they turn out to be. If I’m ultimately in this for myself, then I may end up discontented by my shortcomings or puffed up by my successes. I may start comparing myself to other moms. Maybe I compare my children to other children. But if I’m ultimately in this for Jesus, then I’m on solid ground. There is no better foundation. In the words of C.S. Lewis: “There are lots of nice things you can do with sand, but do not try building a house on it.”
Maybe you are like me and motherhood takes you well beyond the perimeters of your temperament and gifts. Any time I take one of those tests to determine my love language or spiritual gift, it always ends up the same: service is at the bottom. According to these tests, “servant” is the least accurate description of me! Yet motherhood is service.
From the first time I saw a positive pregnancy test, I was called to serve. I became the very habitat for new life and persistent growth. I began a journey of usefulness in the most literal sense of the word. And every Martha says “Amen” and “Sign me up!” But I do not easily identify with Martha (except for the “worried and bothered” part). I don’t even easily identify with Mary. In fact, I identify with Peter! He was the passionate, but impulsive disciple. And he fell asleep when he was supposed to be praying!
Then there’s the paradox of motherhood. There’s more routine than any of us bargained for, but at the same time we never know what a day may bring forth. Let’s say one day your child asks compelling questions about God and eternity. You feel encouraged by the significance of the dialogue, but panicked by it at the same time. But what if the next day is full of Legos all over the floor and peanut butter sandwiches half eaten on the table? Is such a day meaningful? Maybe you feel overqualified for a day like that. You wish you had more time for yourself.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:14
“Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for Me. Whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for Me.” Matthew 25:40, 45
These words point out the simultaneous greatness and smallness of being a mother. Children come into this world as helpless members of society, and we are there to raise them up, both physically and spiritually. So instead of trying to rank the work we do, we remember the work is for the least of these and therefore it is for Jesus. And instead of being defensive about our sin, we acknowledge that a sin against the least of these is ultimately a sin against Jesus. Instead of being boastful, full of self-pity, or caught up in the “mommy wars” that fuel competition, we concentrate on the grace that covers us along the way. Labor in the Lord is not vain labor. And when we are emptied, then we are filled. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. He puts Himself in all the little details of the day while He remains squarely at the center of it all.
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