Recently, the President of the United States said that four minority congresswomen originally came from countries with broken governments, that they should go back and fix the crime infested places they came from instead of stay in the USA. Yet 3 of them were born in this country and one has been here since she was a child. The only reason the President referred to them in this way is because of their black and brown skin.
My first thought was about how boringly common that kind of racist language is. So common it even has a term; the concept of the Perpetual Foreigner in the United States is basically that US Citizens who are not white will always been seen as an alien or a foreigner, as belonging somewhere else.
However white citizens, whose ancestors definitely originated somewhere else, are never spoken of this way, never questioned or seen as foreign simply because of their race. No one is telling Pelosi to go back and fix problems in Italy. No one told Hilary to join British Parliament instead of run for President of the USA.
My second thought was about how frighteningly damaging those words are when they come from the President and not just a random person with an internet connection and no real influence.
As the weight of the President’s words toward black and brown women who are serving our nation in elected office sank in, my own experiences with this sentiment ate away at me.
So, while my husband drove our family to Portland for the day, I sat next to my baby in the back seat and wrote this on my phone to post on my Facebook profile. I needed to try again to explain why this hurts. Even though I actually have written about this very thing several times recently on Facebook. I am reposting it here, below the next heading.
So, white friends, do you think it is ok or normal to assume that someone who is not white was not born in the USA? That they actually belong in another country? That they should go and fix that country before they can positively contribute to the USA?
If you have any doubts about how common it is for non-white (and I will say especially asian) people to be told to go back to “where you came from” or asked a variation of “Where are you REALLY from?” (which might be asked with friendly intentions but still makes the same problematic assumption)…then I will personally verify this for you.
It happens to me. It happens to my non-white friends. It’s so common I don’t even talk about it when it happens usually. Last time it happened I didn’t even tell my husband because I was a little embarrassed about the circumstances.
It is important that you know these assumptions and comments and questions are based in the (often unconscious) belief that white is default, white is normal, and white always belongs. Therefore anyone not white is other, is not expected, and does not belong.
It is important to know that it is not the one individual incident that is the main problem. It’s the lifetime of these recurring incidents happening in the first person, witnessing it happen to others, seeing it expressed in movies and the news.
It is the cumulative effect that is so damaging, like one thousand soft punches to the exact same spot that begins to ache then bruises and eventually immobilizes the entire arm.
Even if you know not everyone thinks that way.
So when I hear people in power speak this way, I am rightfully angered and grieved. I know that it increases the perceived acceptability of these assumptions and normalizes these comments.
If you hear about these kinds of incidents and your instinct is to find a way to explain why these comments are not racist and/or to minimize the impact on non-white people, it’s like you’ve witnessed someone softly punch my broken and bleeding arm and rolled your eyes at me when I cried out in pain. It’s like your telling me I shouldn’t feel pain because they didn’t know that was a sore spot. You might as well punch me yourself.
I have a weird habit of writing blog length Facebook posts. I’m pulling some of them from Facebook and posting them here. This one was from June 24th, 2019. The crisis at the the border, refugee children in cages, the drowning of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 2 year old daughter, Angie Valeria were all on my mind.
Also on my mind was the book of Esther. My church had just finished a sermon series on Esther and no, our pastor never connected the story of Esther to immigration issues. There was mention, though, about the oppression, injustice, racial (or ethnic) violence and genocide brought up in that story.
So all of that was swimming in my head and heart as I grieved current events. And these thoughts poured out. I’m reposting them here with some edits.
The book of Esther is rarely taught and if so, often poorly. We typically hear about Esther in Sunday School. Veggie Tales animated it. It’s a story for little girls, right? If you want to give your little girls nightmares, sure.
We NEED to read and tell Esther’s story understanding the Rated R elements it contains and not the Disney princess version for children’s church. I have to wonder how we can read what is plainly stated in that book and have gotten such a twisted perspective of it.
The only explanation that makes sense to me is that our western cultural understanding of what we read in Esther was, for generations, shaped by the white male perspective. A perspective that has historically minimized sexual violence against women, villainized women who disobey male authority (Vashti), and is threatened by the abrupt and radical social justice bent of this story.
I might have to write a pitch for a Netflix, biblical fiction mini series. I might have already started. 😉
Esther was a victim of government sponsored child trafficking and sexual slavery. Her adoptive dad was powerless to stop them from taking her. Esther’s story is an absolute nightmare. Yet we have read this story for ages as a ‘beauty pageant’ and re-named the theft of her childhood and preparation of her body for rape a “year of spa treatments”.
And God help me, I can not help but think about the children detained by our government, how last year at about this time some people were saying this was just like ‘summer camp’. I can’t help but think about how we have re-named what is going on, putting the blame on their own powerless families, while our government has taken children as young as two and three, treating them worse than dogs.
In order to save the Jewish people, laws had to be broken. Mordecai asked Esther to break the law, and she did, several times, going before the King without an invitation. What other options did they have? We want to read it like no big deal, like of course the good king would love to see her.
No. He was not a good king. He was a volatile and unpredictable despot, among other things. She took a very real and serious risk of being executed to save her people from genocide.
And God help me, I cannot help but see a parallel between the families who are risking everything to save their children from terror, coming before such a powerful nation without invitation (documents) for help, and being pronounced an enemy and taken into captivity.
So many calloused, white American Christians sit comfy in their fixed mortgaged homes judging refugee parents for “putting their children in harms way” and for breaking our laws (a misdemeanor level offense). Meanwhile we will praise Esther for being brave and completely ignore that she committed a crime punishable by death.
It took the threat of genocide for Mordecai and Esther to wake the eff up. Prior to that edict, they were trying to be as Persian as possible. They were just trying to survive and they didn’t challenge or resist a host of horrible things their ruler their society did.
It took the pronounced of death for their entire ethnic group to realize they could not continue going along with the craziness of their all-powerful King and country. Esther realized she could no longer deny being a member of her own ethnicity (as her uncle taught her to do) but must identify with the Jewish people completely and bind her fate with theirs.
I cannot help but see a parallel between those of us who feel at home in the USA, who justify going along with the craziness of what we’re doing. How we are so adamant that law cannot be broken to save lives. How we use race and place of birth to deny that we are called to identify with the poor, the widows, orphans and foreigners in our land.
How bad does it have to get before we wake up? How genocide-y does our country have to become before we’ll wake the eff up and do something?
It wasn’t enough to stop Haman. Esther sets up her formal dinner trap and succeeds in outing Haman and his evil plot to the king. Haman gets hanged, but the Jews are still going to die because the king’s edicts cannot be changed.
As we read through Esther again, we saw how removing one powerful bad guy was not enough. Esther had to break the law again, go back to the king and REMIND HIM that the free-hunting on Jews day was STILL on the calendar and her people were STILL destined to die.
Right now, it’s hard not to see a certain president or someone holding a secretary of whatever position as “The Bad Guy”. But come on, people. There is no one person who we can get rid of that would stop the widespread hate or end the apathy toward non-American, non-white people. We don’t just have a bad president issue or a corrupt government issue, we have a whole of society issue.
Like Esther and Mordecai, we need to realize the positions God has placed us in as Christian citizens of this country and the power He has given us to counteract that which is unjust and apathetic to the point of cruelty in our own leaders/rulers/government… and truly, in ourselves.
When Esther reminds the king of the real problem, he doesn’t take it upon himself to find a solution. The king just doesn’t get that this anti-Jew violence thing is a big deal or seem to care much. He makes Esther and Mordecai figure out a solution. Your people, your problem.
When the day comes and the king sees just how many people were willing to attack the Jews even though they were legally allowed to fight back, he realizes oh…there really is lot of hate toward the Jews, huh? Then he finally cares enough to ask Esther for advice on what to do about it.
Like kings in secure castles, we refuse to see how big of a deal our current forms racism and xenophobia are in our country because it isn’t directed at us. We distance ourselves so we can say, “your people, your problem.” How much ugly will we excuse before we take this seriously? When will we actually seek and listen to the voices of the marginalized? When will we follow their lead into action?
One issue many have with the book of Esther is the lack of action or voice attributed to God. Where was God while His chosen people were almost wiped from the face of the earth? It never says Esther or Mordecai received a message from a prophet that told them what to do. It never says God spoke to anyone in that whole damn book. Some really evil crap goes down and God just let it happen.
And yet, for such a time as that, someone who was just barely close enough to the king gets uncharacteristically assertive and uses all her resources to prevent the slaughter of millions. Esther womans up. Esther fasts and prays and acts.
I struggle a lot with not just how we let this happen (criminalizing refugees, kids in cages being abused, etc), but how it seems God has not moved or acted. Esther is a convicting book because it’s inclusion in the Bible complicates our simple ideas of how God is supposed to work in and through us.
Evil crap is going down right now in God’s name. Like it has throughout the history of Christendom. Yet we are sitting on our hands waiting to agree on what the “right solutions” are or for God to speak in some clear, unmistakeable way, before we stand against what we already know is wrong. Where is our faith? Where is our urgency to PREVENT harm, or, at this point, further harm?
Instead of confronting these hard issues, we retell Esther’s story and make her a lucky girl who became Queen and from her place of power she saved people. She did not have the power we think she did. She was merely one of hundreds of sexual slaves. “Queen” of the concubines most likely does not equal what we think of as Queen (e.g. Queen Elizabeth).
Plus, the king wasn’t really that into her anymore at the time she decided to act and she knew it. The odds were NOT in her favor. Her life was at risk the entire time. Yet, she went against the laws and customs, and prevailed because God wanted her too.
Instead of confronting our apathy and lack of faith, we retell the story of today in a way that makes us out to be heroes. We think that the power we have as a nation is proof of God’s pleasure.
Then we blame the people we have hurt for getting hurt as if we have no choice but to hurt them because they came to us without permission.
We act like man made laws are gospel and cannot be broken or changed or, if they can be, it must be done slowly, over generations.
We believe that, until solutions we can all agree on are found, it is better to err on the side of doing nothing.
We act like we are not called to act, not called to sacrifice a thing to help others, especially those the world considers as of least importance.
When I wrote out these thoughts, my purpose was to lament our situation. It was about speaking up, calling us all out, and seeking an accurate view of our situation. Some people call this prophetic truth-telling, cutting through the appearances of things and getting to the heart of the problem.
Writing this was not about giving solutions and telling people what they should do. However, our western culture cannot handle leaving that out. We tend to accuse people of being divisive and whining if they point out that something is wrong without also offering “an acceptable” solution.
I do hope if you read this it does naturally urge you to ask, what can I do? And so to respond to that, I say we have to care enough to listen to the marginalized voices, follow their lead, and educate ourselves.
You can start by some self-evaluation. Where has God placed you in this world? What resources, influence, and skill sets do you have? Who do you know? If you look around you’ll hear about how people are using their position to do the best they can. One example is Wayfair employees walking out when they heard their company was supplying furniture for the detention centers. In another crisis, Italian dock workers refused to load Saudi vessels carrying weapons to Yemen.
Google is your friend. It is a great place to start. Find out who is doing what in your area. Get involved. I support Felicia Ramos with Project Play. Northwest Immigrant Rights Project is another one that I have heard good things about.
Since this blog is new, I planned to ease into the transracial adoption posts. Truth is I have no idea how to start. Instead, I’m jumping in with these words I originally typed up for a Facebook group. Topic of the day: Centering white parent perspectives on transracial adoption .
There is a celebrity Facebook talk show called Red Table Talk featuring Jada Pinkett Smith, Gammy (her mother) and sometimes her daughter, Willow. I’ve only watched two of their episodes and both times it was because of some questionable ways they were discussing race-related issues.
I was asked to watch their episode entitled, “Should White People Adopt Black Kids?” and share my thoughts on it in the Be The Bridge Facebook group from a TRAdoptee perspective. So I did. Then, a couple people asked to share my thoughts beyond that group. So I’m making it a post that can be shared more easily.
Watching this episode with white adoptive celebrity mother, Kristin Davis, was disheartening. It seems Jada and Gammy had concerns about white people adopting black children, so they found a white adoptive mom from their world to validate their concerns but also assuage their fears and put a bow on the topic. That’s it.
While there were some potentially good questions and a few basic but important points made by Davis, overall this episode is problematic. It lacks substance, perpetuates a few stereotypes (e.g. black families don’t adopt through the legal system) and generally is not a helpful watch for anyone. Unless your first and only question was to know what the adoption process was like for Davis. There are many people doing a much better job of having these discussions.
If they had titled this, “How White People Adopt Black Kids”…I might’ve given it 4 stars.
I had a lot of thoughts and questions watching this conversation unfold, but I’m going to choose just 8 points to discuss; the 7 points I originally wrote in my post in Be The Bridge’s Facebook group plus 1 bonus point for you here because you’re special. [wink] If you watched the episode and then read through all these thoughts, my hope is that you’ll see how exhausting this discussion can be for TRAdoptees.
What do I mean when I say “centering” the white/parent perspective? I mean that point of view is treated as if it is the most important perspective. I mean that the way the topic of transracial adoption is being discussed assumes that the white adoptive parent’s opinion, feelings, experiences and interpretations of things are the most interesting and sufficient for understanding transracial adoption. Spoiler alert: They are not.
So, by the title of the show, we expect a tough conversation about transracial adoption, but we enter a discussion with ZERO adoptee voices. And not even a mention that it is important to listen to adoptee voices.
No meaningful conversation about adoption, especially transracial adoption, should ever exclude the voice of adoptees.
There are lots of us transracial adoptees who are grown and out here happy to share our experience and stories. But still…when folks want to talk about adoption…very few come to us or listen to us. They still go to the [white] adoptive parents to tell them all about it.
This is a problem because:
This was mentioned in the comments of my original post and it just makes this RTT episode all the more icky for me.
Now, I have absolutely zero confirmation that what I’m about to share next is at all related in any way. However, my point is that this happens a lot (adoptee voices being ignored).
About a month ago, a well-known adoptee advocate who is herself a black transracial adoptee posted this on her Facebook page:
I cannot imagine someone more qualified that Angie to answer the question; “Should White People Adopt Black Kids?” PLUS, she is dynamic, comfy in front of the camera, and would make for a very engaging guest on RTT.
Read Angie’s Post: Do Transracial Adoptees Know Anything About Transracial Adoption?
Jada and Gammy have some good questions. Gammy even starts off with a very common but important observation on TRA: “Love is not enough”. Yet, when the discussion gets going, they seem to accept very soft and even shallow answers from Davis.
For example, when asked why she decided to adopt at all, she could not articulate why. She says some things like; her friends were doing it and she would feel incomplete if she weren’t a mom and it was a very spiritual kind of thing. These are red flag answers for me.
Later, Davis says that there is a lot of soul searching already done before filling out a pre-screening adoption questionnaire. That may be true but she did not reveal the fruits of that.
What do I expect, you ask?
If those are her truthful answers, why are they so bad?
With all the knowledge we have now, I expect APs to have more substantial reasons for stepping into difficult work of adopting a child. The “I felt unfulfilled” answers are not good enough anymore. I would expect that APs answer that question by turning the focus off of them (where it nearly always is) and bringing attention to the real issues of adoption.
Davis had a weird balance of talking about difficulties of adoption but then also giving the “…but it’s all good” vibe. For example, when asked about adopting her second child and how that came about she says...”one day there he was”. This is one example of the kind of problematic language that is so common in adoption stories that is cliche and default. This particular phrase erases the birth mom from the adoption story. It implies the child just appeared out of nowhere. This phrase disconnects adoption from the inherent trauma of a child being separated from their first family.
Now, Davis did use her privilege to speak positively about birth moms. She challenge how often they are ignored or misrepresented. I do applaud her for that! But that only makes her falling back on this weird adoption-ism seem extra out of place.
Today, we know better. We must do better. Let’s not give these glossy phrases about adoption a pass. Growing up hearing that kind of thing; “One day, there you were” inches into ‘rainbows and unicorns’ territory.
In the teasers for the episode, the term “White Savior” gets thrown out. This is a real issue and controversial topic! There is so much meaty stuff that could be discussed here but the conversation stays in the white comfort zone.
When Jada pitches it to Davis, she whiffs it with another milquetoast answer. Her response is to confirm that the White Savior is not a myth. Haha. Was there any doubt? But then she says she doesn’t come across that, though. Translation: It’s real but it’s rare.
It bothered me that Davis’s counter to the reality of White Saviorism was to argue the extreme by saying, well, we can’t say, “don’t try to do anything good because your skin is white.” This is a terribly common way to silence people bringing up real concerns by creating a false dichotomy. I don’t believe Davis intended it this way but I believe it reveals how unequipped she is to have deep conversations on this topic.
There are so many other important ways white people can help vulnerable families that do not involve adopting non-white children. Why don’t we talk about that? Why do we assume white people helping = white people (separating families and then) adopting.
In the unexpected focus on Davis’ adoption process, Jada references a sample questionnaire that is apparently indicative of what hopeful APs fill out in their screening process. There was a question that asks hopeful parents to check which races/ethnicities they would be willing to adopt. Davis mentions feeling like she should not exclude any of them.
She says that it ‘was’ her opinion at the time that the question itself was racist. Probably because she used to think that bringing up race at all was racist. However, she doesn’t go on to mention how her opinion on that question changed. Jada and Gammy do not press on that either. No one talks about the significance of that question further.
There are good reasons a racially aware AP would self-select out of raising children of certain races/ethnicities. Addressing that would have made for a much more nuanced conversation.
Instead, Davis merely focuses on how that question made her feel uncomfortable; because she would “feel racist” to exclude any racial categories. This, again, is what it looks like to center white parent feelings and miss the point entirely.
Don’t misunderstand me. It is good that the white AP is broken hearted over the racism her black children encounter. However, do Jada and Gammy (or any self-aware, non-white person) need a white mommy to tell them what every day anti-black racism looks like? No.
Yes, they did ask her how raising black children has opened her eyes. There were many other ways she could’ve answered. It was not helpful to hear her unpack the two minor situations she recounted.
I recognize that Davis is in process with unpacking her white privilege and I applaud her progress! She merely shows here that she still has a lot of work to do. Again, I question why she was chosen to speak on this topic. If we want to hear from white APs, I would personally rather hear from one who can talk about how their eyes have been opened racism without the “…and can you believe that happened?!” vibes. Yes. We believe it. We live it.
We should note this whole conversation is shaped by some economic privilege. You might’ve missed the bit where Davis talks about the difficulty finding a good school. A school where they will not be the only black kids and they will have black teachers. Jada commiserates with her about how difficult that is in Los Angeles! Wha?
My husband and I used to live and work in Los Angeles. There are lots of schools with black children and black teachers. Something tells me, though, that those schools not even on their radar. I used to do photo shoots in the gated Pacific Palisades neighborhood where Jada and Will raised their children. If that is the view of Los Angeles you have, then…okay…maybe you would find it difficult to find a certain kind of $chool with diverse demographics.
Even more subtle still is Davis’ description of her adoption process. She reveals the adoption agency she went through was above average. She does not seem aware that her experience is likely not a fair representation of the vetting and preparation process that many other white APs experience. I’m glad for her but my guess is she has more options and resources than most.
I understand that Red Table Talk and others like it will always be celebrity fluff. Not the places we should go to for complex topics and nuanced learning. I get that they script and edit to get clicks and views. At 3 million and counting, the strategy clearly works.
Even so, if I ignored all that and generously assumed the intent of this Red Table Talk episode was to dive into the complexity of transracial adoption…the impact of this episode is still a poor one.
The impact of this episode feels like another erasure of transracial adoptee perspectives. It feels like yet another “not all white people are racist” production. So much that needs to be said, heard and understood about transracial adoption and whether or not white people should adopt black kids was given a pass because a white adoptive parent’s experience is still more important than the non-white adoptee’s.
Vivian Mabuni‘s latest book Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying Yes to God comes out today! A while back, I jumped at the chance to join her book launch team so I could get an advanced copy.
I first learned about Vivian Mabuni when I stumbled across a video of her speaking at an international conference. I’d attended a local event telecasting that conference but they hadn’t shown her message. What a shame I almost missed hearing her speak. Not only did she challenge and encourage me spiritually, but it was memorable for me because it was the first time I’d ever seen an east asian woman breaking down God’s word and speaking in front of an audience of any size, let alone a worldwide audience. I got a bit emotional, folks. #representationmatters
ANYWAY, I immediately started following her online and that is how I learned about her upcoming book. Which is crazy timely for me. Because there are a lot of things God is asking me to say YES to and I know I am dragging my flat feet all about the hills and valleys.
So here we are. I’ve read the book and saved my favorite quotes. I’ve considered how I can convince the women’s group at my church to use this for our fall study. And there are some things I’ve learned I want to share with you all. Here goes.
The first section of the book introduces us to the story of Esther in the Old Testament. Christian ladies, you know it well. Although what you probably know is a very sanitized version that’s been presented as “a Biblical beauty pageant queen uses her position to convince the king to save her people”.
Vivian uses the story of Esther all throughout her book. A young girl, thrown into the extravagance of the Persian empire ruled by a dangerously volatile king , forsaking her Jewish heritage and breaking several commandments from Mosaic law just to survive.
But, as we know, she risked execution for the chance to change the fate of her people who were scheduled for genocide. In fasting and prayer, she turned from self-preservation, back toward the God of the Jews, and let God use her.
As the author, Vivian, re-introduces us to Esther in this book it struck me how differently I understand this story now as an adult. And what new things I learn about God here.
Am I willing to give-up my tendency toward self-preservation? Because, like Esther, a lot of my struggles to raise my voice against injustice or to “lay down my life” have to do with self-preservation. It is so much easier to go along with the culture around me. Sometimes I feel like it’s all I can do to just survive. Is my heart really willing to say YES to what God asks me to do, fighting my survival instinct and loosening my grip on all my plans, preferences and priorities?
The second section of the book tackles our common roadblocks head on; apathy & entitlement, self-reliance, busyness and bitterness. There was a lot of good prompts for self-evaluation in these 4 chapters and it’s hard to pick one thing to zero in on.
I’ll zero in a bit on the chapter on apathy and entitlement. Having a willing heart to do God’s work means we cannot have a calloused heart towards the PEOPLE God wants us to show His love too. We western Christians, myself included, tend to view ourselves as super charitable, truly loving all of God’s people, and yet if we’re honest, most of us function daily in very insular communities and spaces.
It’s easy for us think our hearts are willing for God to use us wherever, but then believe He just “hasn’t given us a heart for those people.” When really, that’s not the full picture. Really, we tend to have a “I’m a good enough person” kind of spiritual apathy and a Christian cultural that tends to focus more on what we know about or get from God than an actual, life-altering relationship with Him.
“The grip of apathy and entitlement gets loosened by challenging our perceptions through proximity, humility, and generosity.”Vivian Mabuni, Open Hands Willing Heart
Opening our hearts and hands to God means making the resources He has given us available for Him to use for others.
The last 6 chapters dive deeper into various aspects of living an open-handed life. This is section of the book is, for me, the most important and valuable. It would lend itself to some amazing conversation for group study.
Vivian touches on difficult topics like removing idols, forgiveness, dying to self. She shares examples from the lives of people she knows to illustrate her points. I won’t say more about it, though. I will let you get the book and read it for yourself.
I would recommend this book for all Christ followers, men and women. While you may find some of the themes in this book familiar to ones you’ve read in other Christian living titles, Vivian Mabuni brings a fresh and valuable perspective that, to me, makes these matters of faith so much more applicable today.
I highly encourage purchasing books if you can afford it as it is the best way to support authors. Start by asking your local bookstore to carry the book. That way you can support a local business and the Vivian at the same time.
However, if buying isn’t an option for you right now, there are other supportive things you can do like request that your local library get a copy.
I just found out there is also a free 5 day reading plan with excerpts from the book and additional scripture and reflection questions. This is a great way for readers to sample content of the book.
Read other book reviews I’ve written!
First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to any mom figures reading this! Today is my first Mother’s Day with our second child joining us. Huzzah! Okay…now I’m going to get right to it and say my goal here is to reality-check motherhood and how we celebrate it. I have my own motherhood confession to make and share an encouraging reflection on the Lord as our perfect Mother.
Should I just start with my unholy confession? Yes.
There. I said it. Growing up in conservative evangelicalism, I feel like motherhood is a sacred cow, and by saying I don’t love motherhood I’m outing myself as a devil worshipper. And you probably believe I think babies are ugly too now.[Someone somewhere] How dare you?! [I don’t, btw. Babies are wonky but cute none the less.]
So I don’t ‘love’ motherhood. What does that mean? Well, let me be clear. I do love my children! I’m not saying I regret having them. I do sometimes imagine what I’d be doing if I hadn’t had them. But I enjoy them and am thankful for them. In fact, I love them enough to give my life for them.
And that’s the trouble. Motherhood is about giving life; not just once during labor, or once as in sacrificing one’s physical life to save your child’s life, but daily giving up my life in a million small and unnoticed ways to facilitate growth in the life of my children.
Real, God-honoring motherhood involves many things, including dying a little bit every day. So no, I do not ‘love’ this death, but I know I need it. We’ll circle back around to this later.
In order to mom the way God made me to mom, I need to reality-check my view of motherhood. Culturally, we have idealized and idolized motherhood to death, we’ve taken a gift and made it a curse.
For me, having kids was always a maybe. I never had a desire to babysit and didn’t enjoy kids, but my mother kept impressing on me that “it will be different when you have your own.” So I thought about that a lot. I thought about what kind of mom I would be. And an ideal formed in my head, just that fast.
As Christians, our ideals are influenced heavily by how we read our Bible (or how it is taught to us) and the dominant Christian culture of the time we live in. Our broader culture itself is influenced by the ideals of those we look up too (teachers, pastors, politicians, filmmakers, icons, etc). The things they hold up as praiseworthy and exemplary shape our view of what is valuable.
Today, Christian women are still influenced by the traditional misapplication of Proverbs 31, by a history of hyper complementarian views of gender roles where women are valuable primarily because they have babies, plus some other variables. For example, questionable ideas we might pick up, like “God gave you this kid because He knew you were exactly what he/she needed” or “Your love will be enough/ all they need.”
What happens when motherhood isn’t as expected? When the children who were supposed to rise up and call us blessed, don’t even appreciate us or get along with us very well? What happens when my husband has a more nurturing character than I do? Or when I absolutely cannot be what my child needs me to be?
Me, personally? I constantly struggle with perceived expectations. Meaning that my husband and children do not truly expect me to do XYZ but I assume they must because somewhere along the way I learned that was what I was supposed to do or who I was supposed to be as a mother. It is hard to turn off the internal pressure to be someone or something I am not.
Real motherhood, I believe is momming in a way that is authentic and honoring of the giftings and character traits God gave me. Real motherhood, therefore, will look a little different for each person. No cookie-cutter mommies allowed!
The greatest calling of any woman is NOT to be a mother. It is to love and follow Christ in whatever role He has given you, whether you ever parent children or not.
The most fulfilling thing in life is NOT to be a mother either. It is to let God use you for His purposes, whether that involves having children or not.
Many times I have heard sisters in Christ say that all they ever wanted was to be a mom. That is not necessarily a bad thing. God does give some women the role of mother. It is a good role. Nothing wrong about desiring that role.
How-ev-er, we should never look to motherhood and/or our children to give us fulfillment, joy, place, purpose or worth. That comes from God and God alone. Motherhood does not define you, but it can inform you.
Yes, children can be part of how God gives us joy, place, purpose and worth, but that is true of any gift God gives us; like the gift of a friendship, of a mentor or a disciple, or a sibling or a spouse. Still, our love and our source of fulfillment is always the Giver, not the gift. Let’s not take God’s gift of motherhood and make an idol of it.
Is that evil, too? I do like that we have a day to honor and respect mothers because, dammit, momming is a pretty thankless job more often than not and it’s good to be appreciated. However…
There are some questions we should ask ourselves when we celebrate moms on Mother’s Day. What aspects of motherhood are we praising? How are we praising those things? Might our words/approach contribute to an idealization or idolization of motherhood?
Is it good for individuals to show love and honor to all the mother figures that they respect today? Yes! No doubt about that.
Is it wise for us (churches especially) to publicly and communally make a spectacle of praising mothers?
I’m serious. We’ve probably all read the reminders of how Mother’s Day can be a triggering and sorrowful day for a myriad of reasons. Let’s not shrug that off.
It has devastating effects: stigmatizing and pathologizing childfree/childless women, setting moms up for failure with unrealistic standards/expectations, harming children as moms start looking to them for identity/purpose instead of God, etc.
So, can we celebrate moms (and dads) without encouraging the idolization and idealization of a role that God only calls some people too? I think so, but how exactly is something I think we should think more carefully about, friends.
Okay, so this might sound weird to some of you. It feels a bit weird for me, I admit. But…look…if we can talk about God being our perfect example of fatherhood when so many of our earthly fathers fail us, we can do the same for motherhood. In fact, God likens Himself to a mother in the scripture.
So, in the spirit of honoring God as our source of everything good about motherhood, I will henceforth use a feminine pronoun for Her. Whose squirming? Just me? Okay.
Isa 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”
In this scripture, the Lord uses a picture of a mother to tell us something about Herself. While we human mothers will fail (we will not always meet our child’s needs and not always love them rightly), the Lord is our perfect, ultimate mother, who does not forget the children She loves. She will not fail to meet our needs.
Isa 66:13 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
I take great comfort from the idea that God comforts like a Mother! God created both masculine and feminine, fatherhood and motherhood. Therefore, She is the source of what is best, what is glorifying about both roles. She is all that we need. God is our Mother in a way that our earthly mothers never can be.
When we talk about salvation, we often talk about how Christ lived the perfect life that we could never live. That His perfect life fulfills all that God required of us. That, in dying, He gives us a new life, an eternal one.
So again, mothers, has Christ’s sacrifice not covered all the ways we have missed the mark as moms? Let’s reflect on Christ as being the perfect Mother so that we do not have to be.
Again, I’m going to change the pronouns to the feminine, even though Jesus Christ was a physical human man. I really like the challenging mental shift this is forcing me to make so I’m rolling with it.
1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to her great mercy, she has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”
Our new life in Christ is likened to being born again. This time, instead of an earthly mom giving us life, it is Christ. Instead of the physical pain of childbirth, it was the physical suffering and dying on a cross.
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down her life for the sheep.“
John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down her life for her friends.”
Life and death are connected. Maybe like two sides of the same coin. These verses talk about laying down one’s life. What does that mean?
Life here is translated from the Greek, “psychē” (a feminine noun, btw). It does not simply mean our physical life (like the Greek “zōē“) and is distinct from our immortal soul (the Greek “pneuma“), but incorporates the aspect of life that is the “seat of the feelings, desires, affections, aversions”, etc.
Laying down one’s desires, affections, aversions for someone else is about as honest a depiction of motherhood as I can imagine.
And Christ did that for us. Let’s not forget that Christ did ask God for another way. Jesus, the Christ, as a human being, had feelings and desires and an attachment to this world. But ultimately, Her greater love was for God and fulfilling the plan of salvation for us. So She willingly suffered the pain of bringing us out of the darkness and into the light, of birthing us into a new life. Did Jesus enjoy it? No. The scene on the cross seemed agonizing. But Jesus, our spiritual Mother, needed to do it.
I started by confessing that I do not love motherhood. Inherent in motherhood is life-giving pain and death. It is willingly laying down my desires, preferences and aversions, daily, for the sake of my children. It is painful. It is a kind of death. I am willing because I love my kids, but that does not mean I enjoy it.
I did not enjoy the aches and pains of pregnancy, the birth contractions and pushing, and the fact that, 3 months later, I am still struggling with a lot of minor physical problems postpartum, like death by a thousand paper cuts. I really don’t want to do that again.
I do not enjoy the daily laying down of my desires, of what I wish I could give my kids but can’t, or what I think my kids need, or my needs often going unmet. I do not relish my recurring failure to be patient and loving, or the frequent self-doubt and guilt feelings.
I do not enjoy the constant fight against unrealistic ideals of motherhood, or battling the lie that I have to choose between doing the work God has placed on my heart or “momming” in the way I’m “supposed to” mom.
Yet, God is wiser than I. She saw that giving me the role of mom would serve Her purpose. So here we are. I can see how I need the death of motherhood to better live for God.
Not (just) because it gives me cute kids to swoon over in a lifetime of precious moments. Motherhood is a gift because it forces me to lean on God in a way I don’t know that I ever would otherwise. Motherhood is exposing so much of my selfishness and pride and revealing how much more I need Christ. Motherhood is showing me how mysteriously deep God’s love is for me and how much greater She is than I will ever know.
The cute kids are awesome, yes. When I think of parenting I most often think of how God is using me to shape them. But really, it’s equally the other way around. God, our wise Mother, uses our children to shape us. I think that is what is most praiseworthy about motherhood (and fatherhood) – all the things that it teaches us about God.
So. Happy Mother’s Day.