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.