Giving Your All
G. K. Chesterton says that “there must be in every center of humanity one human being upon a larger plan; one who does not ‘give her best,’ but gives her all.”1
When the children are little, it’s easy to think that the time to go deep into an area of interest will never come, that we will perpetually be, as Bilbo [from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series] puts it, “thin, sort of stretched . . . like butter that has been scraped across too much bread.”2Yet what amazes me about the merging of our gifts and abilities with motherhood is how God strips and equips us in ways we never could have anticipated.
Be liberated from the need to chase after being the best and, instead, give your all to all that God has put before you.
God gives us gifts and abilities; then he gives us children. And perhaps it seems he’s made an error when our gifts and abilities seem completely irrelevant to the job of bringing up children and caring for a home. We may have gotten an A in art history or creative writing or biology, but how does that help us when the laundry pile is at epic levels? We may be used to the feeling of proficiency in our premothering days, having graduated with honors or gotten recommendations from professors or employers, yet how does this transfer into preparing meals with a crying baby on one hip and a toddler who has a natural talent for proving Newton’s laws of motion again and again?
Yet your abilities, your education, your hard-earned A’s in whatever subject, do have a place in the home. The way you applied yourself then will be needed now. The discipline of study in the classroom has simply reached its goal: real life. And in real life the lessons will be ones that require your all rather than your best. The lessons we must engage in now are of the pass/fail variety. Was there dinner? Yes? Pass. Are there clothes to wear? Yes? Pass. And perhaps the one that undergirds them all: Did you give of yourself all that Christ has given you?
God Is Molding, Bending, Stretching
In the intense years of mothering, God is molding us, bending us, and stretching us, and even halfway through, we won’t be who we were at the beginning. And that’s a feature God has put in motherhood, not a bug. If we’re the same at the end as we were at the beginning, something has run amok. God is in the business of transforming us, and motherhood is an expedient way to raze and rebuild us.
God will use our history, our past education, and our premotherhood achievements for a purpose we may not immediately like: to show us who we are when they are taken from us. Who are we when we’re struggling to nurse a newborn baby who won’t latch properly? Who are we when we’re thrown into a world of medical supplies and therapy appointments, having discovered that our baby’s brain didn’t develop normally? In that sense, motherhood mimics the cross; it is the great leveler of women. Babies don’t care if you have your doctorate. A child in a tantrum isn’t deterred by your 4.0 GPA. This isn’t to say that those achievements aren’t valuable, but their worth only transfers if they bear fruit in disciplining our character toward greater godliness, greater Christlikeness.
So, mothers, be liberated from the need to chase after being the best and, instead, give your all to all that God has put before you. Give your all in story telling, give your all to making dirty things clean again, give your all to the meals that must get into the tummies, give your all to training your people in righteousness, and give your all in the nooks and crannies of life to your unique interests.
When we look at Christ’s work for us, we see that he held nothing back. If what Paul says in Colossians is true—that Christ made all things, that he is before all things, that he holds all things together, and that all things are being reconciled to God through Christ—then I think it’s safe to say that all things a Christian mother does have eternal significance. There was nothing half-hearted about Jesus’s dying on the cross. As the old hymn reminds us, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.”3 As mothers we give our all, because that’s what Jesus did. We can give our all in the strength and power he supplies.
When we give our all in the ways that seem small but costly, we can’t anticipate our future. You never know where God might take you or how the current state of affairs may be shaping you for future service. Just as Bilbo never foresaw his final journey to the undying lands after the years of being stretched thin, so mothers can never know how God is working for us for the years ahead. Hobbits are surprising little things, after all. And I suppose mothers are too.
1. G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1994), 56.
2. J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2002), 32.
3. Elvina M. Hall, “Jesus Paid It All” (1865), Cyberhymnal.org., http://cyber hymnal.org/htm/j/p/jpaidall.htm.
Wives bend toward the nourishment and the leadership of their husbands—they are turning themselves toward what is for their good.
Women's bodies are weaker because God made their bodies to be weaker than men’s bodies and that's what Peter's talking about in 1 Peter 3.
The world tells mothers that they can do it all and have it all, but that they need not give their all.