God Answers the Unasked Questions
When God gives us children, he answers a lot of questions in our lives—even ones we may not have thought to ask. Questions like: What should I do with my life? How much sleep do I need? What’s it like to give up my body for someone? How selfish am I, really? Do I trust my husband as a father? How weird am I about food? What strong opinions do I have about clothing? Sleepovers? What are my views on education? Extracurricular activities?
Being a mom brings it all to the surface; it often reveals a more truthful version of ourselves, not because we were previously being untruthful but because we are now shaping a life not only for ourselves but for someone else. We are making decisions every day that can and often will impact another person’s entire existence. This pressure to make sure we don’t mess up our child’s life is pretty intense. It creates some heat that tends to wear us down to the nubs of what we really believe about God, ourselves, and the world.
To take the pressure off, some turn to a stream of constant uplifting messages about motherhood. All encouragement, all the time. In this endless propping up, there are no bad moms. Every mom is imbued with sainthood the moment her motherly state is attained. Also in this maternal mirage, moms are the sole proprietors of hard work and sacrifice. I once heard a pastor say that it was impossible for a mom of littles to be lazy, because of the constancy of the young ones’ needs. Perhaps it was true of all the women in his life; I don’t question his sincerity. But it always stuck with me because I knew it wasn’t really true. It is possible for moms of littles to be lazy. It is possible for moms to be bad moms. I need look no further than myself for supporting data.
We may be doing more work as a lazy mom than we did as an A student, but that’s like comparing riding a bike on the sidewalk to driving a minivan down I-35. Our standard isn’t student life anymore. It’s mom life—the small humans under our wings require care twenty-four hours a day. So when we slack off, it matters, even if our slacking off seems small compared to the way we used to be able to sleep for eight consecutive hours, or stop for coffee, or hang out with friends.
I don’t mean that we should fixate every waking moment on our children and disregard all else. I’m talking about true selfishness: the choice to ignore the fight in the playroom in favor of five or ten or a hundred more minutes of social media or phone time or a book or Netflix binge. It’s the choice to treat our children like a group or a herd rather than as individuals with unique needs for a one-on-one relationship with us. It’s the choice to see their chores and contributions as something we’re entitled to have them do—to make it about us instead of their well-being and growth.
Shame, Guilt, and the Gospel
Yes, bad mothering is real, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the forms it can take. But it is one of those things that creates so much shame and guilt in women that it is rarely talked about except humorously or as a means for gaining pity from others. Moms confess their badness to other moms, but only to receive sympathy, not to change. (Ask me how I know—I’m guilty!)
Why so much shame? Why are mothers the most guilt-ridden creatures on the planet? I’m not completely sure, but I think the pressure of daily sustaining tiny people’s lives may have something to do with it. The acknowledgment that we’re messing up seems the worst thing we could say about ourselves in light of the weightiness of our soul-shaping, life-preserving occupation. We know that our actions or inactions could set a course for another human that is marked by pain or sorrow or self-loathing or failure, and what if it lasts longer than a lifetime and into eternal torment?
So we tend toward these false choices: either acknowledge the serious nature of our job and be crushed under the weight of it or shrug it off as no big deal so our failures don’t really matter. At this point, Christian moms are used to hearing, “You can’t ruin your children! God can save them despite you!” And that is true, and I am so glad that God can and does see fit to save the most unlikely of sons and daughters. I am so grateful that he did it for me and that none of us or our children are beyond his reach.
We can truly be free of fear, guilt, and perfectionism only at the foot of the cross.
But rather than soothing our fears by minimizing our God-given calling to be good mothers who bring up our kids in the Lord, we can truly be free of fear, guilt, and perfectionism only at the foot of the cross. It’s at the cross that we lay down our indifference and our fears about the work set before us in shepherding eternal souls in favor of full investment and commitment to the job. And it’s at the cross that we share the yoke of the burden that work creates with the strongest person in the universe so that we are not crushed under its weight.
When we mothers soak our children’s existence with the livedout goodness that says, “My life for yours,” we work the gospel into them from top to toe. It is a force stronger than we dare imagine. And when we don’t do it, it matters. Can God save your children despite you? Of course. But if you’re a Christian mother, he means to do it with you as an integral part of the story. Does being a sacrificial Christian mother ensure your child’s salvation? By no means. But rest assured that if he saves your children, he intends to use you as one of the pointers to his glorious, saving face.
Christ’s goodness transforms our hearts and actions to good. It is not because we’re better or we’ve earned it, not because we’re no longer sinful. We aren’t the Savior; we’re his ambassadors. We know the goodness of another. We can be good mothers because we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and now we give tastes of him to our children as the goodness pours out of us. We can be good mothers because Christ laid down his life for us; therefore, we can lay down our lives for them. We can be good mothers because we have been forgiven our sins and can forgive our children their sins. We can be good mothers because at the foot of the cross, we can get the grace to repent and turn from every sinful thing we do and be filled with his Spirit. And the fruit of that Spirit is goodness. We can be good mothers only and always because of Christ.
This article is adapted from (A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ by Abigail Dodds.
We cannot force this faith. We labor for it, we teach to it, we encourage it, and above all, we can pray for it.
One way to teach our children about our need for God’s grace in Christ is to appropriately confess our sin to them.
What character is required so that we can be part of what God is seeking to do in the lives of our children and not in the way of it?
There is eternal value in even the most mundane moments if the Great Commission informs how we’re thinking about all of life, including what it means to be a mom.