What Does It Mean for a Woman to Nurture?
Recently I was doing some reading and chatting with friends on Facebook when my heart was bowled over with the diversity of our experiences.
A couple of expectant parents uploaded a video of themselves slicing into a cake dyed pink inside to announce they were having a girl; a new mom wrote about her frustration with a teething baby’s cries and asked for advice; a single woman said that she had just met with some of the teen girls in our youth group; a former coworker posted a photograph of her infant with oxygen tubes in his nose and pleaded, “Please continue to pray. We are still waiting for his transplant. Not out of the woods yet”; a photo of my nephew popped up of him wearing his football uniform; an update appeared linking to a video of pro-life protesters being harassed on a college campus.
Then my son wandered into my bedroom, cheeks flushed and rubbing his sleepy eyes, and said, “I just need you, Mommy.” I walked him to the kitchen to get a sip of water, and I noticed some special pictures on our refrigerator. There was a photo of one of our seminary professors and his wife. Though they are of retiring age, they still travel back and forth to the Philippines visiting the churches they planted decades ago. I noticed a Christmas photo of our friends who are standing next to an empty chair that is waiting to be filled with their adopted son still overseas.
As I walked my preschooler back to his room, my mind wandered to a dear friend of mine, as it often does, and I prayed God would comfort her as she continues to grieve her preschooler’s death three years ago. In the shadowy bedroom, I looked over to see my daughters sound asleep, limbs adorably flailed across their beds with sheets and toys in disarray—and I felt my heart might explode. We experience so much joy, excitement, and life—and so much pain, anxiety, and death. What finite heart could contain all these things? How do mothers make it? In the midst of all this complexity, what does it mean for a woman to nurture?
Viewing Motherhood through the Bible
The foundation for this topic of women and nurturing is God’s Word. We must draw implications for ourselves as God’s creation by looking first at God, our Creator.
In all our diverse life seasons and experiences, from grandmothers to baby girls in Mumbai to Mobile, the Bible contains timeless, applicable truth about the one for whom we were made. In God’s Word, we see God’s good design for manhood and womanhood: the triune God made men and women in his image to display his glory. We miss the point of womanhood when our understanding is handcuffed to matters of culturally based stereotypes, mere biology, or procreative abilities.
We miss the point of womanhood when our understanding is handcuffed to matters of culturally based stereotypes, mere biology, or procreative abilities.
We see in God’s Word that womanhood cannot be described apart from talking about God’s image, the gospel, and how Jesus Christ is restoring us. Being made as a woman in God’s image is surely a wonder-full thing.
Motherhood (by which I mean rearing children and raising up spiritual children/disciples) is by no means an idol that we serve, but rather an intentional gift God has strategically designed and given us so that we might see his glory and make him shine. We’re called to learn to rejoice in Jesus because motherhood is the work of his hands.
Nurturing in the Way of Christ
If womanhood cannot be handcuffed to mere biology, can nurturing be relegated to procreation? Through the gospel we see that fertility and “filling the earth” is something that extends to bearing fruit that will last through discipleship—a privilege and responsibility that every Christian woman gets to enjoy. It is only through the clear glass of the gospel that we can see ourselves in the big picture of God’s story. He is seeking worshipers from the nations, and he uses us to gather them.
In the light and power of the gospel, the goal of nurturing is human thriving in the most magnificent capacity possible—that all the nations would see and savor Jesus Christ forever. The call to nurture is the call to lovingly meet the needs of others for Jesus’s sake (2 Cor. 4:5).
Because all motherhood exists for Jesus, all motherhood should be in the way of Jesus. In our obedience to the Great Commission, every woman must look to the Man who is ruling from heaven at the right hand of God. Christ himself puts people in our household and in our sphere of influence, and we rest well knowing that it is the Lord who builds the house. It is God himself who grows the garden, even as we diligently plant and water. By God’s grace, we can serve people—husband, child, neighbor, coworker, whomever—because Jesus is sovereign, and he is building his church.
Jesus is the one who redeems people for his own possession. This truth assures us that this work will be effective. We are free from laying claim to any fruit of our mothering labors as if they came from us, and we are free from the fear-mongering, workaholic mothering that thinks everything is up to us.
We nurture others with the strength God supplies (1 Pet. 4:10– 11). All that energy—the caregiving and discipling and serving and multitasking—is his energy. Everything we lack is found in him. And when we’re exhausted, when we feel the dusty earth of the Calvary road, we can remember that it’s especially then that the life of Jesus is manifested in us (2 Cor. 4:10). It’s then that Jesus gives us more of himself, proving over and over that he is enough, that he is good, that there is more joy in him than in the grain and wine that abound (Ps. 4:7)—or in the kids who never make messes and the dinner that prepares itself and the schedules that operate seamlessly. He is better.
We need childlike faith to raise up the Lord’s children—faith that he is glad to give us. The life of Christ in us is our empowering, equipping, unleashing energy for nurturing others. It is his strength that gives us what we need in order to nurture life in the face of death, even through the million deaths to self we die each day. We need to remember that the little blueberry-sized fruits borne by the Holy Spirit are part and parcel of his kingdom.
There’s no way a finite, nurturing heart can hold all these things, but Jesus can, Jesus does, Jesus will.
This article is adapted from “The Nature of a Woman’s Nurture” by Gloria Furman in Designed for Joy: How the Gospel Impacts Men and Women, Identity and Practice, edited by Owen Strachan and Jonathan Parnell.