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What Ecclesiastes Taught Me about Being a Mom

When Life Doesn’t Meet Expectations

The first few days in the life of a new mom are as exhilarating as they are exhausting. But forty-eight hours after becoming a mom and three hours after coming home from the hospital with my newborn son, I stood up from the sofa and felt a stab of pain in my right side. The stab became an agonizing throb, and by the next morning, I was unable to hold or feed my baby boy. After several days of over-the-counter remedies, my doctor sent me back to the hospital where they took one look at my scans and prepared me for emergency surgery. I spent two weeks in the hospital while my younger sister looked after my new baby. Only after a boatload of antibiotics and a second surgery three months later was I finally well enough to care for my son. Nothing about being a mom had turned out as I expected.

We all hit moments when life shatters our expectations of motherhood. My “moment” came early on, but sooner or later it happens to all of us. This is why, if I could give one piece of advice to every expectant mother, it would be to read the book of Ecclesiastes. I know this might sound like strange advice, but reading this little book of the Bible is one of the best ways you can prepare to be a mom. Ecclesiastes teaches all of us—from new moms to mothers of teenagers to empty-nesters—how to be realistic, joyful, and godly mothers.

True Life

Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Mahaney Whitacre

In True Life: Practical Wisdom from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre lay out 14 lessons that can be learned from Ecclesiastes, helping women learn how to endure life’s hardships and enjoy life’s pleasures. 

Ecclesiastes Taught Me How to Be a Realistic Mom

If we have any idealistic expectations of motherhood, Solomon shatters them in Ecclesiastes. “Vanity of vanities . . . vanity of vanities! All is vanity,” he announces at the opening of the book (Eccles. 1:2).

“All,” of course, includes all of life, but perhaps especially motherhood, as moms are in the business of life-bearing. Being a mom is a vanity of vanities. The word “vanity” here means “a mere breath.” And like a breath, motherhood is brief and beyond our control. One day you bring a new life into the world, and the next you send him out into the world. Inhale. Exhale. And it’s over. Just like that.

From beginning to the end of this brief ride—from pregnancy to puberty, from cradle to college—we are not ultimately in control. We cannot choose when our children will be born or who they will become. We cannot determine their successes and failures, pick out their spouses, or decide whether or not they will follow Christ. All of motherhood rushes by, outside of our reach and ability to steer or command.

Motherhood doesn’t always feel fleeting, though, does it? Long nights with a teething baby or a troubled teenager and we agree with Solomon that, “All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it” (Eccles. 1:8). The weary years of motherhood are often filled with fretful questions: Why is my child struggling? How can I help him find friends? Will she ever succeed at school? How can I mend our relationship? No technological advancement or social media advice can give us any more real insight than moms who’ve gone before, for as Solomon puts it, “A generation goes, and a generation comes. . . . What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done” (Eccles. 1:4, 9).

And, to put it bluntly, as Solomon does: Motherhood is painful. “[I]n pain you shall bring forth children” was the curse laid upon us in the garden, and at last check, it’s still going strong (Gen 3:16). The pain in childbirth is only just the beginning, for the discomfort in bringing them forth often fades in comparison to the heartache in bringing them up. Pregnancy can paint stretch marks across a woman’s body and teenagers can carve worry lines across her face. Motherhood is a brief, baling, and brutal business, and there’s no getting around it. Or, to use Solomon’s phrase, “It is an unhappy business . . . to be busy with” (Eccles. 1:13). And that’s just on the inhale. Vanity of vanities! All of motherhood is vanity.

Why paint such a bleak picture of motherhood? Am I trying to warn women away from becoming moms? Quite the opposite, in fact. I want to see more Christian women raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord with joy-fueled industry and courage.

But Ecclesiastes has taught me that the way to joy runs through reality, not away from it. This is why moms should read Ecclesiastes. In this little book, Solomon forces us to face reality. He insists that we reckon with life and motherhood as they really are, not as we want them to be.

He strips away all our idealistic and idolatrous notions of motherhood and replaces them with biblical truth. Only when we face the realities of motherhood can we learn how to enjoy being a mom.

Ecclesiastes Taught Me How to Be a Joyful Mom

After telling us that all of life and motherhood is vanity—brief, brutal, and baling—Solomon tells us, paradoxically it seems, that we should enjoy it. “I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live” (Eccles. 3:12). In other words, the best mothering advice is this: be joyful with your children and do good for your children for as long as you live.

Here’s the catch: we cannot achieve joy in motherhood; we can only receive it from God’s hand. As Solomon explains, “this also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?” (Eccles. 2:24–25). Every joy in motherhood is a gift from God. Joy is not something on the other side of a college scholarship or a grown child’s friendship. No amount of mothering effort and no child’s accomplishments can achieve joy. We don’t raise successful children in order to enjoy them; we raise them with joy, no matter what.

The reason that we sometimes fail to find joy in motherhood is that we try to get joy from our children rather than receiving our children as a gift from God to enjoy.

In fact, the reason that we sometimes fail to find joy in motherhood is that we try to get joy from our children rather than receiving our children as a gift from God to enjoy. When we try to get more from our children than God has given, we turn motherhood from a blessing into a burden. For example, maybe we find our identity or derive our sense of significance and importance from being a mother. Mothering becomes about our children succeeding in ways that make us look good to others or feel good about ourselves. Maybe we want respect and appreciation from our children, or perhaps we simply want the sense of fulfillment that we think comes from being a mom or being close with our kids. If our mothering joy depends upon our relationship with our children or with our children’s success, then we’ll never be happy. Instead, being joyful means gratefully receiving the children God chooses to give us, and receiving the gifts he chooses to give (or not give) our children.

But when motherhood is hard and the outcome uncertain, how can we be joyful? By enjoying God’s everyday gifts to moms. As Solomon reiterates: “everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man” (Eccles. 3:13). Our “be joyful” job in motherhood is actually quite straightforward. We simply need to look for God’s ordinary gits, and enjoy them daily, as they come. Every sticky kiss from a toddler, every sweet conversation with a teenager, every homework assignment completed, every full night of sleep, every cup of coffee, and every family dinner is a gift from God. No matter how difficult your current mothering road, God is giving you gifts to enjoy today. Look, receive, and enjoy. Joy is a mother’s job. It’s the delightful task we are called to fulfill today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of our lives.

Ecclesiastes Taught Me How to Be a Godly Mom

Solomon’s wisdom takes the guesswork out of what it means to be a godly mom. He tells us that we are to be joyful and to joyfully do good. We should “take pleasure in all our toil, for this is God’s gift to man” (Eccles. 3:12). Let’s be honest. We don’t often approach the day-to-day work of motherhood as a God-given opportunity for pleasure. In fact, all too often we think of meal planning and potty training, carpools and counseling as some of the more unpleasant aspects of our lives. But Solomon says just the opposite: we should take pleasure in all our mothering toil. Not only does God fill our lives with good things for us to do for our families today, he tops off all our work with pleasure. He gives us a sense of purpose in having meaningful work to do for our children, and then he gives us pleasure in completing that work.

Paul echoes Solomon here when he writes, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

As moms, we can know what good works we should walk in today. God has made this clear to us in his Word. As mothers, we should teach our children diligently to love God and love others (Deut. 6:4–9). We are to provide them with food and clothing, kindness and wisdom (Prov. 31). We are to instruct and discipline our children, training them to obey us in all things so they will be blessed (Eph. 6:1–4). We are to love our children and be busy at home (Titus 2:3–5). Most importantly, we are called to share the gospel with our children. These good works are right in front of us, ready to be walked in.

True, they can seem ordinary and even menial, which is why we avoid them sometimes. Surely, this can’t be the good God has called me to do? Doesn’t he have more significant work for me to accomplish? Many women wrongly assume that the really good work is to be found outside rather than inside the home. But if we have children at home, then “being busy” in that home is the most important work we can do. This work, and the pleasure we can find in it, is God’s gift to us. Doing good for our children is not usually glamorous, but it is always glorious. The menial becomes meaningful when God crowns it with purpose and pleasure.

This past month I have rejoiced with new moms (including my sister-in-law, who gave birth to a precious baby girl) and I have grieved with and prayed for moms of wayward children. The wisdom of Ecclesiastes is for all of us. Solomon saw the vanity of life and motherhood, but he also saw the best way forward: “I commend joy” he says, “for there is nothing better” (Eccles. 8:15). This is why, to mothers everywhere, I commend Ecclesiastes.

Nicole Whitacre is coauthor with Carolyn Mahaney of True Life: Practical Wisdom from Ecclesiastes.

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