A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting an email pal in person: Wendy Alsup. Wendy is a mother, author, blogger, and speaker. We were both speaking at the same event, which gave us plenty of time to talk in between sessions. One of our topics was ministry to women and how it should be shaped. Thus, when I saw her most recent post for The Gospel Coalition, I was eager to share it with you all. More on that in a moment.
Though I've been extremely busy with work and family needs these last few months, I have had one thought that I keep mulling over in my mind. My concern is that in circles that rightly value the roles of wife and mother, the discipleship focus for women can be limited to those identities. Now please understand me that though I am neither a wife or mother, I have a high view of those roles and I certainly trust my publishing and speaking record of the past decade would support that claim. But I do carry no small concern that if we define and disciple women by roles that end in this life, we are missing the greater good. We need to emphasize that female Christ-followers are co-heirs in Him, adopted into the family of God, and sisters to everyone in that redeemed family. Building upon that foundation, most women will also have the roles of wife and mother in this life. Those roles provide additional means of glorifying God, growing in godliness, and investing in the next generation. But they are not the sole way for women to do so, as our heavenly Father intends that all of His children are conformed to the image of Christ through the circumstances, roles, and life experiences that He sovereignly ordains.
Wendy does a great job of unpacking this idea in her post titled, "For Moms, Former Moms, and Wannabe Moms:"
Mother’s Day is a tricky holiday. Like any holiday, it is sweet for some and bitter for others. For some, it’s both. I remember feeling on the outside looking in on Mother’s Day, first as a single woman and then after I miscarried our first. Our church had an entrance near the nursery called the Family Entrance. Could I use it? Were we a family? I finally just used it regardless, almost as an act of defiance. Now as the mother of a 4- and 6-year-old, I can deeply appreciate someone setting aside parking near an entrance that kept me from having to walk my toddlers across a busy intersection. But at the time I was dealing with emotions that weren’t swayed by practical realities. I just wanted to be a mom. And that sign at the church entrance reminded me I wasn’t.
It is an age-old conundrum in humanity in general and Christianity in particular. How do you honor someone who has something good that you want too? How do you applaud the sacrifices of one without minimizing the suffering of the other? I don’t know exactly, but I do think there is an overarching principle that is helpful.
Motherhood is not the greatest good for the Christian woman. Whether you are a mom or not, don’t get caught up in sentimentalism that sets it up as some saintly role. The greatest good is being conformed to the image of Christ. Now, motherhood is certainly one of God’s primary tools in his arsenal for this purpose for women. But it is not the end itself. Being a mom doesn’t make you saintly. Believe me. Being a mom exposes all the ways you are a sinner, not a saint. Not being a mom and wanting to be one does too. We may long to get pregnant, looking at motherhood from afar. God sanctifies us through that longing. We may lose a pregnancy or a child, and mourn the loss of our motherhood. God conforms us to Christ through that as well. We may have a brood of children of various ages, and heaven knows God roots sin out of our hearts that way. It’s all about THE greatest good, being conformed to the image of Christ—reclaiming the image of God that he created us to bear through gospel grace. And God uses both the presence and the absence of children in the lives of his daughters as a primary tool of conforming us to Christ.
Single woman watching your biological clock tick away, I encourage you to look today at your longings through the lens of the gospel. You don’t have to deny your longing or talk yourself into a happy attitude for all the good things you can do without kids. It’s OK to mourn the loss. God said children are a blessing. But after the fall, we do not all get to experience that blessing. The gospel makes up the difference. While you are disappointed in deep ways and that disappointment is real, you will one day sit with Jesus in heaven profoundly content with his work in you through this disappointment. In heaven, you will have no longing for something you missed. You will not be disappointed. May confidence in that hope sustain you.
Married woman experiencing infertility, I encourage you with similar words. People can be callous with their words, especially in the church. But believe in confidence that God in this very moment loves you with a deep love. You may feel estranged from him, knowing that he has the power to give you that sweet infant that he has given so many around you. It seems like he is dangling a desire in front of you, teasing you with it. But understand that unfulfilled desire is a tool he uses to give you even better things—things of himself that you cannot know in easy ways. Believe in confidence that this time of waiting is not just a holding pattern with no discernible value, but it too is a blessing, albeit in disguise, as it increases your strength to run and not grow weary and to walk and not to faint. Wait on the Lord, dear sister, in confidence.
And mom who fails her children regularly (because that’s everyone else), preach the gospel to yourself this day. If you have any grasp on your reality, you are likely painfully aware of every failure you’ve made with your children. And maybe you are fatigued by the fears of future failure as well. It’s okay that your children expose your own sin. In fact, it’s the mom who doesn’t seem daily aware of her failures that most concerns me. Christ has made the way for you to be at peace. If you sinned against your kids, ask their forgiveness. If you are kicking yourself for your failures, preach God’s grace to yourself. Don’t learn to live with your sin—don’t embrace it with the attitude “that’s just how I am.” But don’t deny it either. Be honest about it. You sinned. You confess. God forgives. You get up and walk forward in confidence. It’s called gospel grace, and THAT is the legacy to leave your children.
By the way, the conference at which Wendy and I spoke (along with Holly Stratton, pictured above) addressed the "jewel of contentment." If the issues that swirl around the topic of motherhood elicit discontentment in you, I recommend you check out those messages.
(Photo, from left: I am standing with Holly Stratton and Wendy Alsup.)