If you Google the word “mother” or look it up in a dictionary, you will likely come up with a definition similar to this: Mother: A female parent; one who gives birth; to rear. Attached to this may be an account of those things that mothers commonly do—a job description. The list is likely extensive, rivaling the duties of the CEO of a major corporation. A mother cleans, cooks, purchases, schedules, plans, bakes, sews, organizes, coaches, makes appointments, keeps the books, ships, receives, fills out tax forms, and speaks motivationally.
Alongside this description of both a mother and her work are numerous sayings that people use in reference to motherhood: “A mother’s work is never done;” “Don’t count on getting any sleep;” “I want them to have a better life than I did;” “Their happiness is first with me;” “I just want to have children that other people can enjoy being around;” “So long as my kids find a way to make the world a better place;” “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Still other statements abound concerning having children. “A mother’s body is her own; it’s her choice; it’s her decision to make,” “We’d love to have children, we just aren’t sure how many we can handle;” “You can kiss your figure goodbye;” and the very familiar, “children are such a burden.”
We have all heard and maybe have even said at least some of these. But we ought to recognize that each of these statements arises out of the wisdom of this world, flowing out of countless books and magazines written on the topics of parenting and motherhood. But theirs is not wisdom at all; it is foolishness. Why? God is nowhere to be found in their discussion. Because we know that it is the fool who says in his heart that there is no God (Ps. 14:1), we Christians ought not to listen. When the world speaks, it issues forth words, goals, and worldviews that proclaim its love of itself, its lusts, and the pride of life. God has nothing to do with its conversation.
Moreover, a war is going on in our homes—a spiritual war, a war of ideas and doctrines, with the authority of man’s word pitted against the authority of God’s word. The life of entertainment-crazed pleasure seekers rages against the life of holiness; the sovereignty of man rises up against the sovereignty of God. In this war, Satan is busy. He desires to destroy the church, shrewdly targeting the church’s children with an attack against the closest guardians of their souls—their parents, and especially their mothers. It is of utmost importance, then, to base our understanding of motherhood firmly upon the rock of Scripture, for in the face of this wicked attack, God’s word is our strongest defense. In so doing, we will see not only the weighty responsibility of a mother, but also the great joy she experiences as God uses the means of bearing and rearing children to sanctify her.
Serving as a mother in the home is a great work. It is specifically mandated by God for the maintenance and nourishment of the body of Christ. In God’s covenant with his people, he has promised that his elect will be gathered unto himself, that he will draw them into fellowship with himself and his people. He does not need us in order to accomplish this; nevertheless, he is pleased to use godly mothers to bring forth covenant seed in the line of continued generations. As a means through which God realizes his covenant promises, mothers are greatly privileged members of the church. Motherhood is a great gift from God, as well as a service we are able to perform only in him. We depend on his grace to be covenant mothers, and in order to perform our service, we must do it his way.
Contrary to the popular teaching of this world, our dependence on God is not only spiritual. It is biological as well. The conception of children in the womb of mothers is not a matter of choice. It is not as though we mere creatures are the masters of life, able to give and withhold; it is God who grants conception. Such is the confession of the psalmist in Psalm 100:3: “Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” To keep from God his power over life is to spite him and defy him to the face. God is God and does as he pleases, when he pleases. We cannot exist apart from God, and we exist only for his sake. He is sovereign over our wombs, determining the number of children we have and when we have them.
For our flesh, this is a hard truth to hear. Only faith can receive this truth; only the believing woman can experience peace in this way, yielding her body to Christ, resting in him and trusting in God’s will for her. By a wonder of grace, the believing woman who obeys God in this area of life is able to do so seeing the great worthiness and benefit of “doing it God’s way.” In humbly submitting ourselves to God in bearing children, we bear witness in our lives to the plea of the sanctified believer in Lord’s Day 48 of the Heidelberg Catechism: “Rule us so by thy word and Spirit that we may submit ourselves more and more to thee.” Our God is so great and so loving that he takes the sting of such submission away, replacing it with the joy of his fellowship. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1John 5:3).
There is something uniquely special in bearing children, something closely linked to the awe-inspired confession the psalmist makes in Psalm 139: 14–16, wondering at his fearful and wonderful conception and birth. In a similar way, God places mothers on their knees before him through childbirth, with hearts that give utterance to the smallness of self, and the greatness of the Creator. In the face of the whole wonder of motherhood, of the magnitude of the power of God, the only way a godly mother can proceed to take up her newborn duty is to acknowledge her complete dependence on the Lord. At the same time, she counts herself blessed in receiving children from God’s hand, as expressed in the songs of Hannah and Mary of old, knowing that every last one of the elect must be born before Christ will return. Moreover, her children are not her own, but they are Jehovah’s, a heritage of the LORD. In order properly to understand her calling and have any hope of fulfilling it, she must recognize that her offspring are first of all members of God’s church and kingdom. This surrender to the sovereignty of God is a wonder of grace as well, a key part of the mother’s sanctification. Her situation is not unlike the one outlined by Christ in Matthew 10:38–39: “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” Both the mother’s calling and the mother’s blessed privilege are to “lose her life” in bearing and raising children, in accordance to the will of God.
Having explored the great duty and joy of the mother in bearing children, we now consider the setting of her work as a keeper at home. In the home God raises up young men and women to stand for his cause and his kingdom, to bear testimony of being spiritually minded as they mature in their love of God and his church. In the home they are taught to live the antithesis, to live lives of purity before God. Our homes are centers of instruction in the ways of God’s covenant. By means of mothers as instruments, God has designed the home to be a safe haven. In the home, and in the everyday circumstances of the family, many opportunities arise for instruction to be applied to the raising of a godly seed. The manner in which mothers teach their children must reflect the beautiful idea and truths of the covenant; that is, our raising of our children must reflect that living, personal, gracious, blessed friendship that God establishes and maintains with his people. At the same time, the instruction of the home is very practical and down to earth, because it is integrated with the life of the family itself. As God uses the means of the home to reveal parts of himself to his covenant seed, our children learn to trust in him for the preservation of their salvation and the maintenance of their duty-bound, blessing-rich, sanctified walk of life.
God’s word not only sets our goals in the vocation of motherhood in the covenant home, but also presents mothers with the “how” of our instruction of our children. The glory of God is the goal, and the word of instruction that he provides is the way. Indeed, through his word, God is actively at work making our homes safe havens from the world.
“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up” (Deut. 6:7). The godly mother heeds this word of God, showing her children the ways of God’s commandments, how they are to be observed and kept, how they must say no to themselves, how sin is contrary to the will of God, how forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope are found in the cross. In short, the work of the mother is to raise her children to be citizens in the kingdom of heaven. Walking in the ways of the Lord must inherently involves submission to him, the cheerful submission that loving servants yield to their friend-sovereign.
However, submission is always opposed by sinful pride. This is true also for our children. Thus it is important that we as mothers help our children to ask themselves the difficult and piercing questions of self-examination: What are our thoughts being formed by? What is controlling our hearts? What were we thinking when we did that? Are our ways, deeds, and decisions regulated by God’s word? Children, like parents, must be taught that Scripture can be nothing less than the only reference point for all of the life of the Christian. God’s word is the only reliable standard there is: all our thoughts and actions are subject to scrutiny under its light. Desiring that her children come to this knowledge, the mother presents her children with the admonition of Solomon in Proverbs 3:5–7: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD.”
You may notice that the work of a mother in rearing her children is almost directly correlative to her own walk of faith and instruction at the feet of God. She cannot teach what she does not know, and with the great duty of rearing children comes the mother’s corresponding duty of increasing her own knowledge of God and his word. This may sound like a lot of work, and it is. But as we saw earlier, it is a great joy as well.
Here is a beautiful and astonishing truth of God’s dealings with mothers. God uses the family life itself to enrich her spiritually! God uses the means of bearing and rearing children to sanctify her (1Tim. 2:15). In the very doing, the instructing and nurturing of the children in the generations, and in the training of them to fear God and keep his commandments, the mother is, by the work of Christ’s Spirit, convinced and assured that she herself belongs to God, and that his saving love and promises apply directly to her.
Each day as she goes about her calling, many opportunities arise in which she has need to open the word of God to apply its truths. As she brings the word in correction to a sinning child, that efficacious word by the Holy Spirit also indicts her and causes her to humbly acknowledge her own need of examination, confession, and forgiveness. When, after they have sinned and their weakness is exposed in sin, she builds up her children with encouraging words from Scripture, that very same word of hope brings courage to her own broken and contrite heart. Day after day, in each unique child, as you see your failings in their failings, you have reason to travel together down the well-worn path to the cross of Christ. You kneel beside them, bow at the foot of the cross, and hear your Savior say, “I know you cannot keep my commandments. I know the battle. I bore your guilt and sin. But in me it is finished. Keep your eyes fixed on me, wait on me, I will make you able one day to keep them perfectly.” Do you see the great joy of the mother in her home?
As mothers with joy and hearts full of thanksgiving, we walk in this vocation with fear and trembling, and a disposition to cleave to Jehovah and live for him in the light of his word, no matter what lies ahead. This labor is not in vain! Moreover, it is not an onerous obligation, but a gracious gift, marked out with gracious care, bestowed on us in love. It is a vocation that God has nestled within the everlasting covenant of grace, a training ground for servant-fighters of the kingdom of heaven in this battle of faith. As they carry out their blessed calling, God grants the mothers of his covenant seed all that is needed to continue; he is the all-sufficient sustainer of their walk and life as pilgrims and strangers here on this earth, as they live in service of the body of Christ. He brings them to that last day, upholding them all the way and sanctifying them in their vocation.
May God grant you grace to desire and look forward to the day when he may place you in this vocation, to lose your life in it, that you may find contentment within it and seek to glorify him through it. Jealously guard it, pray that none may take it from you—not Satan, not the world, nor the enemy within. Keep the calling of motherhood where it is safe, within the cause of his covenant and of his church and her mighty and glorious calling in the midst of the world, of which our part, is pure and undeserved favor.
Great is his faithfulness! To him be the glory!