|The Mission of Motherhood|
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Wiping runny noses, comforting a sick child, or getting the kids dressed for school may not feel like chores with eternal outcomes. But your God-given purpose is to nurture your children and influence their destinies. Affirming your important role in God's plan, Clarkson offers solid biblical teaching that's a real mom-encourager and joy-restorer.
A Journey Like No Other
Discovering the Mission of Motherhood
But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
Give her the product of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the gates.
Nocturnal asthma was the mysterious name the doctors gave to define the severe condition my three-year-old had developed. Each morning within five minutes of 1:30, little Joy would wake up with spasms of coughing and wheezing, gasping for breath.
We had tried nebulizers that administered strong asthma medicines, natural and homeopathic medicines, and nutritional routes of healing. The one thing that seemed to work best, however, was a home remedy. After giving Joy her normal dose of medicine, I used the old "croup" method to calm her until the asthma medicine began working—I sat on a small stool in the middle of a hot steaming shower and cradled Joy in my arms. For distraction during these times, I often made up heroic "Joy" stories in which she rescued a small dog or bird, or helped a hurting child, or did some creative or thoughtful deed to encourage her friends or family. We usually did this for forty-five minutes or until the hot-water heater was empty.
One such evening, at the end of our little ritual, Joy stood shivering outside of the shower with sopping wet hair and glassy brown eyes that looked like saucers in her sallow little face. She smiled at me with a thoughtful expression as I wrapped her in a large towel.
"Mommy! You know what? When I was growing inside your tummy, I always hoped and hoped that when I came out, I would have a mommy just like you who would take care of me when I was sick and tell me Joy stories!"
In her own childish way, Joy articulated what I believe is a profound need of every child: to be loved, cherished, cared for, and protected by her very own mother, whose womb was her first home. And it’s not just a need but an important part of God’s design for shaping human beings according to his will.
The beautiful design of nature itself shows us that a child grows inside its mother’s body hearing the specific sound of her voice, comforted by the beat of her heart, intimately connected to her very being. Upon arrival into the world, the mother’s arms are her first cradle, and the mother supplies the first food and comfort and security. Because of the intimacy of that first relationship, the child’s heart is naturally open to the mother. Children automatically turn toward their mothers as their first source of protection, love, and spiritual, emotional, and mental support. This is all a part of the design of mother, child, and family as unfolded for us in the Bible—a design that, from the beginning, God pronounced as very good.
After a journey of eighteen years into motherhood, I can heartily affirm Joy’s profound thoughts and her deep desire to be cared for and loved by a mother who is committed to her care. I can confirm wholeheartedly that God’s design for the family is indeed very good. I have also come to believe that motherhood, while demanding, is one of the most fulfilling and meaningful roles a woman can fill.
But I didn’t reach these conclusions without a struggle. For me, it took years of personal search and study—as well as a lot of trial and error as a mother—to understand the importance of my role as a mother. In a sense, I think my journey parallels that of many other moms who are trying to understand their mission in the context of a culture that is deeply ambiguous about both mothers and motherhood.
Recently I took a trip to the East Coast. On the way I sat next to a woman who was a professor of physics at a prestigious California university. Obviously proud of being the only woman on the faculty in this department, she talked of her pleasure in her career—pleasure that was marred only by her desire to spend more time with her new baby. Just as she had started building her lab, she had given birth to a little girl. Even though her childcare arrangements were satisfactory, she still felt a need to be with her baby and to share the precious moments of her first year. "She’s just so captivating. I can’t resist being with her! But we’ve got a good nanny. So now I’m just trying to figure it all out."
Coming back from Boston, I found myself next to another articulate young woman, this one a professor at Harvard University. After talking about some of the issues concerning families, she shared with me a little about her own broken family background. She also told me that she and her "partner," the man with whom she had been living, had been involved in personal counseling for a year. "You see, I can’t explain it, but I have a deep longing to get married and to have a child. But I don’t think you can really have an intense career and still give a child all that he needs in life. My partner thinks that he and my career should be enough. But I feel a deep longing to have a child and be a family— to bring a sense of completeness to our lives. I even think I would like to get married.
As I travel throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, I continue to meet woman after woman who expresses the same needs and desires. Though many with whom I speak are not Christians, still they feel there is a design in their hearts for motherhood and family. They long to have a center for life—a home where love, marriage, and children are a part of the complete picture.
I am also amazed at the maternal instincts that women express over and over, in spite of their educational background, social status, or religious preferences. As I have been writing this book in early 2002, the United States is fighting a war against terrorism in Afghanistan, and the news often features scenes of Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan for protection and shelter. Even amid the poverty and danger, however, there are images of Afghan mothers holding their children close, gently and lovingly, and feeding them meager offerings of food—a poignant picture of mother love and sacrifice that transcends boundaries of culture.
Clearly, God has written motherhood in the hearts of women wherever they live. And he has written it in my heart as well. What a worthwhile journey it has been to rediscover the wonderful significance God prepared for me in motherhood when he gave me the gift of my children.
A MOTHER’S JOURNEY
For thousands of years the view of motherhood described in the Bible was generally respected in Western culture. Motherhood was seen as a noble and important calling. Women considered themselves blessed to bear many children, and it was considered normal and good for home and family to be the central focus of a woman’s life. This is not to say that mothers were always well treated—after all, sin has been with us since the very beginning. But the office of "mother" was usually respected and revered, and it was generally assumed that entire generations were shaped during the time they spent at the mother’s knee.
By the time I became a mother, however, the American culture had dramatically redefined the role of motherhood, and the biblical model of motherhood no longer drove the imagination of culture. Somehow, over the course of the last century, traditional motherhood had become a lifestyle option—and to many, a lesser option—rather than a divine calling.
When I had my first child at almost thirty-one years old, I had not seriously considered the importance of motherhood in light of my whole life. I was thrust into the role and then realized that I needed to discover God’s perspective in my life. I had been raised in a traditional American home, where my father went to work and my mother stayed home to care for her children. My mother had left her job as a systems engineer with IBM to stay home with my brothers and me. As a child, however, I never considered the significance of her decision.
At school I had been taught to embrace a very different model of womanhood. Friends and teachers encouraged me to do something "important" with my life, which meant choosing a career and a type of work that would make the best use of my talents and personality. I could marry and have children if I wanted, but not at the expense of "fulfilling my potential." Even many of my Christian friends and mentors managed to convey that being "just a wife and mother" would somehow be less than God’s best for me.
Because I had an enthusiastic, passionate personality, I looked forward to doing something meaningful with my life. By the time I graduated from college, I was ready to take on the world. I just knew God was calling me to serve him in dramatic, exciting ways. While I hoped that I would someday be married and I looked forward to having a life partner, I didn’t often think about having children. I had grown up as the only girl with two older brothers and had never even been around younger children very much.
The next few years were indeed exciting. I worked with women across the United States in the areas of leadership development and spiritual training. I moved to Europe and worked for three years behind the Iron Curtain, teaching and training young Christian leaders in four communist countries where Christianity was forbidden. I traveled alone or with another single woman into highly stressful and challenging situations. Eventually I moved to Poland to learn the language and train the first Eastern European staff women for the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. We lived with these precious women, even though our presence was illegal and offensive to the secret police.
By the time I returned to the United States, I had been on my own for quite a while, and I was emotionally vested in my independent lifestyle. I liked keeping my own schedule, eating my own meals, buying lovely clothes that suited my speaking profession, and traveling whenever I wanted. I moved back to Denver, Colorado, where I spent two more years traveling and speaking. Finally, in my late twenties, I married Clay. We had been friends for almost eight years and had finally decided to spend our lives together. At this point, he was in seminary preparing for full-time Christian ministry.
I welcomed marriage and rejoiced in finally having a life companion and partner for ministry. I really looked forward to starting a family as well. But I was also fully entrenched in my own identity and independence and my work as a Christian speaker and leader. So two years later, when I became pregnant, I was filled with confusing, diametrically opposed feelings about my role as a mother.
One part of me was absolutely dreamy eyed about the prospect of having my own precious baby to love and care for. But I was also excited and scared and concerned about how this new development might change my life.
Conflicting advice from well-meaning friends further blurred my understanding.
One confidante told me, "The most important thing you can do with your life is invest it in your children. Their lives are more important than building a career!" And what she said certainly seemed to ring true in my spirit.
But other advisors assured me that I could handle the challenge of balancing children with career—after all, most of the mothers I knew were doing just that. One woman, an older missionary, even advised, "Don’t let your children control your life! You’ve got lots of gifts and messages and a ministry to share with the women of the world! It would be a waste of your time and experience to focus too much on your children and lose your ministry! Don’t have more children. It will take up too much time."
Confusion and questions began to flood my soul. What is right? I love teaching women’s groups! I don’t want to lose what I’ve spent so many years developing! And hasn’t God called me to this work? Don’t I have a stewardship-an obligation to continue in my ministry in order to help others? But I have waited so long to have a child. Shouldn’t this child have first priority in my life?
I simply couldn’t decide what I would do when my baby came. But I soon discovered that life has its own ways of helping us choose. What happened was that my tiny baby girl arrived and took my life completely by storm.
I had read every childbirth book I could find. After preparing perfectly through nutrition and exercise to have a natural birth, when I finally came to the hospital to deliver this baby, I was in for a shock. After twenty hours, two and a half of which she was stuck in the birth canal, Sarah Elizabeth Clarkson made her way into the world—tiny, beautiful, and with meconium-filled lungs.
She was immediately placed into intensive care. One of the neonatal nurses told me that babies with problems like hers often died of sudden infant death syndrome—not the words I needed to hear as a brand-new mother less than twenty-four hours after giving birth. I looked at this beautiful, bright-eyed baby girl, and suddenly nothing else in the world seemed important but caring for her and helping her to thrive.
Sarah was finally released from the hospital, and I delighted in her every moment. Her smiles that were reserved just for me; the way her tiny fingers patted my chest as she nursed filled my emotional cup. Watching when she seemed to dance on her back each time the musical toy played "You Are My Sunshine" convinced me that she was indeed the most intelligent, charming, and beautiful baby that had ever been born. I didn’t actually sit down at that time and think, This is it; I’m choosing traditional motherhood over my career. I simply wanted to be with my daughter as much as possible. I wanted to woo her, love her, care for her, and serve her and find joy in each moment that she required. So when opportunities arose to speak or to teach a women’s group, I was very selective and allowed my career to be a secondary choice.
Not long after Sarah was born, Clay finished seminary, and we moved to Austria to work in the international community of Vienna. By the time Sarah was two and a half, our second child, Joel, was born. Clay’s job allowed us to work with a wide variety of people—from diplomats to refugees, from opera singers to music students. I was also involved in the ministry, reaching out to the numerous people who visited our home frequently. But I was not actually employed, so I devoted most of my time to my children at home. Yet, in the process of taking care of my little ones, I often felt overwhelmed by the routine nature of my tasks.
Before Sarah was five, I had three babies, had moved to Colorado and then to California, had lurched through hundreds of sleepless hours, and had coped with myriad asthma attacks and ear infections and respiratory problems. Chronic exhaustion, a house that seemed perpetually messy, the inevitable stresses of moving so often, and days of "quality time" with little ones who were often fussy and demanding caused me to doubt my sanity! I began to realize that my mothering honeymoon was over and my confusion was back.
What had I gotten myself into? A challenging career suddenly seemed more productive to me because I could measure the results of my work. These precious little ones had endless needs. They were busy little sinful creatures who demanded all of my body, time, life, emotions, and attention! As much as I loved my children, I often felt like a failure. Surely someone else could do a better job with these precious ones than I. And what exactly was I supposed to be accomplishing anyway? Was I wasting my time? What had this husband, who professed to love me, done to me?
With overwhelming feelings of discouragement, multitudes of questions, and a deep-felt need to make sense of my life, I began to search for the answers to my questions. I read every book I could get my hands on about family, motherhood, and children. And although I found much that was helpful, my reading also seemed to heighten my confusion. I was amazed at how many conflicting and antithetical views of motherhood and womanhood itself I found even among my fellow evangelical Christians.
I finally decided that I needed to search the Scriptures to find out for myself just what God, the Designer himself, had in mind when he created the role of mother thousands of years ago. This search has been well rewarded. In fact, it changed my life. My personal study of biblical motherhood—which I’ll outline more fully in the next chapter—has helped me not only to realize that God has an important mission for mothers, but to embrace that mission as a source of deep joy and fulfillment in my own life.
The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson
Copyright 2003. Published by WaterBrook Press.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.