In a couple other posts this week (The Story of the Bible Told Through Motherhood and Satan’s Desire for Mothers) I have argued for the high calling of women to be mothers, since it reflects and magnifies God himself. The immediate and appropriate reaction to that, however, is to respond by asking, ‘What about those who can’t be moms?’
There are many women who would simply love to bear children, but cannot for a variety of reasons. Also, there is the problem of women who are saved or begin maturing spiritually later in life and have many regrets about the way they mothered their children, but cannot go back and change anything now. How is a message like this at all hope-giving for them?
The Gospel Shifts Our Categories
The gospel, which is the foundation of all our contentedness, must also be the foundation of our categories. When we speak of ‘mothering’ and ‘motherhood’ we want to make sure we’re using these words in a gospel-informed way.
Simply put, the family that matters most in the New Covenant is not husband, wife, and 2.1 kids with a minivan and a white picket fence surrounding a house in the suburbs (or even a quiver-full of kids in the boonies). Rather, it is the family of God; the the motley crew that surrounds you every Sunday morning. We can’t miss this:
Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10.29-30)
Foundational to the promises of the gospel and the new covenant is a new family. And we cannot miss this. The very call to follow Jesus will mean that many people will have to forsake natural family relationships.
Some will become singles and ‘eunuchs’ for the cause of Jesus’s kingdom. But that is not a call to be family-less, it is a call to join the family of God (the church).
In fact, this is how Jesus himself viewed his world. When people asked Jesus about his family, he said, ‘Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother’ (Mark 3.31-35). For those who hear the gospel-call to follow Jesus and are willing to leave all this world behind them to gain the pearl of great value, Jesus promises a family. Just not in the categories we’re used to.
What Mothering in the Church Looks Like
I’ll offer two examples of this mothering taking place in the early church family. The first example is that of Tabitha (Dorcas) in Acts 9.36-43. When she died she was lamented because she was ‘full of good works and acts of charity’, specifically to the widows in the church. When Peter came to her, the widows ‘stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them.’
What characterized her life? She wasn’t bearing children, but she was doing motherly things. She was caring for the weak (not necessarily younger). She was full of tender mercy and charity. The text doesn’t use the word ‘mother’ anywhere, but it’s hard to see this woman as anything but a mother in her church family.
The second example comes from Titus 2.3-5. There the older women (spiritually mature) are to be teaching the younger women what essentially amounts to the stuff your mother was supposed to teach you, if she was godly. But the fact is that many in the church don’t have godly biological mothers and need spiritual mothers to teach them the basics of loving hubby, kids, and chores.
What Paul is envisioning here, I think, isn’t some big teaching ministry in front of crowds. It’s the nitty-gritty, day-to-day, in your kitchen (literally) kind of instruction on real life matters.
A Final Word of Hope
The gospel redeems everything that God initially intended for good. If mothering was created good, the gospel ultimately redeems it. And not for some, but for all. And not just a little, but a lot! Think of it. Jesus doesn’t promise one new mother if you believe the gospel, he promises ‘a hundredfold’!
And for those who have longed to be a mother, the family of God allows for one woman to play a mothering role in the lives of way more people than those who merely bear their own biological children. How awesome is that!
And you know what happens when there are mothers like this? The word of God is not reviled and our enemies are put to shame by the gospel-contentedness of Christian women who know what they are made for and embrace it (Titus 2.5, 11-14).