In the weeks following the birth of my daughter, I was certain I had never known a greater joy or a higher calling than motherhood. I would stare at her perfect button nose and count her fingers and toes, just to be certain there were still twenty. As she watched the light dance across the wall, I'd read to her from a child's systematic theology book. If asked, I would gush about the blissful feelings of purpose and how I would never know a more important task than teaching her about God and his world.
With her entrance into our lives, I began to analyze my life and everything that might keep me from fulfilling and experiencing this most-important-calling-and-joy. I zeroed in on my work—that blasted ugly monster with claws grasping at my precious time—which would most certainly hinder me from dedicating my days to the biblical training and upbringing of my tiny and indescribably cute offspring. I looked over my shoulder at the local school and gave a hateful glance mixed with a smidge of pity for those who had no option but to sit in its seats, because I had some homeschooling to do. The others tried to hide but I saw them all: formula, non-organic diapers, co-sleepers, secular music, children's books without biblical themes, Puffs and packaged snacks, and so on. I saw them all standing between me and my ultimate goal, and they would not win.
Because this is how one does godly motherhood.
Or maybe, perhaps, just possibly, it's not.
In my earliest days of motherhood, I began to crumble under the weight of misplaced priorities and the underlying cultural idea of the American 1950s nuclear family dream, which—while not explicitly mentioned in scripture—seems like the biblical model to follow if one is to be a godly mother. I grew resentful that my circumstances did not allow me to be a stay-at-home mom, which did not allow me to be godly. I desperately wanted to be that Christian mom—always at home, cooking something from scratch, mending clothes, homeschooling, and looking like none other than June Cleaver.
Never mind that I have no idea how to mend anything and my cooking-from-scratch skills leave you wanting.
But what I think happened is I followed in the footsteps of those who've slapped Titus 2 on the American dream and believed it to be the requirement for godly motherhood.
Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. —Titus 2:3-5, emphasis mine
So I gathered—from bits of conversations and examples from the 50s—that to be working at home meant not to be working elsewhere, to be loving a family could only be done if I was always present and always serving, and to be pure and kind meant homemade bread served on plates I made on my potter's wheel next to the homeschool table on our homestead.
Can I tell you something? I think to work at home might mean all of these things, some of these things, and even none of these things. It might even mean other things altogether.
Just breathe for a second.
Titus 2 is a brief description of true Christian living, which was intended to highlight the great difference between Christians and false teachers. The very first verse in chapter 2 reads, "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine," because sound doctrine leads to right behavior. Right behavior amongst women in the Church is passed along as older women teach younger women how to care for their families and their homes. When a wife joyfully submits to her husband's leadership, her work helps support and affirm his vision for their family. They partner together to create a God-honoring home life for their family.
It's a really encouraging and lovely passage. Women have a unique position in their families to nurture life-giving rhythms and practices into their homes. They are able to use their skills and creativity to partner with their husbands in bringing the gospel into the everyday moments of their children's lives. They do incredibly good work at home. So while Paul is implying that women manage the needs of their home and family, the ways through which one wife best submits and supports her husband will look different than another couple. It may not look like staying-at-home and homeschooling with organic snacks, but it might.
Take a quick peek at the woman who worked as a midwife and delivered Moses or Ruth working in the field or the Proverbs 31 woman selling her linens and purchasing land for her family or Lois and Eunice raising Timothy or the many other women God called into these roles in order to support their families. Note the shepherds, the carpenters, the tax collectors, the fishermen, the kings, the priests, the garment craftsmen, the music makers, and the many other roles that all bring God glory. Think of your dear friend who breastfeeds and the other who can't, or the mom who spends her evenings connecting the gospel to what her kids heard in school and the mom who spends her evenings planning for homeschooling. Remember the single mom who has no choice but day-care and the mom whose chronic illness keeps her from most of her kids' activities. Are only some godly?
The unique circumstances of our lives are not accidental, coincidental, or brought by luck. The situations placed before us are God-ordained and under his sovereignty, and as we are able, we glorify him with what we have and what we can do as we obey his word.
Your family might need a June Cleaver, but mine might not. And both can bring God glory.
What I needed to be told in the early days (and will probably need to be told again) is motherhood is not our highest calling nor is it our greatest joy, and certainly June Cleaver is not the only example of biblical motherhood, if she's even an example at all.
When we make motherhood a higher calling than other roles in life and when we make it the pinnacle of joy and purpose in a woman's life, we, as a Church, do a dangerous thing. We take the eyes and hearts of women off of the person and work of Christ and place them upon the family—both the husband required to have a family and the children who come from it. By making motherhood the highest calling in a woman's life, we reduce the value and worth of every woman unable to have children because of singleness or infertility. Even more, we communicate that until a woman does have a child, she has not reached her God-given potential or experienced true joy—never mind that marriage and children are not promised in scripture or that true joy and peace come to women through the death and resurrection of Christ alone.
Motherhood is a good gift from God that comes with a heavy responsibility and great joy. Like all of the good works prepared for us to do, it asks much of us and when we mother well, it's by God's grace alone. So yes, the calling of motherhood is a beautiful, gospel-driven role given to some women, and it is a gift. But a good gift makes a terrible god.
And I was crumbling at the feet of my very own June god.
So if not motherhood, then what is our highest calling? To glorify God and enjoy him forever. To submit to his plans for our lives with trusting hearts. To focus on the work he sets before us—whatever that may be. To be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled. To build up his Church and to outdo one another with honor. To love God and love our neighbor.
In the weeks preceding this post, I'm certain that I've never known a greater joy than believing in the eternal plans of my God. I look at the family entrusted to me and I'm in awe of the gift of caring for and serving them in the ways best suited for my family. I'm grateful to be able to work alongside of my husband to bring our family vision to fruition through the jobs I thoroughly enjoy. I still stare at my daughter's perfect button nose and count her fingers and toes, but now I yell, "Stinky!" just to hear her laugh. I still read from that same child's systematic theology book as she stands on her tiptoes trying to sneak the diaper cream from the top of her dresser. And if asked, I would still gush about the blissful feelings that come from the hard work of motherhood and how I know that, in this season, training up my children is one of my most important tasks. But nothing but God can be the thing.
I can't help but wonder what Paul might have thought if he had met June. I think he might have wanted to know what her heart worshipped most. Because that's what scripture points to over and over again. When our hearts love God and long to please him through obedience to his word, our work glorifies him—in the many different ways it's completed.