Chapter 5: Motherhood
The place of children in Life is rather large. Like most young women, I longed for a home and family....a place to nurture and care for tender life...persons to pour myself into...lives to shape for health and godliness and stability.
I have always loved children. I’ve joke that I’ve been a mother since I was 2, when my sister Bonnie was born; I was always looking out for her, guiding her, protecting her, etc. As the oldest of 6 children, living on the mission field, I learned early how to care for little ones. In my teen years, my mother always put me in places of service to children...babysitting, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, etc. So the practical matters of childcare were very natural to me.
As I approached adulthood I visualized a home....4 children, little picket fence, simple but comfortable, natural living overflowing with happiness. And of course my visualization always included obedient children who were responsive to my teaching and care. As I looked down the telescope of Time, I saw children who would follow the Lord with clean living, who would train their own children well, and who would treasure their mother, returning her love with theirs.
The Scriptures have much to say about children. Our tendency is to focus on only some of that teaching, and neglect the part that we don't understand or find uncomfortable. This is true on the individual level as well as the church-ministry level.
For example, Psalm 127:4 reads "Children are an inheritance of the Lord and the fruit of the womb is His reward.” And Gen 3:16 reads "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children." Both of these verses come from the same Scriptures. Yet they appear to give opposite messages. The Scriptures speak of the joy and comfort and pride that children bring, but also of the pain and heartache. How can both ends of the spectrum be true?
The answer is simple: One end of the spectrum is God's plan and desire; the other end is the natural result of Sin's effect upon family life.
And to deal with this dichotomy have arisen all manner of Christian ministries -- Bill Gothard, Focus on the Family, Chuck Swindoll. These ministries sprouted at the time when I was in young womanhood, eager for my own children. Each voice had a different message, a new slant, on how to deal with the sin that lies within the heart of each child, so that the blessing God wants to come from children can be realized. It was a sort of checklist mentality: if I as a mother would do this and this, but not that and that, then I would escape the Sin issue and have a picture-perfect child.
The essence of motherhood has the idea of nurturing. Nurturing can be physical, academic, social, spiritual… any way in which a woman helps another who is younger to develop to maturity. The Lord has blessed me with both biological and non-biological children. As I have studied Jesus’ teaching in Mark 3 and Luke 14, and as I have looked at the living example of Paul, I do not think we emphasize enough the spiritual aspect of relationships. In my eyes biologic and non-biologic “children” are one and the same.
Nurturing (motherhood) takes work! Personally, I think that mothering is about the hardest work there is. It will not happen automatically after giving birth, any more than fathering happens automatically after siring. How confused our generation has become on this issue. So many mothers sit in front of the TV, absorbed in the latest talk show as their little one crawls around on the floor, and they think they are “mothering” that little one. Or perhaps they are stuffing their children’s mouths with anything that is easy to fix without regard to nutrition or character development at the table.
As mentioned earlier, I asked the Lord to give me my first biological child before I turned 30 and after we were in a house. He was gracious to answer that request.
My firstborn was due a mere 3 weeks before my birthday, and he was conceived a mere 3 weeks after we moved into our first house. I praise God that He hears the prayer of simple women. Early in my years of motherhood I learned to identify with Hagar, when she abandoned herself to El Roi, “The One Who Sees.” Remember when she was expelled from Abraham’s home? She left with her son Ishmael, a bag of water, and some simple food. It wasn’t long before they were at Death’s door in the desert. In her desperation, she cried out to God. She was alone in the desert. No one shared her trouble. No one knew her pain. She was all alone with her child. Only God knew what was happening. There were many times that God and God alone saw me in motherhood predicaments. I firmly believe that mothers have a special place in God’s heart. I learned early to trust the Lord with my children. I distinctly remember more than one occasion when my infant son would over sleep and as I bounded toward his room the thought of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) was foremost in my mind. I forced myself to stop before the closed bedroom door and to meet the Lord long enough to say, “Father, I trust you with whatever is on the other side of this door.” In the providence of God, I never lost a child physically, but my heart was set to accept it should He deem that was the course for my life.
I had always wanted four biological children, but God choose to give me only two, both sons. I'm sure there are women in the world who dread babies; their personalities, their life circumstances, their hormones. Whatever the reason, they do not find within themselves an innate joy with regards to babies. For myself, the joy of those little babies was beyond words! The Scriptures say that "Mary kept all these things in her heart." I can relate. As a new mother, the joy was simply inexplicable. Their soft skin, the way their blue eyes looked at me, the manner in which they developed muscle acuity. Such a wonder!
The early years were difficult because both my babies were premature, and they were only nineteen months apart. Also, I was working full time night shift as a nurse. I nursed my firstborn son every two hours around the clock. After six weeks my husband left for Switzerland to take his doctoral exams. I entered a time of single parenting. That six week period was one of the most difficult of my life. My rheumatoid arthritis was flaring. I was gone to the hospital fourteen hours three nights a week. I was functioning without my husband. And I was a new mother with a preemie. During that time, God shut me up to Himself, and I discovered His sufficiency in motherhood.
As the boys grew I focused on creating a home that was natural, simple, and joyful. We had an assortment of barn yard animals -- chickens, goats, turkeys, etc. We had 21 fruit trees and a 900 square foot garden; it was my joy to can and jam all this produce for my family. I worked hard to make our home a happy home. Most days found children’s music with good messages and happy harmony playing on our cassette player. I took advantage of the new music that was being produced by Psalty for children and Marantha for adults. Both of these provided sound biblical messages as well as happy music. I paid close attention to their physical needs, so that they were not unduly stressed with hunger, fatigue, unpredictability of schedule, heat/cold, sensory overload, etc.
I tried hard to insulate our home from the uglies of the world. I made their pajamas and the decorations in their room. After 24 years, red was again my favorite color. (The first 4 years of boarding school I wore red every day, and grew to hate it!) So their room was done in a nice happy fire-engine red. We had a TV, but didn’t watch it very much. We loved having reading times together. The Arch Bible Story books were favorites; these little books told Bible stories in rhyme. Dave added all kinds of sound effects, and we loved it!
As the boys reached young manhood, their friends always wanted to be at our home, and in fact, when they were teenagers several came to live with us for a period of time. It was my joy to bring these others into my mothering tent.
Mothering (nurturing) bridges all realms of the human development. Physical nurturing (to me) meant anticipating physical needs like rest and nutrition, and prevention of sensory overload. So I was always looking to prevent unnecessary physical stress. Nurturing also meant spiritual assistance. In addition to prayer times and Bible stories, I focused on natural discussion of spiritual things throughout everyday life. For example, as we were weeding the vegetable garden, I would discuss “weeds” in our lives that kept us from being productive plants. As we thinned and transplanted, I discussed how God has a plan to transplant His people to keep them from becoming overcrowded. Remember, he said, “Go into all the world.” We are to purposefully allow ourselves to be transplanted, so that the Gospel is spread and we become strong in the Faith.
Nurturing also meant guiding my children in their social relationships, and assisting them to wise friendships. We almost always enjoyed the boy’s friends, and rarely felt the need to intervene. A lot of this came from proactive observation and guidance on the front end.
Lastly, nurturing meant helping them in academic development. At the time, homeschooling was a new movement. I was introduced to homeschooling by a best friend in college, Janice Fouts. She came to visit me when my first child was born, and was not even off the front porch when she asked, “Are you going to homeschool?” I had never heard of such a thing. I put the words together, and figured it must mean having school at home. Quickly, I said, “No way!” I felt that I did not have the expertise to teach my children at home. But as time went by I began to play around with the idea. And, I discovered that it was really not difficult (at least in the early years). I reasoned that I was teaching them things that were much more important like integrity, a strong work ethic, self-discipline, etc. Surely I could teach them the ABC’s. In the providence of God my oldest son was very gifted academically. That was an encouragement to me.
The only books about homeschooling were by Ray and Dorothy Moore, two physician neurologists. Their message was that structured sit-in-the-desk schooling should be postponed until age 8, especially for boys, due to their delayed neurological development. So our commitment was to homeschool through the third grade. No curriculum was available for homeschoolers. But the Mennonites gave us grace and allowed us to use their curriculum. After the third grade we put the boys into a private Christian school. It was the best school around. But after two years, we were convinced that homeschooling is the most effective parenting and the most efficient education. So we returned to homeschooling with the commitment to homeschool all the way through high school. This work fell to me and it became a special walk with the Lord as I needed to be faithful day in and day out, week in and week out. No one was watching me except the Lord, and so many days I wanted to quit! But I knew that the judgment day was coming, and I wanted to hear His, “Well done thy good and faithful servant.” I praise God that by His spirit He strengthened me for that great work.
I have often thought of the similarity between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of a mother. The work assigned to the Holy Spirit is to comfort, to convict, to remind, and to teach (John 14). My nurturing needed to comfort, to convict, to remind, and to teach, all day long, day after day, week after week. I thank God, He gave me a model in the Holy Spirit to encourage and guide me in this difficult work.
As I grew older, the Lord blessed me with many non-biological children. What a joy they have been to me! They have been male and female, American and Ethiopian, all ages. Though never formally adopted, in each case, there has been a somewhat formal acknowledgment of the nurturing role that God has given to me in their life. My role in their lives has been to comfort, to convict, to remind, and to teach. It has been a tremendous, indescribable blessing to watch each of my children flourish under my nurturing. (In fact, as I write this, one of these non-biological daughters is taking my dictation. What a joy to share in ministry together!)
One thing that has impressed me greatly over the years is the reality of individual will. When my boys were about 8 years old, I had a serious settling with the Lord on the matter of their will. At that time, when-ever I thought that they might exercise their will against the Lord, it so affected me that I became utterly incapacitated. One day I was driving, and this thought occurred to me. I was so seriously affected that I had to pull over and stop driving. And then God said to me, “Becky, if their choice affects you this much then this issue has become a god to you.” At that moment I realized that nothing should affect my peace or my joy or my security to that extent. That day I confessed and repented of my idolatry.
When children are young a mother can attempt to train their will through reasoning, enticements, and discipline, but ultimately, the submission of a will is the work of the Holy Spirit. That lesson by the Lord Jesus has stood me in good stead over the years. He often reminds me of what constitutes idolatry. And He often urges me to follow His example both in the Garden of Eden and in my own life, where He has respected individual will though it has brought much pain and dysfunction. I praise Him for His patience and generosity in teaching me this lesson.
Much emphasis is given today to discipleship. The idea is that a more mature believer meets with a younger believer, with the goal of a greater living out of the scriptures. Often this is done in a structured format. For myself I have never cared for that. It seems artificial to me. I think that mothering/nurturing in day by day situations is a more effective and perhaps more biblical method of discipleship. As I look at Titus chapter 2, and the examples of women in the New Testament, I am encouraged in a mothering model of discipleship. On any given day I receive 2-3 calls or emails or visits from my non-biological children. We don’t meet on such and such day, at such and such hour, to discuss such and such. Rather, as things come up in their lives, we hash through how the character of God or the instructions of Scripture dovetail with things going on in their lives. I have found this to be a very effective method of discipleship.
Today many non-biological children clamor for a relationship with me. How very, very blessed I am! Too often we say “blood is thicker than water,” meaning there is no relationship that is closer than the relationship brought on by DNA. This, however, is not true, according to the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. I praise God that He has helped me to understand the wonderful relationship that can exist within the family of God, when both “mother” and “child” embrace Him as Lord. Many of my non-biologic children call me “Mama B.” According to Romans 16, even the Apostle Paul had a “Mama B,” someone who stood by, ready with encouragement, with counsel, with a shoulder for comfort, and with some words of wisdom.
Proverbs 31 describes the “perfect” wife. She is diligent, industrious, wise, emotionally stable. The chapter concludes with “Her children rise up and call her ‘blessed’.” It has been my joy to receive much blessing from all my children these past decades. Amen!
September 16, 2013