2017 at 6:30 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
A mother with small children—I’ll call her Katie—sent me a question:
Recently a friend, an older woman in my life, has been urging me to “take care of myself” and not to “lose myself” in mothering. I know this is for a season—my children will not be little forever—and I know this is where the Lord has me. I have no desire to bring anything else onto my plate of being a wife and mom. Did you have people tell you similar things? If so, how did you respond to them?
I am happy to try and answer any question that you have, and honored that you would ask! Your question reveals the grace of God in your life in the form of humility and wisdom and I pray that you feel the Lord’s pleasure. Here are a few thoughts that came to mind when I read your text. I hope they prove helpful!
First, let me say that it is obvious that your friend loves you, cares for you, and wants the best for you—and that’s very meaningful. What a blessing to have a friend who is so affectionate and supportive. Although I don’t believe her advice reflects biblical wisdom, I don’t want that to take away from her heart for you, which I believe is sincere. I’m sure you know this even better than I do.
It is clear to me by your question that you already understand that you are in a season—one of the most intense seasons of your life! When I look back on my years as a mother, the seasons with small children and with teenagers were the two most exhausting—and rewarding—times in my life. When we understand the biblical principle that life is lived in seasons (and it’s obvious you do!), we know that this time won’t last forever. This intense season will come to an end and a new one will begin. This helps us to endure the tiredness—it won’t last forever! And it helps us to seize and enjoy the opportunities and rewards—for they won’t be here forever, either.
But to live this season of motherhood to the fullest will require “losing yourself.” It’s part of the bargain. So far from being something to regret, losing yourself is the ultimate goal of motherhood. It gets to the heart of what it means to serve Christ. Actually, the very worry your friend has for you—that you might “lose yourself—is actually something that is commended and encouraged in multiple places in Scripture. For example, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 10:40). When you’ve lost your life, you’ve truly found it. In biblical logic, when you lose you win. Now, this certainly flies in the face of popular advice such as your friend has received and is seeking (with the best of intentions) to pass on to you. You are a discerning woman and you detect the lie embedded in this potentially attractive advice. But we are all vulnerable, which is why I would encourage you to do a Bible study of your own to strengthen your conviction and to encourage you as you persevere. Studying Scripture always helped me in seasons of weariness or doubt in motherhood, when everyone else seemed to be absorbing feminist ideology and I would wonder if it was all worth it. I would go back to Scripture to strengthen my convictions. Here are just a few verses to get you started. You find it in every gospel and sometimes more than once (Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:33, John 12:25). Paul also covers this in Philippians (2:4-7). One of my favorite verses is in Isaiah which describes God’s care for those who care for others (Isa. 58:10-11). Those are just a few places to get you started, and I pray that they will serve your soul.
Finally, one thing I want to add by way of qualification—by “losing yourself” I don’t mean that you shouldn’t try to take care of yourself. Obviously, Scripture does not talk about denying ourselves to the neglect of basic care of our bodies and souls. You need rest—as much as you can get right now—and you need refreshment for your soul. So while I would wholeheartedly encourage you to continue to “lose yourself” for the sake of your children, I would also encourage you not to neglect sufficient rest and refreshment so you can serve your family even more effectively. So maybe consider, What are one or two things I can make sure I put or keep in my life that help strengthen me spiritually, physically, and emotionally? Maybe you need regular times alone to read a good book that encourages your soul. Maybe you need to be sure you get regular times with your husband, without the children. These are not selfish strategies, but rather intentional times of refreshment to strengthen you for service.
Katie, let me close by encouraging you again. It is obvious by your text and by your life that you have set your course in a God-honoring direction. I believe the Lord is pleased by your humility, your sacrifice, and your care for your family. I am praying that God would strengthen you and give you much encouragement. If there is any other way I can serve you, it would be my joy and delight.
2017 at 7:23 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
Last month I finished homeschooling two of my granddaughters, who are moving on to new schools for third grade. As I like to do at the beginning of each change of season in my life, I took some time to prayerfully plan. What next? How can I best serve my daughters and my grandchildren this year? Inspired by two godly grandmothers, I decided to start with the two most important areas of all: Scripture and prayer.
Sometimes we overcomplicate this grandma thing. We fret over what our grandchildren think of us and how we can make them happy. We struggle to figure out how to navigate our role in a way that doesn’t cause tension with our children. We dote on our grandchildren, and then we worry that we will spoil them. But even though cultural expectations change through the years, the biblical ideals for a grandmother are fixed and clear. Besides being a godly example, we can do no better for our grandchildren then to pray for them, and, as we have the opportunity, encourage them to love God’s Word.
Grandma Lois, the maternal grandmother of Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy, taught Timothy the Holy Scriptures from when he was just a baby (2 Tim. 1:5; 2 Tim. 3:14, 15). Lois didn’t leave all the biblical teaching and training to her daughter, Eunice. She was actively involved in teaching her grandson the Scriptures. I want to imitate Grandma Lois and be an active part of teaching each of my twelve grandchildren to know and love the Word of God.
I asked myself: What is one simple way that I can teach my grandchildren the Scriptures this summer? I came up with an idea to encourage Scripture memory. I call it 10for$10. I made a list of memory verses and challenged each of my grandchildren—from ages 4 to 17 to memorize as many verses as they can. For the older children, I will give them ten dollars for every ten verses memorized. For the littlest ones, the goal is more manageable—4 for $4 and 6 for $6, depending on their age. To keep things affordable, the 10for$10challenge runs from June 1 to August 31.
My hope is that, by the end of the summer, each one of my grandchildren will have memorized many verses that they will store up in their hearts for years to come. Yes, it might cost me a little money, but I can think of no better investment than to encourage my grandchildren to treasure God’s Word. I believe and pray that as they work on memorizing Scripture, God’s Word will work in their hearts to draw them closer to His Son.
Grandmother Katie, my paternal grandmother, had an astonishing fifty-six grandchildren! Even more remarkable, she prayed for each one of us by name, each and every day, until she went home to be with the Lord. Now that I am a grandmother I try to follow her example. Granted, it is easier—I only have twelve grandchildren which doesn’t feel like very many in comparison to Katie! And while I do pray for each of them by name, lately, I began to feel as if my prayers had become too general. So I decided to create a prayer notebook where I can catalog specific prayer requests for my grandchildren and the answers to those prayers.
I can think of no better way to encourage my daughters than to pray for the salvation and spiritual growth of each one of their children. And I can think of no better way to encourage my grandchildren than to let them know that their grandma is carrying their burdens—praying for their anxieties and trials, for their tests and their jobs, for whatever concerns weigh heavy on them as they navigate this tricky road to adulthood.
I’ll never measure up to Grandma Lois or Grandma Katie, but I do want to follow their amazing examples. I pray that, if nothing else, my grandchildren will be able to say that their grandmother was a woman who taught them to love God’s Word and who prayed faithfully for them. It’s simple, maybe, but it’s also hard to think of a better legacy I can leave my grandchildren. I pray God will bless my feeble efforts as he did for Grandma Lois and Grandma Katie.
You know when you find something new, and you enjoy it so much that you want everybody else to know about it? Well, that’s happened to me. I recently received a book: A Spectacle of Glory by Joni Eareckson Tada and I want you all to know about it. It is a daily devotional book. You know the ones: a short reading for each calendar day. Somehow over the years, I have accumulated a bunch of these devotional books, but this particular one has become a favorite. I have been reading it every day at the end of my Bible study and prayer time. What a sweet addition to my devotions it has become!
Joni’s devotional book includes insight from one verse concluding with a short prayer for every day. Let me give you just one example to whet your appetite:
April 19/Psalm 107:27-28
Today’s Scripture reads, “They were at their wits’ end. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress.” The expression “at their wits’ end” has been around a long time and is still in use today. It’s that point in life where you run into a massive obstacle or paint yourself into an impossible corner and have no idea what to do. The psalmist, however, gives us a snapshot of people who cried out to the Lord a their wits’ end—and He brought them out! What has brought you to your wits’ end? A family situation? Financial trouble? A health scare? A rebellious child? Here’s the good news: We might come to our wits’ end, but God never does. We might be out of answers, but God has answers. The solution is simple: Cry out to the Lord.
How unspeakably wonderful, God, to remember that Your wisdom has no limit. There is no knot on earth so tangled that You can’t untie it. There is no situation in life too involved, too complicated, or too baffling for You. When I’ve exhausted my last option, when I finally arrive at my wits’ end, You are able to bring me out.
There are 364 more gems, just like this one! Joni writes like she is sitting across from you, sharing—with all her contagious enthusiasm—the hope and comfort she herself has received from God’s Word. We could all do with a “Daily Dose of Joni” in our lives, spurring us on in our love for the Savior! I hope you will pick this book up and add it to your summer devotions.
When my mom graduated from high school, she had a plan. She was going to Bible college. She resigned her job as a secretary for a Christian ministry, enrolled in school, and packed her bags. Then a few days before she was set to move, she met my dad. It was love at first sight.
Mom never made it to Bible college. She got her old job back and a few months later married my dad. On May 17 of this year, they celebrated forty-two years of marriage and they are more in love than ever. Needless to say, her life didn’t go as planned.
What are your plans after graduation? Whether you have a five and ten-year plan or feel in a fog about the next step, there’s something about life you need to understand:
Life is unpredictable, and that’s on the best days.
If there’s one thing you can be certain of, it is that this is an uncertain world. Your life won’t go as planned. Sometimes the unexpected is exciting—like when my mom met my dad—but it can also be discouraging and bewildering at times.
We find a mini-commencement speech of sorts on this topic in Ecclesiastes chapter eleven. It contains valuable wisdom for graduates and everyone considering their future plans. Four times in six verses we find some variation on the phrase “you do not know.” Basically, there is a whole lot you don’t know about your life.
“You know not what disaster may happen on earth…” (v. 2) Another terrorist bombing. Another tornado season. You do not know what disaster, near or far, may change the course of your future.
“You do not know the work of God who makes everything…” (v. 5) You cannot explain God’s providence in your life so far or predict what he may call you to do in the future.
“You do not know which [effort] will prosper…” (v. 6)The economy is unpredictable. People and trends are unpredictable. You cannot know for sure what path will lead to the most success.
Life will surprise you, and not always in a good way. It’s uncertain and unpredictable.
Not only that, the only thing we can predict in this uncertain world is that it will be hard: “So if a person lives many years…let him remember that the days of darkness will be many” (v. 8).
In other words, Graduating Class of 2017, you don’t know what will happen with your life; but there’s one thing you can know one thing for sure: you will have many bad days.
Hardly the inspiring message you were hoping for, I know. But Ecclesiastes doesn’t just give us the bad news, it tells us how to live well in an uncertain world. When we face up to the unsettling reality that life doesn’t go as planned, we learn from Ecclesiastes how to make new and better plans.
How do we make good decisions in uncertain times? Ecclesiastes gives us three ways.
1. Be an Entrepreneur
“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (v. 6).
Young people often spend a lot of time worrying about their life. They hesitate to commit to one direction or another. They worry about finding the will of God. They flounder.
But Ecclesiastes would tell you that the surest way to succeed in an uncertain world is to get to work. Work as hard as you can at whatever work God has put right in front of you. And you never know, it just might work.
Instead of “thinking of may-be’s and might-have-beens…our business is to grapple with what actually is, and what lies within reach,” advises Derek Kidner. “Few great enterprises waited for ideal conditions; no more should we.”
Coming to grips with uncertainty frees us to take risks for Christ. These words from Phil Ryken make an outstanding mission statement:
“It may be true that, to paraphrase this passage, ‘you never know,’ but it is equally true that ‘you will never reap if you never sow.’ So work hard for the kingdom of God. Live boldly and creatively. Try something new! Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Even if you are not completely sure what will work, try everything you can to serve Christ in a world that desperately needs the gospel. Work hard from morning till night, making the most of your time by offering God a full day’s work. Then leave the results to him, knowing that he will use your work in whatever way he sees fit.”
Be a spiritual entrepreneur. Work hard from morning until night. Try everything to serve Christ in a world that desperately needs the gospel. In an uncertain world, this is the certain path to a useful life.
2. Give Your Life Away
“Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth” (v. 2).
Trying to control our lives or predict the future makes us stingy. We won’t spend time on a “hopeless case.” We won’t serve the ungrateful. We won’t stay in that small church. We won’t volunteer for children’s ministry or the cleaning crew. We won’t give our all to a boring job.
But the woman who understands life’s volatility gives generously, almost recklessly, of her time, her love, and her service to others. She seeks out the lowly and the outcast. She listens patiently to the troubled. She serves in secret, and has what Zach Eswine calls “the stamina to go unnoticed.” Because who knows what may happen tomorrow?
[T]ime and chance can overturn our finest plans. If that can be a paralyzing thought, it can also be a spur to action: for if there are risks in everything, it is better to fail in launching out than in hugging one’s resources to oneself. We already catch a breath of the New Testament blowing through the first two verses, a hint of our Lord’s favourite paradox that ‘he who loves his life loses it’, and that ‘the measure you give will be the measure you get’. ~Derek Kidner
Give of yourself to others and don’t count the cost. Lose your life. Lose it now and you won’t worry so much about losing it later. You won’t have a mid-life crisis or what I heard about the other day, a quarter life crisis (for real?). Don’t react to the uncertainty of life by hoarding your time and talents. You do not know what will happen tomorrow, so give your life away today.
3. Enjoy Today
“So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all” (v. 8).
If it’s true that you will have many dark days—and it is true—then Ecclesiastes tells you to rejoice today.
Sure, you may have troubles today. You may have fears about the future, trepidation about your new job, despair about difficult circumstances, frustration that you are not yet where you had hoped to be yet. But don’t let the specter of the dark days of the future rob you of the joy of today.
Enjoy this moment, the grace of graduation, for it is an astounding grace! Be grateful for the privilege of learning, revel in the godly relationships you have forged, laugh over the memories. Relish every moment of the graduation experience with gratitude in your heart to God.
We lose so many of the good moments of our lives trying to prevent the bad ones. When we know that they will come, no matter how hard we try to avoid them, we are free to give God thanks for the evidences of his grace today.
When we enjoy each day, one day at a time, we will look back and realize that we had a happy life. There may be many sorrows, and many dark days, but when we deliberately rejoice in God every day, we will find we are a happy person in the end.
A Stimulating Call
Life is unpredictable. My mom could not have guessed how her life would radically change one summer day in 1974. And neither can you know what tomorrow holds. So how do we respond to life’s unpredictability?
Derek Kidner drives the lesson home:
“The true response to uncertainty is redoubling of effort…It is a stimulating call, with no thought of faltering, yet no trace of bravado or irresponsibility. The very smallness of our knowledge and control, the very likelihood of hard times so frequently impressed on us throughout the book, become the reasons to bestir ourselves and show some spirit.”
Class of 2017: May you not falter or boast, but armed with the knowledge of how little you know, may you rise up, show some spirit, and make the most of your life for the glory of our risen Savior.
My grandma likes to tell about the time my dad, a little boy of five at the time, wandered away from the house and out onto a busy street. He most certainly would have been hit by a speeding motorist, had it not been for his dog. True to his herding instincts, this noble collie walked between the cars and my dad and kept my dad from straying into traffic until the police found him. My dad’s dog saved his life.
We might not think about it like this at first, but trouble and hardship are like Dad’s dog. They keep us from straying into the busy street of sin. We don’t always appreciate their life-saving presence in the moment. Trials feel to us like that collie might have felt to Dad: annoying at best, painful at worst. Trouble sticks so close, it shoves so hard. It keeps us from going where we want to go. At times, trials knock us to the ground. We long to be free from their troublesome presence.
But the Psalmist views his trials as a life-saver: “Before I was afflicted I went astray,” he confessed, “but now I keep your word” (Ps. 119:67). To hear the Psalmist tell it, he’s actually glad that he experienced affliction! Now no one—least of all the Psalmist—is saying that affliction is pleasant or we should enjoy pain or hardship. But in the mystery of God’s ways, we should see each and every trial as a blessing. Afflictions are divine herd-dogs, sent by our gracious heavenly Father to protect us and keep us from sin.
For one, trials protect us from pride. They keep us humble; they keep us needy and dependent on God. It’s hard to think too highly of yourself when you are brought low—and that’s a blessing. Affliction can also keep us from straying out into the shiny streets of worldliness. We realize something of our frailty and our mortality when we suffer. We get a glimpse of the emptiness of all this world has to offer, and so we don’t rush headlong into sinful pleasures. And trials, when we respond to them as gifts from God, can keep us from being callous others. We are more compassionate, more caring, more understanding because we know a little of what pain feels like. Each trial in our lives—big or small—protects us from sin and leads us back to God. And to joy.
Wait, did you say joy? We think of our trials as joy-takers, not joy-bringers. “Before I was afflicted I was happy, but now I am sad all the time” is how we put it. But there is a difference between trials being unpleasant—which they are—and trials robbing us of our joy. Our afflictions are sent by God to lead us joy. Listen to Joni Eareckson Tada, quadriplegic and in chronic pain since she was in a diving accident at age 17. “I’m grateful for my quadriplegia. It’s a bruising of a blessing. A gift wrapped in black. It’s the shadowy companion that walks with me daily, pulling and pushing me into the arms of my Savior. And that’s where the joy is.”
Trials not only keep us from sin, they push us back to the arms of our Savior. And that’s where the joy is. The Psalmist doesn’t just get back to the duty of God’s Word, now he delights to keep God’s Word. Now he has joy! One of the things we lose in our Stoic-slanted view of the Christian life is how to find joy. We think all the delight and happiness is out there, on the busy byways of sin. So we go wandering from home, we stray from Christ. And affliction, by the grace of God, brings us back. It keeps us safe. It leads us back to where the joy is.
So if you feel followed by that “shadowy companion” Affliction, if Trial is always nipping at your heels, if Trouble keeps shoving you to one side, give thanks for your “bruising of a blessing.” May your trouble, major or minor, push you into the arms of the Savior. May your affliction lead you back home—to joy.
2017 at 8:59 am | by Janelle Bradshaw
Summer was always my favorite season as a little girl, and I ran headlong into those glorious months free from school with all the energy I possessed. So now, as I come upon another summer as a mom with four children I’m equally excited. I’m also grateful for the example my mom set for me growing up. As with everything else in life, she approached our summers with great intentionality. Now don’t get me wrong—she provided many wonderful opportunities for fun and rest. I still remember our local pool which offered an hour of “free swim” every morning from 8-9 during the summer. Most days, my mom would drive us, and a carload of our friends, to swim in the ice cold waters of Upper County Pool. How we ever thought “freezing swim” was summer fun is a mystery to me, but Mom provided this and many other summer memories that I will always cherish.
But Mom also saw summer as a land of opportunity and refused to let us squander it. One specific memory I have is the afternoon of “quiet time” she required. After lunch from 1-3, we had to stay inside and spend at least an hour of that time reading. The other hour was to be spent in some other constructive pursuit such as art, music, cooking, sewing etc I still remember chafing against this rule, not exactly appreciating “quiet time,” as it interrupted my play time. Sorry about that Mom! But I was chatting with Nicole the other day about this very thing, and we were recounting all the good that came from that small requirement. Obviously, it instilled in us a love for reading but that was just the beginning. It also helped us to appreciate the value of structure and scheduling, of habit and discipline. It gave us focused time to cultivate our gifts and desires. Many of the things we love and pursue today such as art and writing were born in those hours of summer quiet. The benefit we have received helps us persevere in creating similar structures for our own children. So much value from such a small and simple practice.
And so, as school draws to a close, let’s ask: How can we be intentional this summer? Is there a skill that one of our children has been wanting to learn? Is there a particular character quality where we can creatively facilitate growth in our family? Maybe for you, this will be the “summer of kindness” for your kiddos, like it was for Nicole’s a couple years ago. Maybe you can create a structure for your kiddos to grow in reading, which happens to be my summer goal this year. This will look different for each of us, but just remember, a little bit of intentionality in these years has the power to effect not only your kids but even your future grandkids. That’s a summer to get excited about!
2017 at 9:40 am | by Nicole Whitacre
When my youngest daughter Sophie first came into our home at the age of three, she, like every toddler, wanted my constant attention. If I wasn’t looking at her, she would tug on my arm and repeat, “Mom, mom, mom.” I would turn around from the dishes or look up from my laptop and respond with an exclamatory “Look at you, Sophie! What a good job!” After a few weeks, Sophie picked up on the phonetics (if not the grammar) of my response and began to call out “Lookachoo, Mom! Lookachoo!” It took me a few times to realize that she wasn’t speaking in her native Amharic—she was saying my words back to me. She wanted me to “look at you.”
One of the most precious gifts we give our children is our attention. We watch their twirls in the kitchen, and we examine the new bug they found in the backyard. We look for signs of a sniffle, and we look both ways before we help them cross the street. We pay attention to their diet and their sleep and the neatness of their handwriting. We keep our focus through their long, rambling stories. We attend to their needs, and we keep an eye out for their temptations. We watch them crawl around the corner of the living room and down the hall; then, in the blink of an eye, we watch them back out of the driveway and down the street. According to legend, we even have eyes in the back of our head. From the moment our newborn (or our three-year-old) is placed in our arms, we begin a vigil that never ends. We moms are always on lookachoo duty.
Alas, we mothers are only human after all. We cannot watch our children every moment of every day. Our eyelids grow heavy. We must sleep when they sleep. And then we get distracted. We fail to listen. We miss so many moments. Or we get anxious, fretful with the care of these eternal souls. We grow weary with all the watching.
But as we watch over our children, our Heavenly Father is watching over us (Prov. 2:8). He does not grow weak or weary (Isa. 40:28). His attention doesn’t flicker or fade. As we attend to our children’s needs, we are constantly being attended to by God, who knows exactly what we need (Matt. 6:32). All of our motherly duties are carried out beneath the gracious umbrella of his attentive care (Ps. 34:15). Every story we listen to, every picture we praise, every sin we correct, we do under the watchful eye of our Heavenly Father.
JI Packer writes:
What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it—the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind….I know him because he first knew me and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters. This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort—the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates—in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good.
We don’t have to cry “lookachoo” to get God’s attention. He’s already looking. He’s already caring. He already knows what we need. In fact, when we call out to him, it’s because he first prompts us to pray. If we are his children, in Christ, then there is not one single moment when our Heavenly Father’s eye is off of us. He is always watching over us for our good. Here, my fellow moms, is an unspeakable comfort. And energy! I don’t know about you, but that’s exactly what I want for Mother’s Day.
We all have limitations. A condition of limited ability; a defect or failing. Our particular limitations could be alack oftime, money, energy, ability, or experience; or the unwelcome constraints of life circumstances and obligations. Whatever our limitations, many of us may wish we could get rid of a few, if not all of them.
But let’s not forget: God is the one who lovingly limits us. The Bible gives us clear evidence that He controls every detail of our lives (Job 14:5, Jer. 10:23, Dan 4:34). In his wisdom, he determines what we can and cannot do. And we must be careful not to be so preoccupied with what we can’t do that we miss out on all that we can do to love, serve, and please Jesus.
In Mark 14, we read the story of one woman who did not let her limitations stop her from expressing her love for Jesus. The setting is a dinner party that was being held in Jesus’ honor, just a few days before his crucifixion. While Jesus was reclining at the table, a woman (John 12:3 identifies her as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus) approached him and poured very expensive perfume over his head. The disciples were indignant, viewing such an act as a complete waste of money. But Jesus ordered the disciples to leave her alone and commended Mary’s deed. Then he says of her: “She did what she could” (v.8).
Mary may have wished to do more for Jesus. But Mary didn’t allow her limited resources or abilities to hold her back. Instead, she did what she could. Whatever our God-given limitations, they do not hinder us from serving our Savior. In fact, our limitations are often the very means God uses to propel us into fruitful service. Consider Fanny Crosby. Blind from the age of six weeks, she became the author of more than 8000 hymns, many of which we sing today. Of her blindness, she said: “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow, I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”
Fanny Crosby didn’t begrudge the limitation of her blindness but deemed it a gift that nourished and fostered her hymn writing. Perhaps Mary’s example played a part in shaping Fanny’s attitude toward her limitations, for on her tombstone she requested these words: “Aunt Fanny: She hath done what she could.”
Like Mary and Fanny, let’s do what we can to serve our Savior. Let’s regard each of our limitations as a gift—a special provision from God for fruitful service. All he asks of us is that we do what we can, by his grace. And when we do what we can, he has one more thing to say. It’s the same thing he said about Mary. “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6). Oh my, how marvelous is that? To think that when we simply do what we can, we are doing something beautiful to the One who did the most beautiful thing ever to us—dying on the cross for our sins! How can we not, with gratitude and joy, do what we can?
Whenever I attempt to decorate a room, create a centerpiece, or fill the planters on my front porch, I try to find a picture that I can replicate. I’m not one of those gifted women who can come up with a design idea on my own, so I benefit greatly from having a picture to copy. Although my finished product rarely looks as good as the picture (not even close sometimes!), at least it looks better than what I would have produced without a picture.
Did you know that God graciously gives moms (and dads) a picture to follow? In Psalm 144:12 we find a striking image of what our children should be like as they enter their young adult years: “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.” Now granted, “plants” and “pillars” may not be the first images that pop into your mind when you think about the young girl with her mood swings or the boy whose clothes cover the floor of his room. So let’s a take a closer look at this photo to discover what we can learn.
Our Sons. They are to resemble a plant. This plant is not a seedling or slow growing. It is already full grown with deep roots. And because it is such a hardy plant it can withstand the heat, survive the cold and endure tough weather conditions. Here we have a picture of strength and endurance. Our sons are to grow early and quickly to maturity and be able brave the storms of life. In other words, young men are not to spend years in perpetual adolescence, but be fully grown in their youth. Obviously, a son needs a whole lot of his dad (or another godly man, if dad is not involved) for this project! But how does this picture influence my mothering?
For one, we should resist the urge to shelter our sons when they need to face their fears. We must refuse to coddle them when they need to be tough. We must allow them to take on difficult tasks, on their own, without our help or interference. In short, we should not be afraid to put our boys out in the elements. This doesn’t mean we throw them into the cesspool of culture, but rather that we train them to take steps of boldness, courage, and principled resistance.
Our Daughters. They are to be like a corner pillar. A corner pillar not only bears the weight of the palace but also joins the palace walls together. A corner pillar adorns the palace with beauty. This is a picture of strength and beauty. So instead of closing our eyes and gritting our teeth until the teen years are over, we must set about teaching our daughters how to be strong and beautiful.
For starters, our daughters should have strong character. They should be able to shoulder responsibilities and bear up under pressure and adversity. But they won’t grow strong by indulging their selfish desires, so now is the time to teach them sacrifice and self-denial. Our daughters should also be relationally strong. As the corner pillar, they should be people-connectors, drawing and holding people together. So instead of giving them free reign to hang out with whomever they want, we should encourage them to reach out to the lonely, include the new girl, and stay close to friends who provoke them to godliness. Finally, we need to teach our daughters the meaning of true beauty: to behold and reflect the beauty of God. A corner pillar not only holds up the building, but it also attracts the eye. And so we want our daughters to be beautiful from the inside out so that they might draw attention to God’s beauty.
Before any mom becomes daunted by the prospect of fulfilling such a picture, or perhaps discouraged that your older sons and daughters do not reflect this picture, let me focus your attention on this wonderful truth: This picture is more than a picture. It’s also a prayer.
We are not responsible—nor are we capable—of raising sons and daughters like this on our own. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1). That’s why this verse is first and foremost a request to God that he would fashion our children to resemble this picture; that he would cause our children to become difference makers in the world for the sake of the gospel.
As J.C. Ryle reminded parents of the importance and effectiveness of parents’ prayers:
“Without the blessings of the Lord, your best endeavors will do no good. He has the hearts of all men in His hands, and except He touches the hearts of your children by His Spirit, you will weary yourself to no purpose. Water, therefore, the seed you sow on their minds with unceasing prayer. The Lord is far more willing to hear than we to pray; far more ready to give blessings than we to ask them;—but He loves to be entreated for them.”
So Moms, let’s make this our prayer: “May our sons in their youth be like plants full grown, our daughters like corner pillars cut for the structure of a palace.”