2015 at 6:17 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
As I watch my daughters care for their children, I am freshly amazed by the demands of motherhood. Mothers must daily sacrifice their own comforts and pleasures in order to devote themselves to menial, repetitive, and (appearances might say), futile tasks.
So we should not be surprised that our mommy-emotions are so easily depleted, as if someone pulled the plug on our happiness and all we hear is the gurgling noise as the last of it goes down the drain.
Christopher Ash once said that “it is not suffering that destroys a person but suffering without a purpose.” The same can be said about motherhood: It is not motherhood that destroys your happiness but motherhood without a purpose.
You know what it’s like. When you have a clear sense of purpose, when you believe that God has called you to a task, that it glorifies him, that he is at work, then you have the stamina to endure hardship, the strength to overcome obstacles, joy and peace even when the going gets tough.
But if we’ve become resentful of the demands of motherhood, discouraged and depressed in our routine, irritated and impatient with our children, chances are, we’ve lost sight of our God-given purpose as a mother.
Few things are easier to forget than a biblical conviction of the importance of motherhood. All it takes is a prick of doubt: What’s the point of all this? Why don’t I feel fulfilled? Why work so hard to train my children if I don’t seem to make any progress? What’s the use of repenting if I’m only going to sin again? Is it fake to put on a happy face when I feel so miserable inside?
So many of these questions flow out of the selfish cesspool of our culture, which tries to measure success in motherhood by personal fulfillment. We must be wise and alert to the unbiblical thinking that breeds unhappy questions such as these.
When we allow these questions to fester, without applying truth from God’s Word, we will inevitably lose the joy, contentment, and strength that flow from a firm biblical conviction of the significance of our mothering task.
For me, when I was struggling with my emotions as a mother, it was often because I had lost sight of my purpose. That is why, in the early years of mothering, I read every good, biblical book on mothering that I could get my hands on. I needed constant infusions of truth in order to survive emotionally.
“We are naturally prone to keep slipping into not knowing what we know,” adds Christopher Ash, which is why we must constantly, daily, hourly remind ourselves of what we do know to be true about motherhood.
We know that children are a blessing and a heritage from the Lord, an undeserved gift from God to increase our delight in him (Ps. 127:3).
We know that God has called mothers to train up their children in the way they should go, to discipline and instruct them, to love them tenderly (Prov. 22:6, Eph. 6:4, Tit. 2:4).
We know that those who sow in tears will reap with joy, that those who are faithful to do good will see God act on their behalf, that those who water and tend will see fruit that God gives (Ps. 126:5, Ps. 37:3).
We know that whatever we do for the least of these, we do for him. Motherhood is for him. Motherhood has dignity and glory because of the dignity and glory of the One for whom we mother. When we care for our children, we do it for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (Matt 10:43).
These are the truths we must not slip into not knowing. When we remind ourselves every day, in every way we can, of God’s purpose for our mothering, we’ll find the empty tub of our mothering emotions filling up and overflowing with joy.
...let it be this beautiful article by Douglas Wilson entitled “Superior Women”:
One of the central duties assigned to wives is that of respect (Ephesians 5:33). We should not forget what biblical respect looks like. It consists of a chaste way of life coupled with fear (1 Peter 3:2, 6), a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:3–4), and thoroughgoing humility of demeanor (1 Timothy 2:9). This is no breezy, casual respect; the word is phobeo, meaning reverence or fear (Ephesians 5:33).
All this is in contrast to how the Bible describes a woman who is graced with wisdom and kindness. “A gracious woman retaineth honor: and strong men retain riches” (Proverbs 11:16, KJV). Just as riches flow to a strong man, so also honor flows to a gracious woman. So a woman is the crown and glory of her husband to the extent that she is a gracious woman. If she is, then she retains honor as one who has fulfilled her calling.
Doing this, she completes her husband: God has said that it is not good for him to be alone, but also that it would be better for him to be alone than to have an ungracious wife. A gracious woman completes her husband.
She reverences her husband, which is not a servile fear, but rather a wholesome and godly reverence. Anyone who thinks that this demeans women needs to get out more. She does not honor him the way a serf honors the king, but rather honors him the way a crown honors a king. A gracious woman honors her husband.
“In a recent survey…ninety-four percent responded that they were waiting for something to take place. There were a variety of things that people were waiting for—waiting to get married, waiting to get a good job, waiting for a new job, waiting to have kids, waiting for the kids to grow up, etc. But the predominant answer was that people live their lives waiting for something else.” ~William Barcley
Our “something else” is whatever we are thinking of right now. Waiting for it to happen feels like captivity. We try our hardest to break out. We bang on the walls, hoping for a hidden opening, a secret doorway. Finally, we sit down and look to heaven and ask: Why? How long? Why does the life I’m waiting for never seem to come?
“If you ask, ‘Why is this or that happening?’ no light may come, for ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God’ (Deuteronomy 29:29); but if you ask, ‘How am I to serve and glorify God here and now, where I am?’ there will always be an answer.”
“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21
As one man said, the Christian may walk in darkness, but he need never wander. The Preacher in Ecclesiastes is the voice of the Lord behind us saying: “this is the way, walk in it: be joyful, do good” (3:12). Don’t live your life like the ninety-four percent, waiting for something else. Do good now.
“While there is much we can’t know” admits Zach Eswine, “the Preacher says that the way forward in our seasons is not found in rehearsing what we do not know, but in remaining faithful to what we do.”
It’s unexpected, but the way to quiet the questions, to find contentment and purpose in waiting, is to “do good”:
“[C]ontentment comes by performing the work of our circumstances…The question the contented Christian asks is, what is the duty of my present circumstances? And carrying out that duty is vital both to Christian faithfulness and to Christian contentment. Maybe we are not where we want to be. There is nothing sinful about desiring and praying for difficult circumstances to change. But we need to seek how we can serve Christ where we are.” ~William Barcley
Serving Christ “where we are” isn’t a consolation prize; it is the secret of contentment in waiting. It is the key that unlocks the cell of unhappiness, our flashlight in the fog of confusing circumstances. When we do good, right here, right now, while we are waiting, we will wake up one day to discover that we aren’t so much waiting anymore as living.
Be a Do-Gooder
Doing good has fallen on hard times. In fact, a “do-gooder” in the English language is a pejorative term: “someone whose desire and effort to help people is regarded as wrong, annoying, useless, etc.” Ouch.
Even in reformed, Christian circles, we sometimes talk about grace as the cure for an unhealthy pressure to do good. Sadly, for many women today, this unbiblical perspective hollows out the Christian life and diminishes the full and beautiful influence of grace.
The Preacher in Ecclesiastes wants to change all that. Doing good? There is “nothing better.” As we learned last week, this is part two of our job description for life:
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man. (3:12-13)
Notice the happy words. Doing good is “God’s gift to man.” We are to “take pleasure in all [our] toil.” There is “nothing better” than to “do good as long as [we] live.” Catch the drift? Doing good is a good thing. It is a gift of grace.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people…to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Tit. 2:11, 14).
The grace that comes to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ does not deliver us from doing good, it frees and empowers us to do good. God’s “gift to man” is the strength, desire, and determination to do good as long as we live—not in order to earn our salvation but in response to the grace of God.
“The gospel creates an affection for God that drives us to do good works that serve others and please God” explains Matt Perman. “Embracing the truth that God accepts us apart from good works is the precise thing that causes us to excel in good works.”
“Realizing that we are wholly and completely accepted by God apart from our works through faith in Christ results in massive and radical action for good because it results in great love and joy for God. As Jesus said, ‘He who is forgiven little loves little’ (Luke 7:47), whereas those who are forgiven much, love much (Luke 7:41-43).” ~Matt Perman
There is no tug of war between grace and good works: grace motivates good works. “The more a person counts as loss his own righteousness and lays hold by faith of the righteousness of Christ, the more he will be motivated to live and work for Christ” writes Jerry Bridges.
No matter what “the time” or season in our lives, doing good is the Christ-empowered response to grace.
The Good We Are to Do
The good we are to do is the good God has given us to do. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).
The Creator of galaxies and ocean depths has designed and fashioned each of us individually, called us by name, redeemed us from our sins, and then personally prepared good works for each of us to do.
Scripture tells us we are to be devoted to good works (1 Tim. 5:10), zealous for good works (Tit. 2:14), have a reputation for good works (1 Tim. 5:10), adorn ourselves with good works (Tit. 2:9-10), and stir up one another for good works (Heb. 10:24). The Bible gets pretty enthusiastic about good works, wouldn’t you say?
Life in Christ is like a long, happy, workday—with God handing out the assignments. He’s distributed our tasks throughout the New Testament letters. Here’s just a few:
· Bring up children.
· Show hospitality.
· Contribute to the needs of the saints.
· Be constant in prayer.
· Teach what is good.
· Love your husband.
· Love your children.
· Work at home.
· Be kind.
· Show honor.
· Love one another.
· Serve the saints.
· Care for the afflicted.
(Rom. 12:10-13, 1 Tim. 5:10, Tit. 2:3-5)
Carpooling kids, hosting a new family for spaghetti after church, driving a friend to the doctor, washing the sheets, pulling the weeds, praying for church members, greeting our husband with a kiss and a smile—these and many more are the do-gooding God has given us to do.
“Buthow can I possibly do all these things?” we ask, panicky at the sight of a to-do list in Scripture more than two or three items long. Before anyone begins to feel faint, allow me to pass the smelling salts: grace-motivated good works aren’t overwhelming.
God has not called all of us to do all of the good works. He has prepared certain good works for each of us to do. Good works are not a decathlon (four runs, three jumps and three throws); they are a walking event. They are the super-simple, nothing better, gifted by God, path to contentment.
The Glamour of Doing Good
Like workday tasks, our do-good list is full of menial, manual labor. But we carry it out in the joyful company of other Christians, for the sake of Jesus Christ. What makes good works glamorous is the God we do them for.
We were created “in Christ Jesus for good works”! We are “his workmanship” so we might work for him. Half-filled cereal-bowls, inboxes full of emails, and lists of works cited take on a glow of glory when we receive them as a gift from God.
If doing good feels below our pay grade, we’ve failed to grasp that it is—in actuality—far above what we deserve. By grace rebellious sinners have been forgiven and called to work for the Savior of the world. We get our assignments directly from Jesus himself. We are in his service. How can we not, “take pleasure in [our] toil” when we consider who we are working for?
“Does God ask us to do what is beneath us?” wonders Elisabeth Ellliot. “This question will never trouble us again if we consider the Lord of heaven taking a towel and washing feet.”
“Every one of us has a line of duty marked out for us by God. For most human beings, for most of history, there has been little choice available. We tend to forget this in a time when the options seem limitless and when ‘what one does’ usually means specifically his money-earning capacities. Duty, however, includes whatever we ought to do for others—make a bed, give someone a ride to church, mow a lawn, clean a garage, paint a house. It is often possible to ‘get out of’ work like that. Nobody is paying us. It simply needs to be done, and if we don’t do it, nobody will. But the nature of the work changes when we see that it is God who marks out this line of duty for us. It is service to Him. When we see Him, we may say, ‘Lord, when did I ever mow Your lawn? When did I iron Your clothes?’ He will answer, ‘When you did it for one of the least of my children, you did it for me.’” ~Elisabeth Elliot
The point of good works is to point back to the Savior: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
Funny thing is, life doesn’t feel so much like waiting when you are doing good for Christ.
What To Do Right Now
When we ask: “What should I do with my life?” there will always be an answer. And it’s usually right in front of us. Do the next good work. Then do the next one. And so on, and you will find the answer to your question.
“When the unknown taunts your mind within the season you find yourself,” suggests Zach Eswine, “give yourself to the next thing in the place you are. Our way forward more often than not is found where we are.”
“Some of us are wondering what God’s will is for our lives. Among all the things we do not know, we start with what we do know…. When it comes to our tending our lot with our spouse and family, our work, our food, and our place, God has already told us that he approves of this use of time.” ~Zach Eswine
“Do good” is a Christian’s true north. No matter where we are, how confusing the landscape, how unsure of what we are to do next or where we are to go, we can point our compass needle toward “do good” and move confidently in that direction. God approves.
“Students often ask me how to find out what God’s will is. I tell them the will of God today for them is to study! That’s not what they want to hear, but that is surely an important part of God’s will for students. They must not cut classes, plagiarize on their papers, cheat on exams, treat the professor disrespectfully, or shirk their duty to their roommate.” ~Elisabeth Elliot
Students should study. Moms should mother. Employees should be employed.
If you are a mom with young children at home, your duties are in front of you. Sure, they are arduous but they are not confusing. Love. Serve. Sacrifice. Discipline. Clean. Instruct. Smile. Hug. Or if your job is to go to a job, then go. Drive courteously, work diligently, speak graciously. Love your neighbor. Give thanks in all circumstances. Do good. Be joyful. It’s that simple.
Here is the cure for restlessness, for the discontent of our age and of our hearts. Good works aren’t far flung, they are right in front of you. “Every assignment is measured,” writes Elisabeth Elliot. “As I accept the given portion other options are cancelled. Decisions become much easier, directions clearer, and hence my heart becomes inexpressibly quieter.” And, might I add, happier.
In fact “be joyful and do good” works backwards, in a way. Doing good makes us joyful. Not happy in our own goodness, but joyful in serving our good God. And when we are joyful we aren’t really waiting anymore, we’re living.
When I was a child, my parents used to take me to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for long afternoon visits. My Mennonite grandma would usually be sitting in her chair by the window, a small stack of brightly colored fabric circles on the table beside her. She would sew the edges of each small circle and gather it into a purse, called a “yo-yo,” and my aunt would stitch the yo-yos together into beautiful quilts and sell them at local craft fairs.
My grandma had a job to do: she worked with beautiful material; but she could not piece together the whole quilt. Even though we can’t see how the yo-yo’s of our life fit together into a beautiful quilt, we too have a job to do. What are we to “do in time with God”?We are to fear him (v. 14). But there is more. The Preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:12-13:
“I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.”
We are tobe joyful and do good. What simple, delightful tasks!
“One good way to understand and apply this verse is to put it in the first person and use it as a job description,” suggests Phil Ryken: “There is nothing better than to be joyful and to do good as long as I live, and to eat and drink and take pleasure in all my work—this is God’s gift to me.”
We’ll take the second part of this job description up next week, but first, how do we “be joyful” in this disillusioning, difficult life? We look for beauty. No matter what time we find ourselves in, there is beauty to be found. That beauty is God—his presence, his purpose, and his presents. “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecc. 3:11).
The Beauty of His Presence
First, we can “be joyful” when we find the beauty of God’s presence in every nook and cranny of our lives. “God intends to be found amid our toast and coffee, while we swing a hammer or change a diaper,” writes Zach Eswine. “This is why he is called ‘Immanuel.’ It means ‘God is with us.’”
The truth we celebrate at Christmastime is truth to celebrate at every time: God is with us. Our Savior is present in every moment of every day. And he wants us to find him there.
“What you need” Elisabeth Elliot tells mothers (and all of us) “is a habitual sense of the presence of God. Think that Almighty God, who created the stars and keeps the seasons revolving in perfect rhythm, is there in your kitchen, in your bathroom, in the laundry room, in the grocery store.”
Think, and find the beauty of God’s presence. Think until it fills your heart with wonder and joy. God is with you. Right now. Every carpool driving, expense report checking, diaper wiping, bed making, bite chewing, sunrise watching minute, the Almighty God is with you. Ponder the beauty of his presence, and you’ll find that there is joy to be squeezed out of every moment of every day.
He is still with us in the awful, stomach-churning moments of our lives. “God has not left the mess,” insists Eswine, “but remains here in it and with us. In that light, we start with what we have and we do this little bit each day with God.”
This is how we travel through unbearable times. By doing a little bit each day with God. Even when we don’t feel his presence, we know that he is with us. “[W]here shall I flee from your presence? asks the Psalmist, ready with the answer: If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there…” (Ps. 139:7-8).
“Wherever Jesus may lead us, He goes before us. If we know not where we go, we know with whom we go. With such a companion, who will dread the perils of the road? The journey may be long, but His everlasting arms will carry us to the end. The presence of Jesus is the assurance of eternal salvation, because He lives, we shall live also.” ~Charles Spurgeon
When we find the beauty of his presence—in the ordinary and the painful moments of our lives—every moment will be infused with joy.
The Beauty of His Purpose
God may not have shown us the whole quilt, we may only see “the outskirts of his ways” (Job 26:14), but we know he has a purpose for our yo-yo making, and this should fill us with joy.
Life doesn’t always feel purposeful. You spend the morning at the DMV only to discover you left your birth certificate at home. You get in a fender bender and miss an appointment. You burn dinner. Or maybe you work hard on a paper and get a “D.” You devote your life to your children and they still rebel.
What’s the point? Or, as the Preacher in Ecclesiastes puts it: “What gain has the worker from his toil?” (3:9).
His answer, in one sense, is nothing. “Vanity,” is the end of all the efforts of men (1:2). But not so the purposes of God: “I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it” (3:14).
“The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” David chimes in, as does Job, “No purpose of [his] can be thwarted” (Ps. 138:8, Job 42:2).
“No matter what time it is, we learn to adjust to it on the basis of the hope and purpose that God is in it, that everything has a beauty to it by which the Preacher declares that every disquieting and delightful moment under the sun has been fitted by God for his purposes. With God, everything fits, nothing is wasted or lost. God does not abandon one second of a life under the sun. No disquiet is God forsaken. No true delight is God neglected. Joseph pointed us to this beauty, these purpose-drenched seconds, when he looked at all the pain, the reoccurring tears and the long years of wreckage that his brothers had perpetrated, and he interpreted it all by saying, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).” ~Zach Eswine
The beauty of God’s purposes gives us joy. Everything fits. He does not lose or drop a single minute of our lives. None of our happy moments, none of our painful moments, and none of our waiting moments, are wasted by God. Every second of our lives is purpose-drenched.
But this we know: everything has a good purpose, and one of God’s main purposes is to teach us to be content with his purpose.
What is God doing here?!Why did I lose my job? Why am I not getting married? Why did I get cancer? Why is there conflict in my family? We don’t know everything he is doing in these difficult situations, but we do know something: he is teaching us to be content. He is showing us how to “be joyful.”
“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there. You are placed by God in the most suitable circumstances, and if you had the choosing of your lot, you would soon cry, Lord, choose my inheritance for me, for by my self-will I am pierced through with many sorrows’. Be content with such things as you have, since the Lord has ordered all things for your good. Take up your own daily cross; it is the burden best suited for your shoulder, and will prove most effective to make you perfect in every good word and work to the glory of God. Down busy self, and proud impatience, it is not for you to choose, but for the Lord of Love! Trials must and will befall-but with humble faith to see-Love inscribed upon them all-this is happiness to me.” ~Charles Spurgeon
So often we chafe against the purposes of God; or as Rick Holland puts it, we “spend a lot of time trying to get out of what God has put us into.” But if any situation would have been better for us, God would have put us there. God wants us to see that his purpose for these unwanted circumstances is the joy in Christ he purposes for us to have. The very thing we want to get out of is the way to get to joy.
Find the beauty of God’s purpose—our contentment—in every moment of every day, and you can be joyful.
The Beauty of His Presents
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,” James tells us, “coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (1:17 ).
No matter how diminished our circumstances or how difficult our road, God has given us gifts to enjoy in this season. Sometimes finding these gifts feels like doing a child’s “hidden pictures” page. But God’s gifts are always there to be found for our joy.
“At some point, we all have to come to terms with the spiritual truth that true joy is found in God and God is found right where His gifts are. God’s gifts are our lot. This means that right here where we are is where God will be found…” writes Zach Eswine.
These gifts are the very ones we often overlook as we long after other gifts. We often pine for gifts we used to have or pant after gifts we never had, and we pass over the gifts we have right now. This is how not to be joyful.
But look around you. Has God given you a “place to inhabit”? Has he blessed you with a roof over your head, a place where you belong? Your home, and the small expressions of beauty there hold a myriad of gifts.
Do you have some people to share your life with—a family, a church community? They may be a quirky, raggedy bunch, but each one is a gift from God. And so is your work, whatever “the next thing” is that God has given you to do. It may be a small work, a praying work, a difficult work, but it is a gifted work, designed to give you joy.
“The Preacher reorients us. To taste the sweetness of ordinary joys, we learn to enter each day with a conviction about the givenness of all things…. Pay attention to what God is giving and what he is not, receive with humility what he gives as enough, thankfully pursue this enjoy this”. ~Zach Eswine
Joy is right under our noses in the form of God’s gifts to us today. We only need to find them out.
I’m reminded of the hymn we used to sing in church as a child:
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done.
Count your blessings. Once you start finding the beauty of God’s gifts in every day, you will be, as CS Lewis put it, surprised by joy. “Find him, not in what you do not have, but amid the smallest things that remain, he will find you!” (Eswine).
In every season, no matter how reduced or unpleasant, we can find the beauty of God’s gifts. Corrie and Betsie ten Boom found beauty even in the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie recounts how her sister Betsie resolved to “give thanks in all circumstances,” including the fleas which infested their barracks. “Fleas are part of this place where God has put us,” Betsie told her sister.
Some time later, the ten Boom sisters discovered that the guards would not step foot in their barracks, thus leaving them free to share the Scriptures with the other women, all because of the fleas. Corrie remembered her sister’s “thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”
If Betsie ten Boom can find the beauty of God’s gifts in a flea-infested concentration camp, how much more can we find beauty in God’s gifts to us today? No matter what time we find ourselves in, there is beauty to be found.
Even in our lowest state, we have The Gift of Gifts in the person of Jesus Christ. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). As we ponder his sacrifice for us this Easter week, may we be full of sorrow for our ingratitude and filled with joy for his gift of salvation.
Find beauty in God’s seasonal gifts, and God will find you and give you joy.
Here is part one of our job description, our quilt circles: find beauty. Find beauty in God’s presence, in God’s purpose and in God’s presents and you will “be joyful.”