2015 at 7:46 am | by Nicole Whitacre
Last Friday afternoon I was talking to my sister, Kristin, about parenting our boys. Four of them were competing in a soccer tournament the next day, and we were strategizing about how to help them grow in godly character—win or lose. (They lost, which provided a great chance to grow in humility. Thank you MahaneySports!) We had talked about some of these character issues the week before, and we’ll probably talk about them again next week too. Parenting is a job that is never done.
I like to finish things, check them off my list, close the file…you get the idea. So I find the never-finished nature of parenting work to be discouraging at times. I see progress, for sure, and many answered prayers and evidences of God’s grace. But the growth usually comes far slower than I would like, and some days I wonder if my training and teaching efforts are even hitting the mark.
The fact is, the never-finished nature of parenting work gives us one of our greatest opportunities to glorify God. That’s because parenting is what Charles Bridges calls “a work of faith.”
“As such,” he writes, “it can only be sustained by the active and persevering exercise of this principle. This is what makes it a means of grace to our own souls, as well as a grand medium of exalting our Divine Master.”
In other words, only faith in God can sustain us in the day in, day out, never-completed business of parenting, and this is how God has designed it to be: we’re forced to rely on him, and then he in turn uses that faith as a means of grace to our souls and glory for his name.
“It is faith that enlivens our work with perpetual cheerfulness. It commits every part of it to God, in the hope, that even mistakes shall be overruled for his glory; and thus relieves us from an oppressive anxiety, often attendant upon a deep sense of our responsibility. The shortest way to peace will be found in casting ourselves upon God for daily pardon of deficiencies and supplies of grace, without looking too eagerly for present fruit.”
Faith fills the gap between faithfulness and fruitfulness in parenting and infuses it with “perpetual cheerfulness.” When we look “too eagerly for present fruit” we may grow weary or feel like a failure; but when we look to Christ we find “daily pardon of deficiencies,” relief from “oppressive anxiety” and “hope that even mistakes shall be overruled for his glory.”
The work of parenting may never be done, but it cannot exceed the inexhaustible supplies of God’s grace.
One of the challenges of being a parent these days is the barrage of advice about what it means to be “a good parent.” It’s so easy to get so distracted by the ideals and methods of modern culture that we lose sight of the basics of biblical parenting.
This is why some of my favorite parenting books are by or about parents from over a hundred years ago—JC Ryle’s Duties of Parents and Shaping of a Christian Family by Elisabeth Elliot (about her parents’ parenting). Free from the clutter of today’s cultural commands, books like these help me focus more clearly on God’s parenting principles.
Recently I added a new book to my list of parenting book favorites: Hints for Parents by Gardiner Spring. This short book is simple, convicting, and encouraging. In four sections, Spring lays out biblical priorities for parenting, methods to achieve those goals, motivations, and finally—what every parents needs most—“courage” to carry on.
“God means for us to renounce our self-confidence and feel our dependence on him” writes Spring:
“When we fail—as certainly we will to some extent—we will lie prostrate on our faces and carry our children to the God of all grace and power. The sooner, more earnestly, and more submissively we do this, the more reason we have to hope.
Parental tenderness is the most pure, the most faithful, and the most energetic, when prayer nourishes it. It is as God’s mercy seat that a parent’s love all flows out. And God reveals his mercy exactly as our children need it.”
This little book would make a valuable addition to your parenting library.
For a bunch of college girls, it was a shocking sight. Our friend, and the mother of twins, showed us her stretch marks and we, rather impolitely, stared back in dismay. Did pregnancy really carve such strange designs into a woman’s body?
“You will all look like this some day,” she warned, laughing at our expressions. “Of course, mine are worse, because I had twins, but if you get pregnant, you will get stretch marks.”
I’m glad I didn’t know then that in addition to stretch marks I would also have a c-section scar, plus two more long scars from emergency surgery following the delivery of my first child. My stomach now looks like a crudely drawn road map.
Pregnancy wreaks havoc on a woman’s body. Stretch marks and fat deposits, c-section scars and varicose veins…the list goes on. Then there is motherhood. Sleep deprivation digs dark pits underneath our eyes, bottle washing dries out our hands, our clothes don’t fit anymore and are dotted with spit-up. Our joints are stiff from hours of carpool and our muscles sore from carrying children and baby bags and pack and plays (and don’t forget the stroller!).
Whatever beauty we thought we had before we had children feels like a thing of the past. We worry about whether our husband will still find us attractive. We feel self-conscious and insecure about how we look to others.
But motherhood is not the end of beauty, it is an opportunity to become more beautiful. Moms may not get much time at the spa, but we have the chance to apply the godly woman’s beauty regimen every day, all day long.
What is this beauty regimen? Scripture says that the woman who applies trust in God (“a gentle and quiet spirit” 1 Pet. 3:3-5) with good works (1 Tim. 2:9-10) will not fail to become genuinely beautiful. And who, I ask you, has more opportunities to apply this beauty treatment, than a mother with young children?
Every day she must trust God with the physical safety, the emotional wellbeing, and the state of her children’s souls. Every day she must do endless, repetitive acts of service on behalf of her husband and for the sake of children. And every day, as moms, we have countless opportunities to take our eyes off of ourselves, to serve others, and to look to God for strength and help. This makes us truly beautiful.
So think of it this way: you can make yourself beautiful all day long! Not only when you shower and style your hair, but also when you clean up vomit and wipe dirty bottoms, when you encourage your husband and serve your family with gladness. You are trusting God and doing good works. This will make you beautiful in the eyes of your husband and your children, and precious in the sight of God.
Motherhood is not the end of beauty; instead it can be the beginning of a deeper, more profound beauty, that transforms us from the inside out. So instead of mourning the loss of a smooth, flat, stomach this Mother’s Day, let’s give thanks for the opportunity to pursue a beauty that will never fade (1 Pet. 3:3-5).
We wish we could meet every one of your beautiful mothers, but we had to pick two winners for our Mother’s Day Contest and they are…
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy. Prov 31:20
My mom is a school nurse, often to children with severe chronic illnesses. She is full of love for them. It has always amazed me how she can communicate so much love to children who are unable to speak, walk or function without some kind of medical support. But they are delighted by her, which is seen in how their eyes shine when she enters the room. My mom instilled in my sisters and I a love for the outcast, disabled, poor and the needy. We always had a plethora of people in our small home, and attracted the people who are hard to love. She was never scared away by difficult personality, awkwardness, strange behaviour, etc. She loved unconditionally, and made everyone feel special. I am so thankful that she is able to see people through Christ’s eyes, and have such an open heart to minister to the needs of so many. She has shaped my outlook on life, and I’m incredibly thankful for her.
I’m 48 and my mom is 73. I was recently diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Though I always expected to take care of my mom as she ages, now she is taking care of me (and my husband, and my children . . .) She does my laundry, has us over for meals, and is the proverbial listening ear and shoulder to cry on. The night we found out how far the cancer had spread, she brought supper over with my dad, and I’ll never forget how she pleaded with God to not let any of us become bitter towards him over this hard providence. I pray my children will never forget that evening or her prayer request. She has showed me what a lifetime of faithfulness and fruitfulness looks like. That is true beauty!
Lynette and Michelle, you will each receive two copies of True Beauty—one for you and one for your mom. Let each of us tell our moms why they are truly beautiful this Mother’s Day!
2015 at 6:22 am | by Carolyn Mahaney
When it comes to raising children, God has set one task above all others: teaching our children the Scriptures:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:4-7
These verses describe a home-life set to the soundtrack of Scripture. Every day, throughout the day—as we drive to soccer practice, dish up spaghetti, or tuck our children into bed—we are to talk to our children about who God is, what he has done, and what he requires. We are to single-mindedly, whole-heartedly love the Savior, and then pour out that love in a constant stream of communication to our children.
At times, though, we can grow weary of all the talking. We wonder: Is anything getting through? Will my child ever show any interest in the gospel?
Hope and encouragement to persevere are close at hand. A few verses later in Deuteronomy 6:20 we glimpse the first green shoots of gospel conversation:
“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’”
Though it is not a promise, there is much encouragement we can draw from this verse. We can look forward to “a time to come” when we won’t be doing all the talking, when our children will ask questions and want to understand the meaning of God’s Words, and the reason for our faith.
That “time to come” will be different for every child, but let us pray for and eagerly anticipate that time, and let us faithfully sow gospel seeds in our conversation today. In due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9).
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.
2015 at 7:18 am | by Nicole Whitacre
~from the archives, August 2007: the truth of these words from John Piper encourage me as much today as they did eight years ago
These days you’ll find me at home changing diapers, picking up toys, helping Jack make pb&j’s (I do the peanut butter and he does the jelly), wiping spit-up off my clothes, and—here’s where it really gets exciting—going to Wal Mart to purchase more diapers.
My home is a long way from the community college campus where I used to serve as a ministry intern on behalf of my church, sharing the gospel and discipling girls every day. It’s a long way from the church office where I organized women’s meetings and retreats for hundreds. It’s a very long way from Hungary and India where I traveled on short-term mission trips.
I love my life now, even if it doesn’t always seem as “exciting” or “significant” as what I used to do. Maybe that’s why this thought from John Piper’s book The Roots of Endurance resonated with me:
“I have just preached to my people several messages in which I pleaded with them to be ‘coronary Christians,’ not ‘adrenal Christians.’ Not that adrenaline is bad, I said; it gets me through lots of Sundays. But it lets you down on Mondays.
The heart is another kind of friend. It just keeps on serving—very quietly, through good days and bad days, happy and sad, high and low, appreciated and unappreciated. It never says, ‘I don’t like your attitude, Piper, I’m taking a day off.’ It just keeps humbly lub-dubbing along. It endures the way adrenaline doesn’t.
Coronary Christians are like the heart in the causes they serve. Adrenal Christians are like adrenaline—a spurt of energy and then fatigue.
What we need in the cause of… [motherhood] is not spurts of energy, but people who endure for the long haul. Marathoners, not sprinters.”
Being a wife and mother—or doing any other long-term kingdom work—requires us to be “coronary Christians.” It requires faithfulness even when we don’t see fruit. It requires joy in the mundane, unglamorous tasks. It calls for confidence that God will bless our gospel-motivated labors.
So if you are weary, discouraged, or even bored with the work God is calling you to today, join me in asking for God’s grace to be a “coronary Christian.”
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do notgive up.” ~Galatians 6:9
2015 at 9:38 am | by Nicole Whitacre
Q: I am a mom of 3 little ones ages 4 1/2, 3, and 22 months with another little one on the way. Motherhood has surprised me and has been quite a journey. I never expected to be worn out continually, fighting depression and anger, living in a losing battle with housework and feeling like my children are never going to see Gods love because I often question it myself. I love my family so much and wouldn’t give them up for anything but I’m wondering what is wrong with me. I enjoy moments with my children but days, weeks, months, years? Yeah, that’s a battle. I’m continually told by well meaning, sometimes nostalgic, older women to enjoy these years because they are the best years of my life. Best years? I have good days, yes, but years? Is there someone I could talk to who would be willing to be an encouragement, not just another person saying how these are great years? I really really want to thrive and invest in my children and work with their unique personalities but I feel so defeated and desperate.
Dear Defeated and Desperate,
My dad is always saying that moms with small children have the hardest job in the world. He’s absolutely right. You are, as G.K. Chesterton described mothers, “everything to someone”—and in your case three, soon to be four, precious someones.
The sweet, little, old ladies (forgive them if you will!) forget how hard it is, and perhaps, with forgetting, they only remember the happy moments. Be thankful that one day you will too.
For now, enjoy the good days when you have them and accept that you will probably have a lot more tough times than cuddly moments for a while. The wise man of Ecclesiastes tells it straight: “All things are full of weariness” (Ecc. 1:8). I think he must have had moms in mind. Life is hard and Scripture doesn’t try to sugar coat it. But it tells us how to live and thrive in the midst of hard.
First of all, try get some sleep if you can. Whenever my sisters or I get overwhelmed by motherhood and call our mom in tears, she encourages us to leave the dishes in the sink and go to bed early. God created our bodies to need sleep. Everything may not be better in the morning, but at least you have strength to tackle it afresh. Now, with little ones the ages of your children I’m guessing some of them might not sleep so well. But do what you can. Ask your husband to wake up with the kids so you can sleep in. Beg a young girl from church to babysit. Take naps when the kids are napping. Mom also encourages us to do something restful that replenishes your soul so that you can persevere in the tiring work of motherhood. This might mean a morning at a coffee shop or time with a friend. It’s amazing what a few hours of rest can do for a weary soul.
Second, feed your soul. Begin to collect verses, sermons, snippets from books, whatever encourages you in this difficult season and return to them again and again. You don’t need many, just a few really good ones. You may not be able to read your Bible for five minutes at a time without one kid crawling all over you and another one shaking milk drops out of his bottle all over the floor with glee, but get whatever nourishment you can, and hang onto it for dear life. For encouragement in this season, consider Feminine Appeal, Shaping of a Christian Family, Fit to Burst, Spurgeon’s Daily Readings, and especially the Psalms.
Third, simplify where you can. When I’m overwhelmed and exhausted, it’s usually because I’m trying to do too much. Paper plates and fewer playgroups give me time to focus on what’s most important: teaching my children to love God and obey their parents, and creating a (mostly!) peaceful and joyful home. When things get easier you can add in more stuff, but when you have four under four, you probably only have time for the biblical basics. That’s not something to feel guilty about. And strategize about trouble spots. Pick one at a time. What’s the craziest time of day or the biggest discipline issue with your children? What is one small thing you can do to minimize the effect of that one trouble spot?
Once you’ve simplified and strategized and slept, motherhood will still be hard. But remember that today’s mothering hardships come to you, as Elisabeth Elliot puts it, “through the hedge of [God’s] love.” He has called you to care for these precious children and he will give you strength as you look to him for help. He promises that, “as your days so shall your strength be” (Deut. 33:25); he is the God who “gives power to the faint” (Is. 40:29) and “daily bears us up” (Ps. 68:19).
God doesn’t command us to enjoy the challenges of motherhood, but he wants us to find joy in the midst of mothering. Our heavenly Father scatters his goodness and mercies throughout the most difficult of mothering days (Ps. 23:6). The toothless smile, the sticky hug, the bedtime snuggle are all blessings from God, reminders of his good and gracious character. Even if the only evidence of grace is that the day is over, we can thank God for sustaining mercies and a new day to come.
Moms of young kids have the hardest job in the world, but it is not a forever job. The little old ladies remind us of that. Before you know it, you’ll be the one staring wistfully at the mom with young kids. When you find strength and joy in God for these challenging days, one day you won’t remember the half of it.
“He will not so much remember the days of his life for God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” ~Ecc. 5:20
My ten-year-old daughter told me she feels like she has heard about God all her life but he feels far away from her. I am trying not to panic as a mom. I know I have felt that way too before. But I am not sure how to guide her without lecturing her. Would you require her to do a quiet time or just let her do if she wants to?
The feelings of panic (and I know them well!) often arise in these moments when we feel helpless to change our child’s heart. We feel that way because it is true! Salvation belongs to the Lord (Ps. 3:8). We cannot open the eyes of our children’s hearts or give them a heart of flesh for a heart of stone, but we must turn our panic into prayer that God would do what only he can do.
But there is a lot that we can—and should—do to parent our children in the ways of the Lord, and the God who gave us this mothering job in the first place has also given us wisdom in his Word for how to do it.
First of all, as I often remind my girls, we must parent in faith. We must parent with confidence in the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Lord, his power and desire to save (he saved us, after all!), the wisdom of His Word to guide us, and the ever-present help of the Holy Spirit.
You may already be doing this, but I would encourage you to keep talking to your daughter about how she feels. Tell her you have felt this way too. Encourage her that God often makes us aware of a lack of his presence so that we might seek his presence. God is at work! You can pray with her and ask that God would grant her salvation and assurance. Stories from you or your husband or grandparents, friends, etc. can be a real comfort so she does not feel strange or alone.
Then I would encourage you to help her develop a habit of reading the Bible and praying every day. There is an unhealthy skittishness parents often feel about making their children do what they don’t want to do. We worry: if we push the Bible on them, will we push them away? Maybe we had a bad experience growing up, or this just smells like legalism to us. Isn’t it better to pray, encourage, and wait for God to do his work?
I would counter that leading a child to God’s Word is doing God’s work. It is what he commands us to do (Deut. 6:4-9) and it is the means He most often uses to bring a child to Himself. I am no exception. In many ways, it is the habits of my childhood, set in place by my parents, that most profoundly shape my life to this day. Growing up, my parents required us to go to church three times a week. Sunday morning. Sunday evening. Wednesday night. No exceptions. These were not, as my husband always refers to Sundays “my favorite days of the week.” I was bored silly at church. I couldn’t wait to get back to school on Monday morning and be with my friends. But my parents didn’t consult my feelings on the matter. I was going to church whether I wanted to be there or not. And it was in one of these church services that God first opened my eyes to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
One other example comes to mind. As a young girl I had to memorize 200 Bible verses to get into a summer camp I really wanted to attend. I didn’t care about the verses, but I cared about camp and so I completed the assignment. My motives may have been totally wrong, but these Scriptures embedded in my mind and heart have encouraged and comforted me throughout my Christian life.
All that to say, I would encourage you to help your daughter develop a habit of having quiet times. Even if she doesn’t want to. Even if she’s bored silly. By placing God’s Word in front of her every day, you are laying the kindling under which our gracious God may light the spark of his presence. Tell her you are doing this because you love her. We make our children brush their teeth and eat their peas, not because they like it, but because we know it is best for them. How much more the reading of God’s Word?
And do whatever you can to make it easy and exciting. Buy her a new journal where she can write down her questions and thoughts; use a solid Bible study book or program (several of my grandkids use these Bible reading notes from the Good Book Company and the ESV Seek and Find Bible is a great option for children); have a time each day at breakfast or dinner where the kids can ask Mom and Dad questions from their daily Bible reading (stump the parent!); give them a challenge to memorize or read for a reward.
Finally, don’t underestimate the effect of your genuine passion for the Lord on your daughter. As she sees you read your Bible every day, talk about Scripture, live out your faith (not flawlessly but faithfully), she will be indelibly impressed by the work of the Spirit that she sees in you.
I’ll leave you with these bracing words from JC Ryle. As you lead your daughter in faith toward God, may you see much fruit in her life.
“I know that you cannot convert your child. I know well that they who are born again are born, not of the will of man, but of God. But I know also that God says expressly, ‘Train up a child in the way he should go’ and that he never laid a command on man which he would not give man grace to perform. And I know, too, that our duty is not to stand still and dispute, but to go forward and obey. It is just in the going forward that God will meet us. The path of obedience is the way in which He gives the blessing. We only have to do as the servants were commanded at the marriage feast in Cana, to fill the water-pots with water, that we may safely leave it to the Lord to turn that water into wine.” ~Ryle
“[T]ake the…sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:17-18).
To fight fear we are to “pray at all times.” But we have another weapon in our arsenal: the promises of God. We are to wield the Word against the onslaught of mothering fears.
We are to ”take” the Word of God and use it. To do this, we need to have it nearby. This means we need to be daily reading the Word and consistently meditating on it.
And we need to pull out the promises and put them into action. We have to pick up the sword and fight. A sword must be swung in order to deliver a blow.
We have a legacy of faithful, fear-fighting, women to follow: “And you are [Sarah’s] children if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6).
John Piper writes: “[T]he daughters of Sarah fight the anxiety that rises in their hearts. They wage war on fear, and they defeat it with the promises of God.”
Let’s be daughters of Sarah and fight our mothering fears with the promises of God.
To conclude: Our two, fear-fighting, strategies are:
Prayer: “...do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).
Promises: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
Saints throughout the centuries have leaned on God’s promises and called out to Him in prayer. And each and every time, they have found Him to be faithful. “I sought the Lord,” David tells us, “and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears” (Ps. 34:4).
So, let’s follow the example of David and that great cloud of witnesses. Let’s seek God through constant prayer, and in the space of His promises, let’s park our souls.