Maternity and the Gospel: A Word to Churches on Mother’s Day

Motherhood is a role worthy of celebration. Churches will be full of families and corsages this Sunday as our country observes Mother’s Day. Many churches have traditions for honoring moms: passing out a “mom” book, having them stand and often a sermon from Proverbs 31, highlighting a famous wife and mother from Scripture. We are reminded to thank God for our mothers, their sacrifices, homemade cookies and godly influence. I would offer churches an insight for this day: as you celebrate, consider the broken, failing and empty.

Not everyone grew up with the mother of Proverbs 31. Gone are the days of assuming everyone in your church and on your block had a kind and loving mother who took them to church, nursed their scrapes and faithfully attended to her home and family. We have moms who are (or were) absent, apathetic, abusive and adulterous. As great as it would be for everyone to have glowing memories of their mothers, many do not. Worse, some do not understand and haven’t come to terms with why their childhood (and maybe adulthood) does not contain this angelic creature who embraced to the fullest her God-given role as a mom. Please consider the broken.

Also consider the failing. Mother’s Day can be a harsh reminder to many that things in their family are not good. Their children are wayward, in trouble or stagnate. Some haven’t heard from their children in years; some have, but what they’ve heard is hateful and heartbreaking. Moms lament over their mistakes and see no hope for the future. Others are reminded of a dark past that included abortion. Whether Christian or not, many who have aborted a baby struggle with guilt and mourn the death of their little one on Mother’s Day. This day stirs not only joy but grief also. Consider the failing.

Lastly, consider the empty. The pews will be filled with women who are infertile, have miscarried or who have buried one of their children. There are not enough cards to compensate for the feeling of emptiness some experience on this day. They will be sitting next to big families, new babies and could feel awkwardly out of place. They will smile and pretend to be happy when the oldest mom, newest mom and mom with the most children stand while the congregation applauds them. While for many this day means a nice dinner out, it is an aching reminder to others that they are not moms or have lost children. Think about the empty.

This Sunday will not be a Hallmark commercial for many, but there is great potential for healing and hope.  No matter if your church is in the city, suburb or pasture, these women will be sitting in your pews. We have the weighty task this Mother’s Day of giving them the greatest hope which is Christ. I pray that this Sunday, you will make much of Jesus and no one else.

-Emily

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Maternity and the Gospel Part 1: Where is God in Infertility?

Few things are as difficult and mystifying for the Christian as the unpredictable, sorrowful and sometimes joy-filled pursuit of becoming a parent. One does not have to travel far to encounter a couple who has been paralyzed by an empty or failing womb.

Didn’t God say to be fruitful and multiply? Do the Psalms teach that “children are a blessing and inheritance from the Lord” and “happy is the man whose quiver is full of them?” Why are we infertile? Why do pagans rattle off one healthy, unwanted pregnancy after another? Where is the love and justice from a God who delights in new life?

Understandably, many struggle to understand a God Who loves and also allows infertility. There is a silent and expanding fellowship of scarred couples who mourn the loss or possibility of conceiving a baby. Those without Christ have no reference point to make sense of the pain; others know Jesus and love His gospel, yet soldier on in confusion. In this, one of the darkest corners of pursuing parenthood, God is alive, aware and at work.

Some of the worst obstacles in these painful roads are misconceptions. Even if not articulated, three in particular surface in the infertility discussion. The first: I’ve done something wrong and God is withholding a baby from me. The second: I’ve been good…doesn’t God owe me a baby? The third: This has been a struggle for many women in the Bible who eventually bore children; God will grant me this good desire if I pray enough. These ideas simultaneously give false hope and implant bitterness. Why? None are biblical. Peace and understanding through infertility come as they do in every other unsettling experience: filtering life through God’s character and truth. As the One who fully understands the depths of barrenness and the intense desire for children, only He can supply the kind and amount of peace needed.

The first idea (God is punishing me) is a common assumption when it appears God is withholding something good. Because many Christians believe that God’s favor and blessing are gained with good deeds, they also believe sins earn punishment. This is the Christianized version of Karma or “what goes around comes around.” Scripture assures Christians this is not true. It is written in Psalms 103:10, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” The sins of the redeemed were paid for on the cross; for God to require further payment means Jesus’ death was not enough. Sometimes sinful choices have consequences: you indulge in too much alcohol, drive and wreck your vehicle, leaving you paralyzed. Did God do that? No, you did. You experienced sin’s consequences, but not every hardship can be traced to your sin. Tsunamis claim whole communities because creation is under sin’s curse; children get cancer and die because disease is part of a fallen world. God does not wield infertility as chastisement.

Just as sins do not earn the Christian punishment, good deeds do not earn blessings (like babies). Blessings are gifts, not payments. Many believe they can develop a formula for retrieving good things from God. This message comes from pulpits, books and trusted friends. Our culture rewards good work with a promotion, good behavior with candy…why would God be different? Our high, entitled view of ourselves and salvation encourages this. A raw and difficult truth: if God never granted another good thing in our favor, He’s done more than enough for us on the cross. He owes us nothing yet freely offers salvation to all and graciously gives additional gifts. Truly, none of us deserves the blessing of a baby.

Faulty Bible reading and experience fuel the third misconception (the Bible teaches that God blesses barren women who pray). Stories of God relieving a biblical figure of her infertility are not the promised pattern for Christians. The Bible reveals truths about God, not recipes for living. Too often, we choose passages that outline God blessing individuals and emulate them but overlook figures who suffered greatly for His sake with no earthly reward. The record of barren women conceiving teaches of a loving and generous Creator, fully in charge of the whole world and every womb, but whose generosity is His business. These passages are not a contract, binding Him to grant children.

The pain of infertility is great, but more is at stake in life than our pain. Perhaps God is more glorified in the life of a childless couple who choose to serve Him in ways parents cannot. Maybe the lost need to see a reaction to infertility that sings of the gospel rather than of personal pity. If we live only with this life in view, barrenness will surely destroy us. If we live for God’s kingdom work, knowing it’s about Him and not our happiness, infertility hasn’t the power to destroy anything.

After such tough truth, we certainly hunger for great hope and compassion. Proverbs 13:12 teaches: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” This text beautifully displays God’s identification with us. He knows the pain of unfulfilled hopes. He is not removed from the hurt of His children as they pursue parenthood to no avail…He hurts with them. He hears and desires their prayers. He remains the inexhaustible source of wisdom, comfort and provision, worthy of our trust and able to deliver.

Do we pray for children? Yes. Do we allow it to consume our lives, resting not until we hold a baby? No. Are we okay if God does not grant it? If not, we are worshiping children and not the King.

-Emily

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