Response to “Motherhood is Calling”

So about 42 of my friends on Facebook have posted links to an article by Rachel Jankovic entitled “Motherhood is Calling (and Where Your Children Rank).”  Okay, maybe not 42.  But a lot.  Since comments aren’t enabled on the blog, I decided to post my response on my own blog.  I also sent it as a message to Desiring God Ministries.  So here it is.  Enjoy.

I appreciated the motive and message of Rachel Jankovic’s well-written article.  Truly, our culture undervalues and even attacks motherhood, and she elevated the role of the Christian mother admirably.   However, I believe that the opposite problem that has arisen in our conservative Christian sub-culture.  In some churches today, motherhood is so elevated that a woman’s worth is entirely wrapped up in her ability to bear and raise children.  This is not something preached from the pulpit or taught in Sunday School, and I doubt there are many Christians who would say that this is true.  But if churches aren’t careful, this idea can permeate our sub-culture in the most insidious ways.

Let me provide an example.  The last time I was in church on Mother’s Day, at the end of the worship service, all of the mothers were invited to stand while a song was played.  While they were standing, the deacons and elders delivered a rose to each woman.  In the small congregation, the young girls and I were the only females left sitting.  My husband and I have been infertile for the last seven years of our marriage, and this event served as a painful reminder of our inability to bear children.  I felt ashamed.  Without any malicious intent, the idea being unconsciously communicated was “We only value the women in our church for being mothers.  We do not recognize them otherwise.”

Rachel Jankovic also discussed the plethora of unkind comments that come her way when she is out in public with her four small children.  I have received my share of thoughtless comments as well, but they have all come from people in the church.   I’ve heard everything from, “When’s it going to be your turn?” to “Don’t you know that children are a blessing from the Lord?” to “Why don’t you just adopt?” to “What does a career have to do with having kids and raising a family?”  Rachel’s article stated, “Christian mothers carry their children in hostile territory” whenever they go out in public.  I would agree and add that infertile Christian women sometimes enter hostile territory when they go to church.

Rachel Jankovic is spot on when she speaks of “partial truths and half-lies” that can distort a biblical perspective on motherhood.  However, we must stand against “partial truths” that exist in the church as firmly as we stand against the lies of the world.  One lie being communicated (often unwittingly) to young women in the church today is that their worth rests primarily in the future role of mother.  It has taken me many years to recognize and live out the truth that my worth is not found in what I do but in who I am in Christ.

It also took years to realize that my situation presents me with a unique opportunity to glorify God.  I derive much comfort from the story in John 9 about the man born blind.  When the disciples asked Jesus whether it was this man’s sin or his parents’ sin that caused his blindness, Jesus replied, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”  My infertility is a result of living in a fallen world, but it is not a consequence of my sin.  My husband and I were both virgins when we married, and we were heartbroken to discover that we would be unable to have children.  Our childlessness is not a result of our selfish desires to have a career, travel the world, or sit around and pick our toes.   We can still live in a sacrificial and Christ-honoring way, laying down our lives for the sake of the gospel.  I am teacher at a Christian school, and I spend countless hours investing myself in the lives of my teenage students.  I pray for them, weep for them, challenge them to excellence, discipline them, and point them to the cross.  At the end of my life, there will be no one to rise up and call me blessed.   But that’s okay.  I still believe that I will still hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We must keep our gaze fixed on Christ and be careful not to make idols of any of the good things He has given us. If we teach our young people that they glorify God best by delighting ourselves in Him rather than only His gifts (including the gift of parenthood), we set them up to be faithful followers of Christ no matter what His plan is for their lives.

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10 thoughts on “Response to “Motherhood is Calling”

  1. You speak so eloquently and passionately about this, Em. You could have a ministry in this; I wonder how many other women struggle with the same thing.
    I would only disagree that at the end of your life no one will stand up for you. I think every student you’ve ever taught will rise up and call you blessed.

      • Emily I hear your heart in this and appreciate your sharing this, my heart breaks with yours and the pain that you have felt. I certainly have seen what you are talking about and not to be critical of a group of women I am a part of, homeschool moms, I certainly have seen the more kids you have the more value, they give to you.
        However I think the problem as it relates to motherhood, for people have problems finding their worth in lots of things besides Christ, is not just in the recognition of those who have biological children or in the nonrecognition of those who are not biological mothers. I think the problem stems from a two fold source. The first is as you said women aligning their value to anything other than what is given them in Christ.
        The second in our lack of understanding of the true idea and purpose of motherhood.It is seen in the absence of the recognition , apparently in your service on mothers day and many others , another group of mothers.It is in not recognizing this group we lack a lack of understanding of the purpose of motherhood. Being in this group does not give value to women, once again only Christ does.
        We are commanded in two ways in the bible to be mothers.In Genesis 1:22 ,And God blessed them, saying , “Be fruitful and multiply..”Was God only speaking of physical multiplication? If so then that would men only women who birth children should be recognized on Mother’s day.Are there other ways we can be mothers and i am not referring to adoption, though that is not bad for we are adopted into Christ’s family.
        One of Christ’s last word’s before He died, and usually at the end of your life you focus on what is really important to you, He spoke of another kind of fruitfullness and multiplication of lives.Matt 28:19 “Go therefore and Make Disciples of all the nations, ….” The purpose of our physical fruitfullness is not so I can count how many kids I have or grandkids I can have, but to raise them up for Christ so that they will in turn go and do the same!!!That they can live for the glory of God, so that others will desire a relationship with Christ!
        The missing recognition and FOCUS on Mother’s Day are moms who are reproducing the teachings of Christ in the lives of others!!!! Women investing themselves in the lives of others for His glory.When we have the right perspective on motherhood all women should be standing for this!!! We do that in both physical and nonphysical motherhood. Celebration of motherhood is not the enemy a lack of understanding and teaching on the true purpose of it is!
        In fact I would offer to you, just how signficant has the physical birth been when it hasn’t had the right purpose?
        And Emily you are doing that when you share and love on those kids or anyone you share Christ with!No they may be kids you birth physically but when Christ uses you to lead another to Him, to invest your time in that process by planting a seed, to go and make disciples you are reproducing!! You will have children who will oneday rise up and call you blessed and have probably had some that have done that already!!!! This not second rate motherhood, it doesn’t give us value, it is simply obedience to the word of God and the right focus of motherhood.
        God has made us COMPLETE to finish any good work He gives us to do!!!

  2. Hello, Emily. I think you are taking the Mother’s Day thing too personal. Just because the church is honoring mothers on Mother’s Day does not mean they are discounting or saying that a woman’s worth is totally tied up in if she is a mother or not. It is just honoring a certain group in the church that is carrying on faithfully with a tough, one of a kind job. Don’t they have honors that they give out to teachers at the Christian school you teach at? Only one teacher can be Teacher of the Year. Does that mean that all the other teachers who do not receive this award are considered subpar? No, to the contrary. The teacher of the year is representing, to the community, all of the good and wonderful teachers who work at your school. This was an article written to mothers by a mother. I am sure wonderful things have been written about women who cannot have children of their own but have invested countless hours in other people’s children at school, at church, etc. Should all the mothers of America take offense because those nice things are said about women who can devote more time to others and their families than a mother can? Don’t let the things that others say at church bother you so much. They might be trying to reach out to you and just not know the right things to say. You are a mother whether you know it or not. If you value your students as much as you say you do, they are your spiritual children. They will stand up and call you blessed. You sound like a wonderful teacher and your students must be grateful to have you. I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it would be to walk in your shoes. You sound like a courageous woman.

    • Thanks for taking the time to read and respond to this post. My motivation in writing it was to get people to think about how their words and actions may affect others, and specifically, how they may impact infertile women in the church. There’s nothing wrong with honoring mothers on Mother’s Day, but I believe that there are ways that churches can do that sensitively. A teacher who won an award (to borrow your analogy) would certainly not go around rubbing it in to other teachers. Think of an unfulfilled desire you have. If there was one day a year that celebrated everyone else who had that thing, wouldn’t that be a hard day for you? And if your particular community made a big deal out of that day, wouldn’t you have a hard time not letting it affect you?

      I certainly believe that motherhood is a high calling and have a great respect for mothers. I wholeheartedly agreed with Rachel Jankovic’s article. I didn’t take offense to it. I simply wanted to add to it; I wanted to shed light on a different but related issue that is frequently overlooked in the church. Yes, I do take comments personally, but I don’t think that’s wrong or unnatural. My reproductive system and my frustrated desire to be a mother are just about the most personal things about me. And a comment like, “What does a career have to do with having children and raising a family?” is definitely not a failed attempt to reach out.

      Again, thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinion. I’d also encourage you, if you have a moment, to read a poem I wrote for a friend of mine who miscarried: https://emilymullaswilson.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/a-flower-for-a-friend/

  3. Well said, Mrs. Perry! I wish that there were more women like you in the church who got the big picture of God’s work. Thanks for a well-thought-out comment.

  4. I get this.
    When I was single, it drove me crazy that all the women flocked to those who were married. I felt like I had not arrived to the “woman” club, nor would I, until I had a ring on my finger.
    And then when we didn’t have kids, and were told we couldn’t have kids – I felt like I wasn’t part of the elite club again.
    And now I do have kids(we did IVF). And I feel like I’m still not part of the club a lot of times because I don’t pretend that everything in my life is perfect, that my kids are always well behaved, and I’ve been sleeping since they were 2 weeks old. My identity, as much as I struggle with not letting it be, is not in what role I am fulfilling.
    And I think you are right – women need to be encouraged as women. Because I think if we focus on just encouraging women in the roles that they play (wife, mother, career) we will struggle to find value in who we are apart from our roles. Because when it ultimately boils down, the only role that truly matters in the end is the one we play as child of God.
    Thank you for writing this.

    • Melissa, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. And you pointed out a group that I am often guilty of neglecting: single women in the church. In the end, we have to find our identities in Christ and encourage others to do the same, regardless of whether they’re single, married, kids, no kids, etc. Otherwise, the exclusion games will never end.

  5. I read an excerpt from Rachels article and loved it. Then I saw the title to your article and thought, uh-oh, somebody is mad! Let’s see what she said! Well, I was pleasantly surprised. You did an amazing job. I was one of those women who would look at the church women who had one or two kids, and even those with no children, and wondered why they didn’t have a larger family. You see, I have 6 kids. It’s hard for me to NOT have children. So, call it ignorance, or innocence, I had no idea that so many women struggled with infertility. I am sorry if I have offended anyone in the past. You are right, church can be hostile territory. I just have to add that it has been hostile territory for me as well. My own church members have given me negative remarks about having so many kids. I forgive them. We are human, we are sinners. May God bless us.

    • Evelyn, thank you for reading this post and for really taking the time to understand what I was saying. I heartily agreed with Rachel’s post and thought her message was badly needed. But I wanted to broaden the perspective to help people think about other ways in which culture in general and Christian culture specifically can sometimes devalue women. The bottom line is that no matter what situation God has placed us in–singleness, no kids, a few kids, a lot of kids–our identity must be centered in Christ. And church should never, ever be a hostile place for anyone. I have mostly been in churches that were accepting of large families than of childless couples, but I know that my experience is not necessarily the norm. By the grace of God, I feel I have been able to forgive hostile comments, to be understanding and compassionate. My hope is that this post didn’t communicate bitterness, but a desire to open people’s eyes and help them see the world through a different perspective. Thanks for the comment!

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