Missional Motherhood

6 Breathtaking Examples of Motherhood from History

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Fifteen years ago, I was eight months pregnant and hungry—not just for food, but for godly wisdom on how to raise children who know and love the Lord. My husband and I had no idea how to be distinctly Christian parents to this baby that was on her way into our world. We spent my first Mother’s Day at a parenting conference, which began a lifelong quest to find out how moms before me raised their children in the Lord. History offers today’s Christian women “older women…to teach what is good…that the word of God may not be reviled” (Tit. 2:3-5).

Here are six historical moms who show us what it looks like to raise our children in the Lord.

MONICA – mother of Augustine of Hippo (332-387)

Monica mothered a man who became one of our most influential church fathers. Augustine shaped not only many of the doctrines central to the Christian faith, but his clear thinking and theology forged the church of the next millennia. Augustine was not always a follower of Christ, however. As a young adult, he rejected his mother’s faith with disdain. Unwed, he lived with a woman, fathered a child, and pursued a life of hedonism.

Monica’s early hopes were for her son to live a life of status and privilege, but they evolved into a drive to see her son saved. At 31, Augustine was in the midst of a noteworthy career in philosophy, education, and rhetoric when skepticism gave way under the Bishop of Milan’s influence and the power of his mother’s prayers as he surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Augustine was fully aware that his mother’s prayers were instrumental in his conversion. In his autobiography, Confessions, Augustine said, “My mother placed great hope in [God],” and she “was in greater labor to ensure my salvation than she had been at my birth.” He praises Monica’s persistent prayers on his behalf throughout all of his works. After her death, he grieved that she was "now gone from my sight, who for years had wept over me, that I might live in [God's] sight."[1]

Lesson for moms today: Labor in persistent in prayer (Phil. 4:6) for your children and rightly see their salvation as utmost of value. Invite God to change your worldly goals for your kids into Christ-centered ones.

SARAH EDWARDS – wife of Jonathan Edwards, mother of eleven (1710-1758)

Sarah was married to Jonathan Edwards, a Reformed preacher and theologian, and a key player in the First Great Awakening. The legacy of the Edwards’ home life is famously exhibited in a list compiled in 1900 of the life work of their eleven children and their descendants: college presidents and professors, lawyers and physicians, judges and senators, public servants from mayors to a U.S. vice president, authors, and hundreds of ministers and overseas missionaries. Sarah’s motherhood impacts every corner of American history.

Jonathan was known to be driven and passionate. He spent as many as thirteen hours a day studying. Visitors to the Edwards’ home report that though Jonathan was indeed involved in family life, the brunt of household duties—rearing the children and tending to guests—fell largely on Sarah. However, she created a happy home, an environment built on routine, rigor, and discipline.[2]

Lesson for moms today: Serve your family wholeheartedly, as to the Lord, trusting him to make himself known through you for generations to come (Col. 3:17). Through everyday acts of service, mothers can make a historic—and eternal—impact through their children.

SOJOURNER TRUTH – former slave, abolitionist, activist, and mother of five (c. 1797-1883)

Sojourner was born a slave in New York and first sold away from her parents at the young age of nine. Later she married an older slave, bore five children, and was widowed. In the years just prior to emancipation in New York, Sojourner was promised freedom by her master, who reneged after she completed the work they agreed upon. In response, Sojourner took her infant daughter and walked to freedom in broad daylight, saying that she had nothing to hide, as freedom had been promised to her. Her master eventually caught up with her, but her remaining year of servitude was purchased by an abolitionist family.

Shortly after gaining freedom, Sojourner learned that her former master had illegally sold her five-year-old son to a slaveholder in Alabama. Incensed, Sojourner set out to demand the return of her son. She personally navigated the judicial system in Alabama, took the issue to court, and won—making her the first black woman to win a case against a white man. Reunited with her son Peter, they moved to New York City where Sojourner heard the gospel and believed. Following her conversion to Christ, Sojourner said, “The Spirit Calls me and I must go.” She set out to be an abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and preacher of the gospel.[3]

Lesson for moms today: Pursue justice—no matter the cost. Be brave and committed to the truth. Love righteousness and justice (Ps. 33:5), not just at home, but all around you.

AMY CARMICHAEL – mother of hundreds (1867-1951)

Born in Ireland, Amy’s first ministry experience was in Belfast amongst “Shawlies”—impoverished girls who worked in the mills and could only afford to wear shawls rather than hats. After hearing Hudson Taylor speak, Amy felt called to missions overseas. She served briefly in Japan before an illness forced to return home. She suffered from neuralgia, a disease that caused great pain and weakness and required weeks of bedrest.

Despite her poor health, Amy remained steadfast in answering God’s call to share his love overseas. She set out for Bangalore, India in 1895 where she joined a band of Indian Christian women who traveled from village to village sharing the gospel. Amy worked hard to become fluent in Tamil and understand the Hindu religion and culture.

Along with her teammates, she established the Dohnavur Fellowship, which became a home for children rescued or escaped forced servitude in Hindu temples. Over time, Amy became Amma, or “mother,” to hundreds of rescued babies, children, and teenagers. About twenty years into her maternal role, she fell and was so badly injured that she was forced by restraints to stay in her bedroom for the rest of her life, which lasted another twenty years. That time, though undoubtedly painful on many levels, was not wasted. Amy welcomed little ones into her room and penned nearly 40 books.[4] [5]

Lesson for moms today: Lack of biological children doesn’t preclude you from being a mother. Be a mother to the motherless. Show your religion by loving the orphan (Jas. 1:27). Spend ourselves on the least of these. And don’t let anything stop you from proclaiming the gospel.

ALBERTA KING – mother of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1904—1974)

Alberta Williams King was a minister’s wife, an organ player and choir founder at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, member of the NAACP and YWCA, and mother of three children, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

In his autobiography, King said, “My mother confronted the age-old problem of the Negro parent in America: how to explain discrimination and segregation to a small child. She taught me that I should feel a sense of ‘somebodiness' but that on the other hand I had to go out and face a system that stared me in the face every day saying you are ‘less than,’ you are ‘not equal to…’ She made it clear that she opposed this system and that I must never allow it to make me feel inferior. . . . At this time Mother had no idea that the little boy in her arms would years later be involved in a struggle against the system she was speaking of.”

Six years after her son was assassinated, Alberta was gunned down while playing the organ at her church.[6]

Lesson for moms today: Champion the “somebodiness” inherent in all people because they are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27) and teach your children to do the same.

ELISABETH ELLIOT – wife, missionary, and mother (1926-2015)

Elisabeth was born to missionaries and zealously pursued missions herself. After studying Greek in college, she went to Ecuador to share Christ with unreached tribes. Jim Elliot was also in Ecuador, and they were soon married. Along with a team of missionaries, the Elliot’s set out to locate and contact the Auca Indians who had previously killed everyone that tried to make contact.

When Elisabeth’s first and only child, Valerie, was ten months old, Jim and four other missionaries were speared to death when they reached with the Auca people. Undeterred from the mission, Elisabeth stayed in Ecuador with Valerie and continued pursuing ministry among the Auca.

Valerie recently said, “Because my parents prayed and hoped to bring Indians to the Lord, when my father was killed my mother had no plan or immediate thought she should leave Ecuador. Human fears would flood her mind, but verses from Scripture gave her peace and assurance we would be taken care of. Mother continued to work with the Indians and continued to pray for them. And the more that she prayed for them, the greater her love grew for these people in need of a Savior.”[7]

Lesson for moms today: Motherhood doesn’t preclude you from mission. Be a mom on mission. Go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19)—and take your children with you.

CONSIDER AND IMITATE YOUR LEADERS

The writer of Hebrews admonished early Christians to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).

These six women from history are leaders to the moms of today. Let’s imitate their faith as we seek to raise our children in the Lord.


Jen Oshman is a wife and mom to four daughters and has served as a missionary for 17 years on three continents. She currently resides in Colorado where she and her husband serve with Pioneers International, and she encourages her church-planting husband at Redemption Parker. Her passion is leading women to a deeper faith and fostering a biblical worldview. She writes at www.jenoshman.com.

[1] https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/301-600/augustine-couldnt-outrun-mothers-prayers-11629656.html

[2] https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/sarah-edwards-jonathans-home-and-haven

[3] http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/truth/1850/1850-16.html

[4] http://www.bu.edu/missiology/missionary-biography/c-d/carmichael-amy-beatrice-1867-1951/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amy_Carmichael

[6] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/publications/autobiography-martin-luther-king-jr-contents/chapter-1-early-years

[7] http://christiannewswire.com/news/4639520474.html

Is it Possible to Be Content with My Calling?

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In the fall of 2013, I was visiting a local park with my four-year-old and two-year-old in tow when I saw a mom with a newborn baby and felt a sudden, overwhelming relief that I was “over” that baby phase. Earlier that summer, I had come to an emphatic decision that we would not have any more children. Being a notoriously open-ended person, this was a rare, clear decision. Little did I know, I would become pregnant within the month.

A BABY

To say I cried about my pregnancy is an understatement. It took months of processing with friends to even come around to the idea that having another baby could be a good thing. It sounded like terribly tedious work. And though it might seem obvious that this was God’s calling for me, I couldn’t quite accept it.

When little Rosie was born, I delighted in her. But I also delighted in knowing I was only two years away from potty training and “normalcy.” Those next two years, however, turned out to be some of the hardest of my life.

On the outside, my life may have looked fine. I participated in church community groups, discipleship groups, and women’s bible studies. I was an involved parent and had pulled my eldest out of public school and started homeschooling.

A BREAKDOWN

But on the inside, I felt like I was dying. The addition of a baby to homeschooling and full-time care for three kids under five felt like more than I could physically and emotionally bear. I felt like I had lost my worth, my dignity, and my hope. How could God be calling me to this? I remember many times cleaning up after my five-year-old, three-year-old and baby thinking, The sole purpose of my life is picking things up and putting them down again, like Sisyphus, pointlessly pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it fall down again. What was the point?

There were times I would wander all over the house and say over and over again, “I hate my life; I hate me.”

So I started clawing at anything that promised what I was craving: worth, significance, meaning, and purpose. I threw myself into homeschooling classes, curriculums, and co-ops. I revived my doula business. I planned ministry events.

But as I attempted to busy myself, my body started shutting down. A trip to the doctor to address the fatigue ruled out major illness but hinted at depression. It was a wake-up call. I finally surrendered my crusade for meaning and purpose, submitted to my husband and stopped homeschooling (after the 100th time he asked, “Why are you doing this?”) I took a break from some responsibilities and my body slowly healed. My kids started school. I made some new friends and visited some old ones. I started seeing glimmers of hope all around.

But my questions lingered: “Why did God allow this? What is my life for?”

A WILDERNESS

Around this time, I read a very helpful article that started to give me a picture of what God might be up to:

“Time and again, God calls his people to himself by leading them out of the familiar and into a wilderness. In this wilderness, the urgent needs of survival require a radical assessment of their identity and what their life is really about… In every case God brings his people to a point in which they have to reckon with their identity as his children. They can live for their own agendas, wants and needs, or choose to trust in their Heavenly Father.”–Winston Smith, ‘The Hunger Games: Appetite and Identity’

God was leading me through a wilderness. It was full of service and mundane repetition. He had given me a good gift—the task and the joy of serving a child—but it had become a burden because I insisted on pursuing other agendas, wants, and needs. God had brought me very deliberately to this point to reckon with my identity and my agenda. He obliterated my “felt need” to be recognized and to use my talents. He shut the doors to easy escapism and freedom from responsibility. He pressed the gas pedal on the effort needed to serve my family.

My response was to fight and question God for bringing me on this path—being a wife, being a mom, being . . . everything that I was. My flailing for meaning and pursuit of other activities actually drained my resources for my true calling. Suffering was compounded by sin. And in the wilderness, I so often chose escapism, depression, anger, self-pity, regret, selfishness, indulgence, sensuality, sulking, isolation, and fear.

But I knew, as a daughter of my Heavenly Father, there must be a better way than demanding my own agenda, living for my wants or needs of recognition, success, or escape. How could I learn to trust my Heavenly Father?

AN ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS

In May of this year, I had a dream. In the dream, I was taking my two-year-old into our shower. She had poop in her diaper and on her fingers and she had smeared it all over her face. In my frustration, I muttered, "Why did you do this? You know better. Ugh!"

Then, suddenly, Jesus was there to my right, in a white robe on the threshold of the shower. I was aware it was Jesus, but didn’t dare look at his face. I just stared at the ground, frozen.

Then he spoke to me with clear, authoritative, and kind words. I was so mesmerized and giddy by Jesus’ presence that I didn’t even remember exactly what he said! He was speaking words of truth over me about who I was in him—a beloved daughter. He spoke to me about my identity. He was so kind, and his words so true. His presence was full of intensity and wonder and joy. His glory was magnetic. And I was filled with so much love for him. Not just love, but adoration and worship.

My heart melted, and in a puddle of tears and love, I blurted out, “I will clean up poop for the rest of my life if you want me to. I’ll do it for you!” It seemed to be the only natural response to give him anything he’d ask for.

Then I woke up.

ANSWERS TO THE WHY

This encounter with Jesus was so richly layered with meaning. Jesus Christ is present with me in every moment (Matt. 28:20). He prays over me (Rom. 8:34). He sees me and speaks to me (John 10:3). His words are truth (John 18:37). He has absolute authority and it is a good authority (Matt. 28:18). He is beautiful and wonderful, and our worship songs don’t go far enough to describe him!

But it took me days to realize that in this dream were the answers to the questions I had been asking: Why did he lead me into this wilderness? What is my purpose? Who am I?

In the midst of a poop- and frustration-filled scene, Jesus’ presence changed the “why” of it all. His presence transformed a dirty task into a complete joy because I knew it was the King of the Universe who was asking me to do it. And this King of the Universe was so full of glory and radiance that to be asked by him to have any job on this earth was a complete privilege and not a frustration.

Now, imagine if the King of the Universe came to you and personally asked you to do the earthly work you are currently doing—because he has done just that! In God’s complete control, he has appointed your earthly tasks, work, and relationships. It isn’t appointed in some impersonal or vague way, but Jesus asks you, “Will you do this, for me?”

Paul’s exhortation to the Colossians captures this: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Col. 3:23-24). Your work, even your mundane work, is a personal service to the Lord of all.

REMEMBERING WHO CALLED ME

So much in the previous two years—the homeschooling, the fantasizing, the jobs, and, dare I say, the ministry events—was a confused scramble for identity and purpose. What God had given me—a baby—was an opportunity to work and serve, not just a helpless infant, but Jesus Christ himself! The job didn’t give me money or worldly glamour. It didn’t require my “skills” or talents. But it was a gateway to joy and purpose.

And Jesus isn’t asking us to serve when he hasn’t. This King of the Universe, our master, is the ultimate servant. “For even the Son of man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Jesus Himself went into the wilderness. He was tempted. But he was keenly aware of the Father’s will and calling for him. While he was physically run down, Jesus returned Satan’s lies with truth. Jesus could have used his earthly fame for comfort, money, a plush life, and demands for others to serve him. But his Father’s will and calling was his food—his sustenance—and he didn’t forget it in the wilderness or afterward. For the joy set before him, he served and served until the dust of humiliation and execution on a cross (Heb. 12:2). And by this service, we have new life!

Remember to whom and for whom you are working. Joyful contentment is possible even in the most ordinary work and dirty jobs when you realize it is the King of the Universe you are serving. If you find yourself in a wilderness, God is intimately present with you and has appointed this journey so that Jesus Christ will be magnified in your life. And his countenance and beauty are so wonderfully beyond compare, it will give you the strength for any work or service to your family and community until you see him face-to-face.


Robin McGee lives in Austin, TX with her husband and three daughters. She spends most of her days loving and serving her family and church. She enjoys singing, playing the piano and researching.

The Joy and Sorrow of Parenting

Forty-eight hours ago I was plagued by the thought, “I am a bad mom.” That complete sentence ran through my mind—uninvited and multiple times throughout the evening. I tried to push the thought out of my mind, but the truth is, it was gaining significant ground. Deep down, in those moments, I believed those words to be true. Twenty-four hours ago I overheard a podcast that my husband was playing on his computer. One speaker encouraged listeners to remember that parenting is much longer than a day. She reminded me that when I lift my eyes up and see five, ten, fifteen years down the road, I gain a completely new perspective of my job as a mother. When I’m focused just on this day—when I wasn’t patient or kind during bath time, and the kids seemed to be sustained on sugar and “screen time”—I have a much harsher ruling for myself. Bad Mom.

Parenting to See Jesus

When I remember, however, that I am called to parent them to see Jesus exalted, for all of eternity, today’s bath holds much less sway. Yes, a lifetime is made up of seemingly little moments, and their weight should not be dismissed. My purpose as a mom is refocused when I consider worshipping before God’s throne forever. I am not a significant player in that picture at all!

My ability to control a situation or procure the attention and obedience I think I deserve is revealed to be utterly insignificant, and an erroneous pursuit in the light of God’s overwhelming glory!

The second speaker on that much-needed podcast discussed our complete dependence on Jesus. She reminded me that as a regenerate believer in Christ, I have died to myself and have been raised to life with him (Romans 6:4)! It is when I remember and rest in my identity in Jesus that I can live on mission and be full of joy, more accurately displaying God’s love and glorifying him as he deserves.

Rather than respond to my discouragement with self-esteem boosters and affirmations of, “No! You’re a great mom!” the Holy Spirit lovingly took my eyes off of myself and put them where they need to be—on Jesus.

Meeting Our Culture’s Standards

My primary goal as a mom is not to ensure that my children meet our culture’s standards—whether that is in regards to diet, entertainment, education, dress, activities, or any other myriad of topics. I am commissioned to teach my kids about Jesus. I am given the extreme honor and privilege of telling them about the God, who creates, redeems, and restores. As part of teaching them about who God is and what his kingdom is like, I am also called to teach them about sin.

Mine is clearly on display, so I must respond biblically, demonstrating repentance and refusing to become complacent. It is vitally important that my kids not only hear me say, “I’m sorry,” but that they also see me battling to slay my sin by grace alone. Sin threatens our relationships and darkens that already dim mirror through which our children see the Lord reflected (1 Cor 13:12). Reading the Word and praying, therefore, become far greater than duties which I must check off my daily chore chart! In addition to addressing my sin, I also must lovingly teach them about theirs.

Remembering that our children are born sinful and are dead apart from Christ’s life-giving work prevents me from focusing on behavior modification more than spiritual discipleship. As difficult as that is and as foreign as it feels in our culture today, teaching my kids about their sin will set them up to fully revel in God’s mind-boggling grace!

Still Wanting More

Twelve hours ago I walked through the Columbus Zoo, hand-in-hand with my six-year-old son. He’d been wanting to go on their Pirate Island boat ride for quite a while! He had been hoping it would still be there since our passes expired last season, and, when it was closed on our first visit of this season, the forbidden fruit became even more desirable! He finally got to ride it with his dad today. Afterward, I asked him how it was, and he said, “It was so fun! I wish I could’ve gone twice.” I immediately recognized my tendency to feel this way. By God’s grace alone, I was able to tell him that we all experience the feeling of good things not being enough, of being sure that something will make us happy, only to find that we still want more.

I told him the reason we feel this way is that only Jesus fully satisfies us. Only Jesus meets our true needs and meets them completely!

I don’t know if he’ll remember that exchange. It only lasted about thirty seconds. But I am encouraged that the Spirit guides my thoughts and words in those moments, despite my many shortcomings, to teach Eli the gospel once again.

Therein lies my joy!

As Christians, our calling, no matter what life-roles we fulfill, is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Eternity is our timeframe, and the perfectly righteous Son of God is our advocate. So take heart, return to the source of your fulfillment and identity and keep walking forward.

Myra lives in Newark, Ohio with her husband and 3 children. She blogs at dependentongrace.com