To hear this sermon, which I shared on Mother’s Day at the International House of Prayer, please go here.
Motherhood and The True Worth of a Woman
There are many women who dread “Mother’s Day Sermons” – in part, because preachers and pastors often forget to take into account the wide spectrum of life that happens around the subject. It’s never clear to some women, when we hand out the flowers and bless the moms, whether they should stand or what the day – and the calling – means to them in light of the circumstances of their lives. How does a woman who embraces singleness respond to these kinds of messages? How does a woman who has chosen to not have children respond? Is the primary contribution of a woman in a spiritual family her ability to bear and raise children?
It is important to acknowledge that the value, worth, and dignity of a woman is not wrapped into an assignment of a mother. We also want to celebrate and honor those who have gone before us – our own mothers who have shared in the joy and pain of every circumstance. I am writing to those who find themselves in the midst of a very challenging, difficult, and glorious calling from the Lord. Secondly, my goal is to remove unhealthy fear or wrong ideas attached to motherhood related to ideals surrounding gifts, calling, and destiny – the Internet has been a blessing and a curse related to encouragement and condemnation. It has served as a resource, a means of connecting and helping moms feel normal, and empowered. However, it has also served as a constant mirror reminding moms that there is “more” they can do, and “more” they can be. The temptation to surrender endless condemning comparisons is real and powerful.
In this light, it may be helpful to remember the preaching of Paul to the Corinthian church. Corinth in that day was part of a humanistic, self-seeking culture. Therefore, gifts and calling were an important measurement of worth and value. The church struggled with a “look at me” culture enamored with human potential – one not so different from our own. If anything, what the Corinthians (and the Greeks) began, our modern culture has perfected as it relates to our ability to express ourselves at the cost of exalting Jesus. This is why Paul reminded them that they received the gospel not from the most gifted or from the greatest of the apostles, but from the “least” of the apostles:
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. (1 Cor. 15:10)
One of the primary challenges of motherhood is the difficulty in embracing the seasons of Christ’s leadership in the midst of a fallen and broken world, in which circumstances and troubles change “the template” of what motherhood looks like for so many women. When life doesn’t turn out the way we thought it was supposed to, and when it doesn’t look like what we thought it would, grappling with the disappointments and comparisons make it hard to find rest and joy in the heart of the Lord.
The great challenge of being a woman and a mom in the kingdom is to know that there is a real promise of contentment and joy in the gospel but to feel so far from it in times and seasons during which the restlessness, challenges, frustrations, and cares of this life can seem overwhelming and we can feel powerless.
The great questions in a woman’s heart in what can often be an “anti-woman” culture are the questions of worth, ability, contributions, and comparisons in a Pinterest-driven, Instagram-fueled, cloth-diaper, essential oils world of competing expectations, standards, and solutions to the problems and challenges of life. There are attitudes towards motherhood that have arisen from outside of the church and from within the church. In a world that increasingly has defined the value and the worth of a woman from the perspective of societal options and earnings potential, being a mom is something that seems lower on the priority scale of realizing full human potential.
This mindset has seemingly found a place within the church as well, as younger women wrestle more than ever between two opposing structures of “home and children” versus “calling and ministry”. Think about what we call “favor” or “hidden”. The longing to realize the full potential of a woman’s gifts, abilities, and desire for impact seems out of synch with a desire to be a mom, to raise a family, and to nurture that family in a loving home. This picture of life seems limiting, old-fashioned, outdated, and even, in some circles, the product of a male-dominated society.
It is more critical than ever that we, as parents, build into our girls a proper foundation of identity and value in Christ as we equip their hearts to navigate the seasons of life according to their highest calling, which is found in the will of God, not according to culture measurements. When our joy begins with the gospel, our identity is established in the heart of Jesus and His love for us, which empowers us to embrace His calling from a foundation of acceptance, affection, and access to His grace – by which we stand, and is not given in vain. “We are who we are” with joy in the gospel.
The Cultural Issues and Spiritual Battles of Motherhood
There are many challenging and difficult battles for moms – both external and internal. The external challenges revolve around cultural expectations and imposed morality and ideals about what a great (fulfilled) life looks like connecting to either (1) what being a great woman looks like or (2) what being a great mom looks like. The weight of cultural expectations and peer performance and ideals creates real pressure on the heart of a mom.
Beyond this there is another challenge: the devil hates moms. In Ephesians 2, Paul tells us that the “course of this world” has been set by the Prince of the Air, Satan himself. From the garden, Satan has targeted women with his hatred, and throughout redemptive history he has sought to destroy women. The story of redemptive history begins with the promise of a woman who would bear the seed of victory and ends with a victorious Bride overcoming the evil one. Therefore, from the beginning, the enemy has sought to kill, steal, destroy women, pervert the societal view of the worth and the dignity of a woman, and set up a counterfeit bride to seduce the nations into corruption and perversion.
The culture, therefore, around the church, has either had an oppressive, dehumanizing view of women or a humanistic view of empowering women. This has meant that, historically, woman were viewed as servants and objects to make the destiny of men possible. This distorts the dignity and worth of a woman in the home. In some contexts, women were viewed as the same as men, losing their God-given distinctions with confusion about their unique part in the redemptive storyline of God – which in turn destabilizes and devalues the calling of moms in the home.
This has caused a shift in the culture within the church. Within the church presently, 61% of a typical congregation is female, 39% is male; in frontier missions, Nik Ripken (in his latest book, “The Insanity of Obedience”) reports that single female missionaries outnumber men by a ratio of 7 to 1. Barna has reported that 70% of teenage men leave the church upon graduation, many of whom do not return. When combined with the current cultural thrust of female empowerment (some of which is healthy, some of which, as noted, is humanistic and disconnected from scripture), I find among young women much confusion about the issues of calling, destiny, and motherhood. Does my calling in God end when a woman becomes a mother? Are they “laying their calling down” to raise children? What does it mean to live as a missionary, a minister of the gospel, a corporate success, in light of the calling of a mom?
The Gospel’s Answer to the Pressures of Motherhood
These kinds of cultural pressures can create expectations and ideals that create unhealthy comparisons among young moms and apply real pressure to the soul. A mom in today’s world is expected to work full-time, manage the home (clean, cook, nurture, schedule), exercise, eat organic, use the right oils, decorate with the right look, paint with the right color, use the right kind of diaper, avoid the wrong kinds of food and clothing, therefore becoming a PhD level researcher, a high-level corporate manager, and a microbiologist who stays thin and trendy on the side. A young mom, therefore, can become plagued with questions related to her own inadequacies and self-doubt: Am I Enough? Am I Doing it Right? Should I Do it Their Way?
The answer for moms is found in the great promise of the gospel: access by faith into this grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:1-2):
1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. (Ro 5:1-2)
One of the outrageous benefits of our union to Jesus is our access to Him in all that He possesses and does. Moms have access to the same grace of God that took them out of darkness conveying them to light (that is, the grace in which they now stand). Accessing and partaking of the grace of God in which they stand releases a profound joy and power now as well as certainty of experiencing the fullness of the glory of God in the future.
The gospel’s power is far more potent than we realize – more than delivering us out of our former state into a new relationship with God, it has the power to change our mindsets, emotions, and desires in a powerful way that enables us to love differently and deeply. The Holy Spirit wants to empower moms and all women in today’s culture with real strength that equips them to keep their eyes on the true prize, prioritizing the love, acceptance, and affections of Christ, and laugh in the face of cultural morality that seeks to add to the gospel of God.
“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” (Prov. 31:25)
“To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever.” (Rev. 1:6-7)
Therefore, the glorious freedom that comes through the love of Christ enables us to walk free from all condemnation. A mom can rest in the knowledge that Jesus loved her long before she was ever a mom. In fact, she is so much more than a mom in His definition of her life, her worth, and her value to Him. Moms can approach the Father with complete freedom, and without any sense of condemnation (guilt and defeatism). Preoccupation with the penalty and power of sin destroys our confidence in God’s presence. Women can walk free of ungodly comparisons and cultural opinions as they rejoice in the power of His opinion and delight in their hearths and lives.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus… (Rom. 8:1)
The revelation of grace breaks our sense of timidity before Satan or sin so that we live without guilt and expectation of persistent failure. We are not beggars, but joint-heirs with Jesus. Many believers live in perpetual defeat because they do not know who they are in Christ and the place they have before the Father. Our greatest need for is to know who we are in Christ, or how the Father sees us. If we do not understand this, we will not enjoy the benefits of freely receiving the righteousness of God. Woman can stand in boldness in the truth that God is our Father who loves us – not based on their performance as moms, employees, or wives. They do not have to stand on the basis of the success or failures of their children. As Christians, we stand as ones loved fiercely and loyally by our Father in heaven. Rather than fighting for relevance, meaning, and a sense of satisfaction in the “job” they are doing at home or at work, moms can rest in the joy of being fought for by the God that loves them deeply, and cares about their future and their success intimately.
The sense of unworthiness, condemnation, or preoccupation with the penalty and power of sin is a cause for many spiritual failures. It kills faith and spiritual initiative, leaving moms with a sense of rejection. It makes prayer miserable. It hinders our desire for God. Understanding of God’s righteousness causes us to have a confident spirit instead of living as a slave with sense of inferiority before the reign of sin. We can seek to remove condemnation by showing his sorrow for our sins, fasting, giving money, sacrificial service, or even public confession of our sins. We can seek to find it in an orderly home, in obedient, high-performing children, or even a great marriage. These small “victories” may bring short-term relief, but they never bring confidence to us before God.
The hope of a mother is not found in the seeming vindication that comes from good kids, a clean home, or an attentive husband and father. Her only hope is found in the liberation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that her spirit is now experiencing glorious union with the Son of God by the power of the Holy Spirit – and that power and grace has now become her life and source of constant joy. Jesus has loved her well. He loves her powerfully today. He will love her forever, having nothing to do with her abilities, gifts, or diligence. Her value, worth, and dignity is rooted in the fact that Jesus loves her, and when that is enough, her heart can truly rest.
 “U.S. Congregational Life Survey – Key Findings,” 29 October 2003, <www.uscongregations.org/key.htm>