Life + Culture

Love Other Mothers as Thyself

Love Other Mothers as Thyself

Every so often as he toddled across the park, he would stop, lock eyes with his mother, and break into a smile as broad as the horizon. Her eyes reflected back his joy, and she guided him with a tenderness lifted from the pages of storybooks. Her propensity to love seemed as natural as breathing.

While her son still delighted in the simple act of beholding her, she made a comment that startled me. “My other mom friends say I’ve put him at risk by vaccinating him,” she said, her face lined with worry. “Based on what I’ve read, I don’t think I have, but they’re making me feel like a horrible mother.”

Her unsettling words rang familiar. They mirrored the concerns of a friend whose little girl fed dandelions to a pony as we chatted: “My friend says I’m raising her all wrong. Every time we get together, I leave feeling guilty.” I remembered how my colleague, a brilliant surgeon admired for her compassion, similarly voiced shame when a dwindling breast milk supply compelled her to supplement with formula. I recalled my own desperation — and the guilt accompanying it — to convince observers that eliminating broccoli from my diet wouldn’t help my neuro-atypical son with his meltdowns.

Love Other Mothers as Yourself

Mothers feel deeply, in language beyond words, the heaviness of the task with which God charges us. We know from the first moment we cradle a squirming, ruddy bundle in our arms that our jobs are at once crucial, beautiful, and terrifying. We feel the weight, the gravity.

With this burden pressing upon us, Christian fellowship can be life-giving. In our exhaustion and weakness, we need the hope and strength that only springs forth from the gospel. We need to be cradled and carried, to be held aloft by hands that speak the truth to us in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Too often, however, the Christian devotion manifest when we minister to the sick, the poor, and the hungry does not apply to women who mother differently than we do. The body of Christ unites us across continents, yet on playgrounds and Instagram, the mommy wars rage on.

Breast is best, we declare . . . an indisputable tenet in nations without access to clean water, but a mandate that condemns women who have had mastectomies, or whose medical or anatomic peculiarities hinder milk supply. Being a stay-at-home mom is best for children, some claim . . . which imposes guilt upon mothers who need to work to support their families. Public schooling is best for children to ensure they can engage with the world and provide a witness for Christ . . . but children with special needs, or asynchronous development, or learning differences may not thrive in such settings. On and on the contention broils, with sides brandishing arguments for or against pacifiers, co-sleeping, sleep training, schooling, discipline, and which avocadoes to buy at the market.

End the Mommy Wars

Amid the flurry of dogma, discussion of Christ’s work for our children — for one another — rarely surfaces. Constant scrutiny demoralizes already burdened mothers, fractures fellowship, and distracts from the life-giving truth of the gospel. The mommy wars strip our backyards and Facebook feeds of our witness to Christ.

Scripture clearly calls us to more. God passed the commandment to love one another down to Moses (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus reaffirmed and illuminated it (Mark 12:31), and the apostles expounded upon it with the light of the gospel (1 Peter 1:22). As followers of Christ, we are to serve where God leads us, to embark into the mission field (Matthew 28:19–20), and to toil in his name, out of love for him who loved us. Love, in Christ, knows no boundaries, and never insists on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:4–7).

Our sisters need this love. When doubt and confusion settle bleakly in the heart, we all need the good news that Christ heals us, that he renews us. When we love one another in Christ, we highlight that our shared experiences in mothering outnumber our differences. Every mother knows the urgency to protect her children, the visceral churning, the fierceness. We can all recall our understanding, after cradling our first child, that love penetrates far deeper than we had ever envisioned possible, flowing from our Creator’s profound and abundant design. When we nurture and toil and sacrifice for our children, we remember the one who sacrificed for all of us (1 Peter 3:18). Such breathtaking truths far surpass the paltry value of organic produce and Pinterest parties.

When we impose one-size-fits-all labels upon parenting, we fail in our call to love one another, and we also disregard God’s sovereign work in motherhood. Psalm 127:1–3 exposes our error:

Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.

The psalmist emphasizes that no house or city can stand without God’s sovereign grace. The remarkable transition in the second stanza links this construction of cities with the building of families: the children we bear reflect God’s handiwork.

There is a reason God pairs us with specific children. That Sarah bore Isaac was no accident. Nor were the parental relationships between Jacob and Joseph, David and Absalom, or Elizabeth and John. As the Bible marches out lineages toward Christ, with each individual playing a unique role in the narrative, so also our own children are carefully determined, their idiosyncrasies and challenges written into the blueprints of our lives. The children we bear are wholly unique in their impression upon history, their role in God’s kingdom, and the DNA spiraling within their cells.

How can we reduce such vast diversity, such divine intentionality, to snide rules of thumb? How can we berate our sisters in Christ for their mothering differences, when they were ordained by God — who knows their flaws and unrefined edges, their talents and awkwardness — and chose them, with the promise to work all for good (Romans 8:28), to raise their unique children?

Mothering is not a cookie-cutter affair. It represents a precise, God-ordained pairing of two unique souls: a child and his nurturer. The mandates that accompany this divinely-determined relationship are clear: to teach our children to love the Lord with all their heart, and to love their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:30–31).

Strife about stylistic preferences do not achieve these aims. Rather, shepherding our kids’ hearts toward Christ begins with loving one another. It begins with loving our fellow, battle-weary sisters on this journey, giving praise to God all the way.

...Read More.