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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

For the Young Mother: Ministry, Guilt, and Seasons of Life

Guilt is a young mother’s habitual shadow. It has a nasty way of soaking through many of her efforts at nurturing, serving and loving others. “Am I doing enough for my children? For others? What do they think of me? What does God think of me?”

As a young mother everyone wants something from you—your family, your church, your boss, your neighbor. And most likely, you give way more than you ever thought you could. But along the way guilt nibbles at your soul, eating away your inner peace and joy. And it often lingers through the years, even after your children are grown and gone.

Dear young mother, don’t waste your guilt!

DON’T WASTE YOUR GUILT

Don’t waste your guilt, but instead listen to it and evaluate it. Take it out of the shadows and examine it in the light of Scripture. Lay out your feelings before Christ. Is this guilt legitimate conviction of sin? Then confess your sin, receive his forgiveness and ask him where and how he wants you to change.

But maybe your guilt is a nagging, self-focused fear that if you were just a bit better or worked just a little harder, then you would be noticed and admired enough to feel okay about yourself. That is false guilt, rooted in pride. It will hurt your family and hinder your relationship with your grace-giving Father. If this describes your guilt, then remind yourself that through Christ’s death and resurrection, you’re accepted by God. The solution to false guilt, as to true guilt, is the gospel.

Paul speaks of these two kinds of guilt in 2 Corinthians 7:10. There is a godly grief that produces repentance, and a worldly grief that produces death. Ask yourself this question: is what I give my time and energies to driven by life-giving repentance or life-depleting pride?

A YOUNG MOTHER’S PRIMARY MISSION FIELD

One reason a young mother can feel wrongly guilty is that she forgets that her first and primary mission field must be her children.

God values children. He places great importance on our teaching our children to love and serve him (Deut. 6:7-9). Jesus became indignant when the disciples didn’t value the worth of children in God’s expanding kingdom (Mark 10:13-16). And God tells us that children are his blessing to us (Psalm 127:3).

Mothering calls for the best in us as women. As mothers, we shape the souls of our children and ultimately influence the world. Children are our gift to the future. So accept your calling from God to serve your family. It is not godly guilt that would call you away from a wholehearted investment in your little ones for his sake. Don’t feel guilty over making your children your primary ministry investment when they are young. You are teaching the younger generation to form intimate emotional bonds with others. Your sensitivity, availability, devotion, affection, and unhurried attention are irreplaceable.  

MOTHERING: PLAIN HARD WORK

On the other hand, Paul’s word to me as an older woman is to “train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled” (Tit. 2:4-5).

Why does the apostle have to tell us older women to teach these things to the younger women? Because it can be hard to love your husband and children. In fact, it can be easier to minister outside the home. Why is it more rewarding for us to plan a ladies’ retreat for two hundred women than it is to plan an indoor picnic with our preschoolers on a rainy afternoon? I think it’s because the rewards are more immediate and the demands are not so steady.

Being a young mother is plain hard work. At times it feels like slave labor! Young moms can identify with the cartoon of a toddler looking at a wedding album with his daddy and saying, “So that’s the day Mommy came to work for us!”

But God has called you to this ministry. He knows there are no neutral moments in a young child’s life, whose experience is one of continuous need and development. Your children will bear the imprint of your mothering throughout their lives because much of human behavior springs from imitation.

You are the only mother your children have. Your ministry to them is the deepest expression of your love for them. Raising your children has to be done right the first time around. It is one of the few places in life where you can not say, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

You have received this commission from God. As a mother your privilege is to teach them how to respect their daddy and be kind to their siblings, how to choose good nutrition and wholesome entertainment, why they should value courtesy and orderliness, and which causes are worthy of their efforts, their reputations, and even their very blood.

Are you discouraged as you spend day after day immersed in the mundane tasks of mothering? Then think of the honor of guiding the spiritual and intellectual and social development of young minds and hearts. Think of the thrill of teaching them eternal truths from God’s Word. Think of the importance of teaching your young children how to live under authority, and of preparing them for future relationships by teaching them about love and trust. Think of the delight of sending one more godly, vibrant, strong, secure, loving young person into this needy world with the courage to live well for Christ’s sake. What a worthy investment! 

WHAT YOUNG MOTHERS NEED: A HEART FOR THE HOME

Another challenge for a young mother is cultivating a love for the home.

God has called us to love our children from home base (Tit. 2:4-5). We can’t improve upon God’s design! This means more than staying at home. It means fixing your heart on your home. Women can leave their homes through more avenues than work or outside ministry. Cell phones, emails, and chat rooms can take a mother away from her primary ministry, too.

Ministry means being “all there.” It means rejoicing that you get to show your children how to peddle a tricycle, make their bed, build good memories, and share their toys with others. You serve your family, and ultimately your heavenly Father, by helping your child do that puzzle for the seventeenth time, by washing those sticky fingers, by planting a little garden, by acting out Bible stories and praying together, and by preparing for their daddy’s return as the highlight of your day!

What is the alternative? “A child left to himself disgraces his mother” (Prov. 29:15).

Remember this: you have the privilege of passing on to young hearts a sense of God! Should you feel guilty for that? As you let your children experience intimacy, nearness, and availability in their earliest years with you, you can point them to find those soul-necessities in Christ, their Savior, as they mature. And then you have the delight of sending them out with a light in their souls to bless this darkened world.

Someone is going to be influencing your children, inculcating values and imprinting standards on their impressionable young minds. Let it be you!

THIS SEASON IS JUST A SEASON

Does this mean you will never invest in others outside your family? Goodness, no. But if you are a young mother, use your primary ministry of mothering to guide your choices about where to serve Christ now. Don’t let anything woo you away from your unique role as a wife and mother.

This season in your life is just that—a season. And each season is a divine calling from our Creator and King. Organizing a new church event is important. Teaching your little boy to be kind to his sister is also important. But which one can best be done by you during this season? Serve God well by ministering to your children first. Very soon they will be grown and gone and all those uniquely teachable moments will be gone. And you will have ample opportunity to serve Christ outside your home in the seasons ahead.

“But you, take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded” (2 Chronicles 15:7).

Jani Ortlund is a former schoolteacher and holds a master’s degree in education. She is the author two books, Fearlessly Feminineand His Loving Law, Our Lasting Legacy. Jani is the wife of Dr. Raymond Ortlund, Jr.

July/August 2010
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Topics: Discipleship