Archive for January, 2009

Jesus and the Radical Fam

Caryn: So this is my attempt to see if we can’t keep the Cult of the Family discussion going—in a fresher, more encouraging and positive way. I am almost loathe to do it, because frankly I’m EXHAUSTED by some of the comments at the original COTF, but it’s such an important topic, I think maybe we can give it a go.

Besides, I didn’t really get a fair shake at “rebuttal” last time since Carla took advantage of my retreat-ed-ness. (We all need to watch our backs when it comes to Carla. She’s a sneaky one.)

But I while I was retreating I heard a couple things that are pertinent to the Cult of the Family discussion. First was this: “The tears of a stranger are just water.” Apparently, it’s an Indian (from India—my generation, at least, didn’t grow up PC enough to automatically assume this) proverb.

When I heard this, I kind of recoiled in horror. It sounds shockingly mean and callous, doesn’t it? But it’s not really meant to be. The intent is to fortify the family. To instruct children and remind adults about whom their love and care and concern should be focused on. It’s essentially a “family first” sort of thing.

And then in another conversation, this interesting bit came up: According to the sort of athiest biologist set, the reason a mother (or father, I suppose) would be inclined to rush into a burning house to save her children has nothing really to do with love or devotion or any sort of morality issues. It’s all about DNA—specifically, to keep her DNA going on this earth. So this essentially implies that a mother’s love and instinct to protect is “survival of the fittest”-driven as opposed to God-given.

These two things threw me for a loop, because essentially both these little tidbits totally contribute to the Cult of the Family, right? And yet—I’m just guessing here—but it seems to me that an old Indian proverb doesn’t come out of “The Church.” Neither, obviously, would an athiest’s view of maternal instinct be attributed to the church (at least not directly). 

So it dawned on me, that the whole Cult of the Family might not stem from the church at all—but stem directly from human nature. I mean, OF COURSE, I love my kids more than yours. OF COURSE, I worry more about my child’s safety than yours. OF COURSE, I’m going to feel worse when my kid is sick or hurt or sad than when yours is. I can’t imagine life without my kids. I can without yours. It’s my human nature. Or maybe even just nature—those mama bears seem to feel this same way.

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I started thinking about Jesus—our Main Revolutionary—and about how he was the one who called us to shift our focus from the internal family (all that hating your mother and brother stuff….) onto the external world. He’s the reason why something like “the tears of a stranger are just water” sounds so icky, so off.

Of course, he’s the one whose Father sent him into this world as a sacrifice, to offer us that grace I’m so crazy about, and to have us share that grace with all nations, not just our little fams.

But of course, there’s still the tension: My human nature makes me want to put my kids above everything (I’m not dissing a mother’s intuition here or any of the nature thing: it rightfully makes me want to love, protect, nurture, care, praise, discipline, and hug them like crazy!). But Jesus calls for the radical—he calls for a transformed nature, one that almost always run counter to what the world and our fallen nature tells us.

My point? The church and it’s Cult of the Family really mimicks the world’s view (some called this worldiness in the first round of comments) and doesn’t mimick Jesus.

It’s by following the world in their focus on the family that we make it a cult and that we end up hurting all these other people who don’t fit. The very ones we were meant to reach.

I’m not saying I think Jesus wants us to ditch the fam or stop listening to our God-given instincts (quite the contrary) but he DOES want us to be counter-cultural, radical families, to be Revolutionary Mommies and take a gander at the outside world every now and then.

Okay, I’m pretty sure now that I JUST reiterated exactly what Carla has been saying these last two posts. Sorry about that. Can we just love and support each other a bit now?

 

Carla: Hmmm. I’m thinking about this. Here’s something I know for sure–the model we have of motherhood, the one so many of us find to be an uncomfortable fit–absolutely came to us from outside of the church. It came from Richard Nixon.

I can’t tell you how much I love this story. It turns out that during the Cold War, Nixon put together this little propaganda movie about America that included a tour of a “typical American home.” The glories of capitalism were symbolized by the washer and dryer–right there in the house!!!–and the fact that in a capitalist society, there was enough money to be made that only one of the adults in the house had to work! See how great America is? See how good capitalism is? See?!?!?!?!?

The stay-at-home mom of the 50s? Political propaganda. 

If you think about how women lived for the vast majority of human history–and how most women in the world live now–it’s pretty clear that all of the family focus we struggle with was a luxury they couldn’t afford. Women worked in the fields with their children strapped to their backs. They woke up before dawn to make food and gather firewood and start their 15-plus-hour work day. If the kids got a little attention in there, great. But the bottom line was survival, not quality family time.

And actually, I think you bring up something else about motherhood that’s relevant here. At least I’m making it relevant. Women–healthy, reasonably functional women–don’t need someone to tell them that their children are precious. We don’t need to be told to take parenting seriously. We don’t need to be reminded of what our job is as mothers. We know. With every cell of our bodies and acre of real estate in our hearts, we know. And whether the instinct to care for our children is because of love or because of the need to keep our gene pool on the planet, we don’t need books and sermons and huge ministry organizations to tell us that we should love our children and make sacrifices for them.

What we need is Christian communities–and I feel like we’re creating one here!– that help us figure out how to live as God’s people in the midst of parenting, in the midst of not parenting, in the midst of disappointment and dashed hopes, in the midst of joy, and in the midst of despair. That’s what we need from our churches and each other.

Caryn: So you’re saying we can blame Darwin, Nixon, and the Church for our problems? That’s a mix you don’t get every day! Okay, so maybe just a bit more of the blame thing—give ourselves a good squeeze—and then maybe we can get back to some positive ways we can take charge and turn this sucker around.

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A Revolutionary Experiment

Caryn: So this weekend I did a bit of Revolution experimenting. The retreat my husband and I attended—on the shores of the amazingly beautiful frozen, snow-covered, and ice-jagged Lake Michigan–was the same one (or, I mean, the same people, place, and sort of thing) we attended two years ago when my good old mama identity crisis peaked.

You could say it was the retreat that two years ago lauched a blog post that launched a book that helped launch the Mommy Revolution. It was there that a strange man kept calling a very pregnant me mama and it was there that I had the almost ridiculously agonizing decision of whether to attend a “publishing” break-out-session or a “homemaking” break-out-session. (Only in America is this a huge dilemma, right?) It was the retreat—no matter how enjoyable and relaxing and interesting—that made me come home and go, Something’s not right in the world of motherhood. Or, at least, in my little world.

So anyway, after two years of thinking and talking and wondering and praying and addressing some of these ID-crisis-causing issues, back we went this past weekend. To where it all began.

And I gotta tell you: Whole new ballgame, people! I walked into that retreat as me, bolstered by the encouragement I’ve received from many of the Mommy Revolutionaries and other women I talk to.

I didn’t feel disloyal to my kids when someone asked me what I did and I said I was a writer (or a speaker or an editor—whichever fancied me at the moment. They ARE all true, incidentally.) And sometimes I tossed out my own advice from my book and gave my “mom and a writer” answer.

I talked openly about the joys of motherhood and how thrilled I am to be raising these great kids, but also talked just as openly about how annoying and exhausting it can be. And how glad I was to have a weekend away from these kids I adore. I said so without even a hint of an apology.

And it was great. I got to spend time talking about things other than my kids, things of the world, things of God, heck, things about me. And I didn’t feel selfish.

Now I know this isn’t world-changing stuff here. But in a way it felt like it. Something so small, something so internal, and yet, I couldn’t help but think that maybe part of the Mommy Revolution has a lot to do with this. We can’t help what other people think about us. I mean, I couldn’t help that one guy—after talking to my husband extensively about what my husband does for a living—got up from the table after I shared that I was a mom (it’s always an experiment with me!). I can’t help that HE thinks it’s uninteresting. But I can help my response.

In this case, Rafi (my husband) and I cracked up. He loved seeing in action what I write about in my book. And so did I. It’s fun to be right.

But what we can change is our attitude and our reactions. Really, isn’t the Revolution about declaring that what people think of us and our motherhood is THEIR problem? As long as we’re looking to God, who cares? Or am I being flip?

Carla: Of course you’re being flip, but since the other option is being bitter, I think flip is just fine. It loathes me to say this, but you’re absolutely right. The Revolution isn’t about changing the culture so that moms can change. It’s about changing moms so the culture can change–and so that if it doesn’t, we’re okay with it. 

I don’t mean that we want to turn moms into something we aren’t. No, the change we’re talking about it what we’ve been reading about in your comments. It’s that change from living lives that are based in who other people think we should be, to living lives based in who we feel God leading us to be. It’s amazing to hear your stories and watch how each of you is impacting other women with your honesty and vulnerability! 

So here’s a thought. For the rest of this week, let’s have everyone who reads this blog tries a little experiment. Let’s all try to own our motherhood in a new way. Maybe it will be answering that “So what do you do?” question with one of your many options and paying attention to the various responses you get. Or maybe it will be telling one other person the truth about how your day is going–good or bad. Ask for help when your instinct is to try to be superwoman. Offer encouragement instead of judgment or defensiveness when you talk to someone who parents in different ways than you do. Or pull a Chloe O’Brian and tell people you’re a stay-at-home mom while you’re implating transmitters in their teeth (best moment of Monday’s episode of 24.). Then, post a comment about what you noticed or experienced as a result. What changes when we change?

Caryn: Oooh, I love the challenge—even if I have no idea what pulling a Chloe O’Brian means. (Can I have a moment of vulnerability and admit that I’ve never seen 24? Or Lost, for that matter? SOME OF US have to work at night, you know. Oh, wait, is that exactly what I’m not supposed to be doing…? Sorry.) I can’t wait to hear everyone’s stories! Please do tell.

The Cult of the Family

Carla: Today has been a better day. No one has locked themselves out of any houses and all children are in cooperative moods. 

Before I launch into today’s post, I want to point out that my dear friend Tony has gotten wind of our conversation about motherhood as a calling. Pop in to his Beliefnet.com blog, The New Christians, and take a look at some other perspectives.

On with the show. So one of the issues that Caryn and I are taking on in the MR is what we see as the immense pressure and guilt the church lays on mothers. Really, our greatest hope for the Rev is that it frees mothers from unrealistic–and unbiblical–expectations about who they are supposed to be. To get there, however, takes some serious dismantling of the cultural messages that have become so ingrained in us.

Our American culture has all kinds of damaging and hurtful messages and there are several wonderful books out there that do a fine job of peeling back the cultural wallpaper to find a new layer of truth for women. We will use the occasional post to talk about those messages, but our real passion is to deconstruct the Christian myths of motherhood. And the first one to go is what I call the Cult of the Family.

Christian women are taught that motherhood will someone complete us, that in motherhood we will find the culmination of all our hopes and dreams. We hear sermons and read books and go to conferences about how what we do as parents will shape our children more than anything else in their lives. One result of that is that the church encourages us to take parenting seriously. And we applaud that message.

But the other result is that women come to believe that our ultimate worth comes from motherhood, not from our relationship with God. We get the impression–and you only have to read the comments from the last week to see how deeply impressed upon us this is–that our real contribution to the world is to raise children.

The problem is that churches have elevated the family to a position that is out of synch with the gospel. We have been led to believe that the family is more important than the broader community, that protecting our children from the secular culture is more important than bringing God’s love into that culture. And we have been led to believe that every ounce of thought or energy or time we put in to anything other than our families is a sign that our priorities are out of whack.

Those messages have pulled women away from God. And that’s why I call it the Cult of the Family. It keeps our eyes on mothering, not God. It focuses our attention on a small group of people, not the body of Christ. It convinces us that if we sense God leading us anywhere but into our homes, we are being tricked and swayed by the godless culture. It shuts down our ability to discern the path God has for us by telling us that path has already been decided.

And it hurts women. Not just mothers, but all women for whom motherhood is not an option, for whom motherhood is a constant struggle, for whom the dream of motherhood has been crushed by the loss of a child–in the womb or out of the womb.

We received an e-mail from one such woman and we asked her if we could share it with you. Here’s what she had to say:

I’m in my late 30s and a longtime Christian. I’ve never been married. I very much wanted to be a mom, but that hasn’t happened  (in spite of eHarmony and a host of other sites, setups and a whole lot of prayer). I find that the church has no idea how to respond. And sometimes the responses are downright mean.

Some people automatically assume that single women are weird or too picky.  I don’t think so. It’s hard to meet decent people, despite all the advice doled out in books.  (And why are all those books marketed specifically to women anyway?)

I don’t know why I’m not married with 2.5 kids. I don’t know why God put that longing in my heart and didn’t fulfill it. And if anyone else knows the answer, then perhaps they can pass it along to my mother, who is dying to know.

I’m troubled by some of the more devastating lies in the church. Some prominent Christian organizations are now telling older singles that they’ve sinned because they’ve put off marriage and motherhood. 

Please understand that I esteem marriage and children. I wanted those gifts. God gave me something else, at least for now.   And there’s a tension there, between living a full life for Him and acknowledging the wistful ache. Because sometimes the single life is lonely. (It’s not at all like TV! And it’s a far cry from the single life of college, too.) 

I am steeped in children’s ministry. I love kids. But I wish the church had a stronger message to those of us who don’t have partners or children. Because sometimes we feel that because we aren’t part of the club, there’s not a place for us in the family. 

I’ve heard the “wait until your married” message my whole life. I would love to see the church teach its daughters to wait “because you are Jesus’ precious daughter, whether you are married or single.”

Some of us can’t talk about the ticking clock and the ache because we might choke up and make you feel awkward. Some of us try to talk about it, but then we hear how lucky we are, with our tidy, quiet houses and diaper-free shopping carts and all. Yes, we know marriage and motherhood are work. But we think it’s work we’d like a chance at.  Maybe we want to talk about the ups and downs of being a mom honestly with you. Maybe it would be OK if the moms out there asked us about the dating scene – or lack of it. 

Singleness wasn’t my choice. But it’s my life. And our family-centric churches rarely help us along.  

I’ll never forget attending a Mother’s Day service at a friend’s church. The pastor asked all adult women to stand and prayed that they would be strong women and nurturers to whomever God might place in their lives. Yes, I know it’s not a typical Mother’s Day gesture, but it meant the world to me, and that pastor has a special place in my heart.

Let’s encourage each other, as women in the Lord, moms or not. 

Whenever a message creates pain in the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ, it’s the wrong message. 

Caryn: (Actually, it’s still Carla. Caryn is on her way to some fun weekend retreat that I’m never invited to. If she has the internets when she gets to her chalet or whatever it is she’s staying in, she will chime in and tell me how off-base I am. But in the meantime, I’m posting so that you’ll have something new to read and ponder over the weekend. At least one of us is committed to this endeavor.)

And the Winner Is…..

Tina!! In a completely random process, Tina was selected as the winner of Keri Wyatt Kent’s latest book, Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity. Congratulations Tina! We hope your gift leads to many peaceful moments in the coming days.

Carla: I will be posting a something wonderful and controversial in a little while. But my morning plans were thwarted when I locked myself and my 3-year-old out of the house this morning. An hour and a half later, we are in and warming up (it’s 18 degrees outside!). Once my hands are fully thawed I will be back.

Revolutionary Reads: “Rest”

**Freebie Alert!**

A month of so ago, author Keri Wyatt Kent asked Carla and I if we’d be interested in reviewing her newest book, Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity
Since Keri’s a friend of the blog and a Revolutionary Mom herself, we said sure. While we’ve never tackled this sort of thing here before, we thought we’d give it a go. Besides, she offered to thrown in a free book to one lucky commenter (see, Obama hasn’t even been president one whole day yet–and already your fortunes could be changing!).

So, here’s our go at this. It’s not so much a “review” (though we did like the book!) as it is a quickie Q&A. Consider it how the Mommy Revolution does books (at least this time around!):

Caryn: The day your book arrived was one of the craziest I’ve had in a while–though it wasn’t entirely atypical. Just a busy day trying to wrangle the kids, rushing here and there, trying to meet some last-minute writing deadlines, all on about 5 hours of INTERRUPTED sleep. I remember looking at the cover (at a stoplight–because I intercepted your book from the UPS guy on my way out the driveway), hearing two of my three kids snap at each other in the backseat, and seeing the words “rest” and “simplicity.” In that moment those ideas seemed like more of a joke than a reality–or at least something that was not attainable in this stage of life. What do you say to other moms who might think these concepts are just out of reach?

Carla: I love Caryn’s question and it echoes mine. Keri, I LOVE the ideas behind your book and I so want rest and peace and calm and balance. But it does feel so out of reach. Even finding the peace to read about how to find peace feels out of reach. So what are some “in the middle of the chaos” secrets you can share with moms who might not have or know how to make the time to get time to themselves?
 
Keri: I guess I would answer those this way. Living a life of Sabbath Simplicity doesn’t mean that you are always resting. There will be times when you are busy or even overwhelmed. God told us to work hard for six days, and then rest for one. So that means we fully engage in the work we are called to do–whether refereeing squabbles, doing laundry, running errands, doing our jobs (such as writing those articles). But we set aside one day to rest from all of that.

It’s a rhythm of life. But what does that look like? It looks different in different seasons of life. I encourage people to build their Sabbath practice slowly, one step at a time. I imagine that as you were in your car, you were off to run errands, with your little ones in tow. You sometimes have to do that. But what if you decided that on Sundays, you won’t run errands? Sabbath is about freedom, and you can set yourself (and the kids) free from that stressful experience on that day. Choosing not to do things like housework or errands one day a week will set that day apart. And it’s hard to explain, but that experience will provide a peace that you can hold on to that during the stressful times.

You mentioned sleep, which is huge. For some of us, the first step on a Sabbath Simplicity journey is to get enough sleep one night a week. You can endure a lot if you know that one night a week, you’ll get enough sleep.

Caryn: Cool. Thanks for stopping by, Keri! So what do the rest of you Revolutionaries think? Do you like what she has to say about rest and sleep and “Sabbath Simplicity”? If so, she says a lot more in her book, Rest: Living in Sabbath Simplicity. You can buy it at bookstores or at Amazon. OR you can try to win it by leaving us a comment!

Maybe tell us what how rest or sleep or simplicity or Sabbath observance has revolutionized your life. Or tell us how you think it COULD revolutionize your life. Or tell us a revolutionary way to find rest or to get sleep or live simpler or observe the Sabbath… You get what my own tired, tired brain is saying here.

Carla and I haven’t decided how we’ll pick the winner, but we’re certain it will become obvious. So we’ll tell you how we decided, after we decide. Comment away!

How to Be Friends

Caryn: With the terrific conversations going on below about motherhood as calling and the Manifesto, this is going to seem kind of out there, but I wanted to throw something on to the Mommy Revolution radar that’s been twirling around my personal radar for a little bit now. Ever since I reconnected—via Facebook, of course–with a friend from college (that’d be Calvin College, if you must know) in fact.

After usual “hey–good to see you here/beautiful family!” Facebook stuff, she caught me up on her life this way: Since giving birth to her another child last year, she left full-time employment but has been keeping busy with the fam, doing the part-time-work-from-home thing, volunteering, selling stuff on eBay for sitter money, and “trying to figure out how to be friends with women without falling into the gossip trap.”

Aaaah, yes. That.

I’m just going to go out on a limb and guess that me and my friend aren’t the only ones who’ve had trouble figuring out how to be friends with women without falling into various “traps.” For my friend, it’s gossip. For me, it’s been jealousy and fakeness (and, okay, a touch of gossip too).

Your “trap” can be any of the snarly things that keep us from true friendships, from revealing our real selves (you’ll be able to read a whole big pink book about this in less tha two months, people!!!), or, in kitchy Evangelial church-speak,  achieve “authentic community.” Because: Gossip—no matter how fun—makes people unsafe to share with. Jealousy keeps us from being truly happy for another person. And fakeness, well, gets in the way of being accepted and loved for yourself. Obviously.

I’ve found that mom friendships are riddled with traps. I hate saying this because I love my friends, and I’m so grateful for the relationships I’ve formed since becoming a mom. But this is not to say, they haven’t left some scars.

Let’s just say it was being around other moms, trying to develop friendships with women after I had kids, that sent me spiraling into my identity crisis (along with a couple other things). It was often after attending MOPS or a play group or park district class that I felt my most lonely (and motherhood left me lonely “como loco”–as we Rivadeneiras say).  It was in these instances where I realized how high and specific the expectations were on me in my role as a mom. And what a misfit I was.

That is, until, I realized I was falling into my traps. They were the problem. Not the women. Not the groups. But the traps. Once I became aware of them and sort of learned (or am learning) to circumnavigate them, it’s been a whole new world.

I’ve done pretty good at keeping away from gossip, I readily admit and confess my jealousy, and I’ve decided to open up more, be more revealing (hence the talk about nursing my two-year-old on Moody radio!) in a “here’s the real me/love it or leave it sort of way.”

So what’s this got to do with the Mommy Revolution? I think two of our tenents (we really need to number these babies):

  • Women need emotional support from other women.
  • Women support each other instead of critique each other.
  • If our relationships or our approaches to other women are trap-filled, we can’t get or offer this support. But how do we de-trap?

    Carla: I think that’s an excellent question–how do we de-trap? I mean, it’s challenging enough to avoid the traps I set for myself–poor self-image or my perfectionism.

    –I am having a terrible time trying to finish this. There’s a preschooler on my lap and she wants to press buttons. Here she goes. erty\tgfbyul;fjjorj..p;pg;;;m;,’dbbhuyuu6t6devtjytfjkjuut7uu6jiuutiiooholliyuiyiihhhgggfhrikylljljlkhklkmmfmn      cb     c           k997iioojhkjkmjklok

    Okay, it’s now the next day. I’m sorry it’s taking me forever to post. But it has given me some extra time to think about what you’ve said. And here’s what I’ve got. For me, all of the traps spring out of the same factory: fear. We gossip to distance ourselves from a friend’s actions because we are afraid they reflect poorly on us. We get jealous because we’re afraid someone else knows something we don’t or is capable of something we’re not. We get defensive about our parenting choices because we’re afraid we’ve made the wrong one.

    So it seems to me that the way to dig ourselves out of these traps is to figures out what we’re afraid of. Is it looking bad in the eyes of others? Is it disappointing someone? Is it facing criticism? Maybe it’s realizing we aren’t the kind of moms we thought we’d be or having to face our imperfections yet again. Each of us has to answer that question for ourselves, but I really believe that most of us let fear motivate our choices and attitudes far more than we want to admit.

    For me, identifying my fears has been 90 percent of the battle. Once I know them and name them, I can see how ridiculous they are. Of course I have legitimate fears for my children, but those don’t lead me into these traps. It’s the fears I have about myself and my place in the world that send me into times of loneliness or comparisson or jealousy.

    Imagine what parenting would be like if we become mothers who are so unafraid that when another person tells us about the choices they make as a parent, we can say, “That’s so different from what we do and it sounds like it really works for you,” without a hint of defensiveness or the need to convince someone of how wrong they are. Imagine what parenting would be like if we could admit our fears to each other knowing that we would face nothing but compassion and prayer and comfort from our friends. What a revolutionary idea!

    Caryn: A total revolutionary idea—and yet a completely gracious one. Totally agree: If we moms (and all people, actually) offer that grace of which you speak—offering compassion and prayer and comfort when someone shares a fear (or an off-beat idea or anything, for that matter)—not only do we offer (and receive) friendship, but we get to show a little Jesus in that action too.

    Is Motherhood a Calling?

    Carla: We had a great conversation on Midday Connection and it raised some important questions in the comments on the blog. One issue came up in Dave’s set of comments on this post–and we know it will come up again and again and again so we are going to dig into it a lot deeper. And I want to be clear about something. We are not picking on Dave–he is voicing an opinion that we hear a lot and we appreciate his participation in the Revolution conversation. This post isn’t about Dave. It’s about an ideology that we just don’t buy. It’s this whole idea of motherhood as a calling. 

    As you can probably guess, we wouldn’t call it that. Not because motherhood isn’t wonderful in many, many ways and not because we don’t believe God led us toward the lives we are living. We firmly believe that motherhood matters–a lot, that it is honorable and godly and worthy of respect and praise.  No, we wouldn’t use that word because we think it’s problematic. Here’s why:

    1) It’s not biblical. Seriously, name one Bible verse that says motherhood is a calling. There aren’t any. There are, however, huge chunks of the Bible that tell us what we are called to as Christians–one could even say that’s kind of the point of the whole thing. 

    •  Deut. 10:11-13 is a longer version of something called the Shema (found in Deut. 6:5) which the nation of Israel held as its central calling. “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?”
    • Micah 6:8 says something similar: “He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
    • Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, caring for the needy. He doesn’t give an exemption for those of us with young children. Jesus includes women in his call to go into the world and make disciples. He never says a thing about calling women toward something else. He doesn’t give women what Dave calls a “proper focus,” he gives all people who follow him the same call–take up your cross.
    • Paul’s letters go into great detail about what the Christian life looks like and he rarely mentions parenting, much less motherhood. In fact, Paul is pretty clear–as was Jesus–that family life can often get in the way of following God. When parents are spoken of at all, it is in regard to their relationship to their children and the importance of honor and respect in that relationship. Paul spends most of his writing time teaching Christians to care for each other, to work together, to overcome their differences and find unity in their faith. He doesn’t single parents out as having a calling that is somehow more godly than others. In fact, he says the opposite–the body has many parts and all are needed. 

    In general, parenthood in the Bible is a means to some other end. There are only a handful of specific examples of women being somehow chosen to have children: Sarah, who gave birth only after decades of praying for a child; Hannah who prayed and prayed for a  baby only to offer that child, Samuel, back to God when he was a toddler; Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; and Mary, who was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. But those stories are not about how those women were called into motherhood for its own sake. Each of those stories is the launching point for the next part of God’s story. These are not stories about motherhood, but about faithful women who were mothers. They weren’t called to motherhood but to faith. The Bible shows us how to live as God’s people–and that impacts our parenting. But the Bible doesn’t say much about how we are to think about parenthood.

    2) People keep using that word. We don’t think it means what they think it means. One of the best sermons I ever heard was about this idea of calling. The pastor talked about how blithely Christians use that word when in truth the Bible uses it very rarely. So there’s a difference between the actual sense of calling as it’s used in the Bible and the way most people use the word. Caryn and I both feel like we have followed God’s lead in the lives we have. But I have never felt called to motherhood. I feel called to be a good mother. I feel called to love my children like crazy, to teach them, to care for them, to protect them, to send them into the world as thoughtful, compassionate people who love God. But that is my calling as a Christian–to love the Lord with all my heart and soul and strength, to love my neighbor (which in this case means my children) as myself, and to teach this to my children. The call of Christ compels me to be a loving, caring parent. It doesn’t compel me to be a parent.

    3) It boarders on idolatry. Dave made a statement that troubles me to no end. It is just the kind of statement that sends a deeper message to mothers: Dave mentions that a woman’s proper focus is the family. I’m not sure where he gets that. Well, I know where he gets it, but I don’t know what biblical basis he has for that statement. As I said, the gospel doesn’t include specifics about parenting. Jesus didn’t exempt mothers from participating in God’s work in the world. And Jesus wasn’t just talking to the men when he told his followers to feed and clothe and visit the poor and imprisoned. The idea that my three children are more important than other people goes against everything the Bible teaches. It makes an idol of my family. So I can’t justify having tunnel vision about my parenting. I can’t call myself a Christian and then live a life that centers only on a small, select group of people–no matter how much I love those people. And I can’t fathom God giving me gifts and passions and dreams with the intention that I limit the use of those to the lives of three people. There is a huge, hurting world out there and mothers–with our heightened compassion, our deepened sense of justice, our ever-growing longing for a better world–are uniquely qualified to get out there and work toward bringing about the kingdom of God. I could go on and on about mothers who have changed the world, but we’ll save that for another post.

    4) It’s a dangerous, damaging way to think about motherhood. If we hold motherhood up as a divine calling, we imply that it is something a woman is chosen for, that she is selected by God to do. So what about those women who long to be “chosen” for motherhood and aren’t? What message does it send to childless women when we tell them that God only chooses some women for this special calling? I’ll tell you what that message is: it’s that they are the problem, that they are unworthy of the call. I know that’s what they hear because my friends who have battled infertility or who are single and long for families tell me that’s what they hear.We can encourage and support  and value motherhood without turning it into something that creates pain in the lives of our sisters.

    5) It ignores dads. I find it ironic that the same people who hold up motherhood as a calling rarely talk about fatherhood as a calling. If anyone has a link to a book, an article, an anything that discusses fatherhood as a calling, please link to it in the comments because I would love to be wrong about this. Ironically, it also seems to me that the people who believe motherhood is a calling often hold to a view of the man as the spiritual head of the family as well. In that case, why isn’t the dad the one staying home with the kids? If he’s the head, why is he the one leaving for 40 hours a week? The absence of a father in a child’s life creates a whole host of issues that are far more damaging to a child than having a mother who has a job.

    6) Add all of those together and you have faulty theology. Dave is the father of 11 children and I imagine he and his wife are wonderful parents. But the problem with what Dave is saying is something that sits at the core of the Revolution: Every family is different, every mom is different. So when someone suggests that what they have and experience is the best way–and the only real Christian way–to parent or think about the family, they take away the possibility that God might have a different path for other families.

    Those of us who feel perfectly content (or not so much content as done) with the one or three or six children have don’t believe we are somehow being selfish or not following God’s leading. It’s possible that we have made those decisions with heartfelt prayer and felt God’s clear leading. Dave and his wonderful, extraordinary wife have chosen a life that is simply not for everyone. They have been blessed with a big, happy family and that’s clearly where they have felt God leading them. But other families are led down different paths. And thank God. Because the world needs Christian people in every vocation, in every walk of life. We need men and women who focus on the world around them and not only on their own homes. That’s the divine calling–to go into the world and make disciples of all nations.

    Caryn: Preach it, Sister!

    I’m so glad you started this topic. Because yesterday—in a comment back to Dave (and I wasn’t bashing you, buddy. I really appreciate your sense of humor. My toes do feel better!)—I called motherhood a “calling.”

    But ever since I wrote that, I’ve wondered if I really believe it to be true. And I think I’m with you, Carla–for the reasons you write. You know the Shema and all (Props to Fuller Theological Seminary in beautiful Pasadena, Calif. They taught you good!).

    I do feel called to raise my particular kids. I know God gave me the amazing little creatures to raise—and am eternally grateful (and exhausted) for it. But I have never felt lead to motherhood in a divine sort of way. (For what it’s worth, I do feel lead—divinely so—with the Mommy Revolution. This is nothing if not a God-thing, people. You don’t even know….)

    However, I believe some women do feel called to motherhood. I’m thinking right now of a woman I know who without a doubt knew she was meant to be a mother and felt lead to adopt. Can I say this isn’t a divine calling? I don’t think so.  

    But it all comes back to this: Whether or not we have kids, whether or not we are “gifted” in the 1950ish sense of motherhood, whether or not we use birth control, whether or not we would cry or celebrate upon learning we were pregnant, a woman’s “proper focus” is on God, not family. I think you’re right, Carla, that a focus on the family (ahem) is idolatrous. I say, Focus on Jesus. (You can start humming “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” for better effect. Love that song!)

    Even Dave says God should be our number one. And that means, we look to him (God, not Dave) and to how he made us and to how he wants us to love and raise our kids and how we wants us to use our gifts and our lives. And, as Carla wrote, how he wants us to make disciples of all nations. 

    Sounds like that’s what Dave and his big wonderful family are doing.  And that’s what we should too. I’m just glad we can make disciples without literally making them. If you catch my drift…