I am excited to have Whitney from Journey Mercies guest posting here again today. Her topic is one that I have thought about often and I love how she’s written it.
I am nervous to say it – a bit afraid of what you’ll think of me. Maybe you’ll breathe a sigh of relief and think, “Someone is finally saying it.” Or maybe you’ll become angry, calling me another liberal who wants to attack traditional gender roles.
Because today I’m talking about why motherhood is not a woman’s highest calling.
But before you judge my idea based on its title, hear me out.
I grew up on the fringes of Christian circles who often said, “Motherhood is a woman’s highest calling”. Many of my homeschooling friends were heavily influenced by extremely conservative Christian teachers, whose books were filled with lofty prose, outlining why a woman should pursue motherhood as the best and most spiritual use of her time, talents, and strength. Some of my female friends had a very different set of parental expectations and rules than the ones for their brothers, because it was assumed they would get married and have babies. That was a woman’s main purpose, right?
I listened and watched their lives, and occasionally I’d accept that thinking without much analysis. Scripture passages like 1 Timothy 2:9-15 and Titus 2:3-5 were shown as proof that women were supposed to be busy in the home (and nowhere else). Proverbs 31 was the ultimate ideal of a godly woman who spends her time and energy caring for family and home. On hard days, women were comforted with the idea that there’s nothing better they could be doing with their lives. And they felt pride when they performed in these roles well.
Underlying all of these arguments was the assumption that anything a woman did with her life was less than what she could be doing as a mother. And anything she put above, or chose instead of that (whether work, ministry, or creative pursuits), was disobedience to God.
But now, as a mother myself who is trying to figure out what Scripture says about my life, I’ve realized those arguments are partial lies.
I say “partial”, because it is true that some women are called to become mothers. But this “calling” falls under one that is much higher and better.
First, we have to look at Scripture and ask, what exactly are we supposed to be doing with our lives as women? We have to get rid of the idea that the number one calling for men and women is different. I’m not talking about gender roles; I’m talking about our core purpose as human beings.
When Jesus left earth, he gave us our main purpose as his followers:
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”
(Matthew 28:18-20, NIV)
In the book of Matthew, these are the last recorded words of Jesus. He tells his followers what their mission in life is. Why didn’t they go with him to heaven, escaping all earth’s pain and suffering? Because they were called to tell others about him and build his kingdom on earth.
It is so easy for us to get wrapped up in the idea that we are called to be one type of person. But our identity as women should never be found in what kind of woman we are – whether single, wife, mother, widow, or entrepreneur. Our life’s purpose remains the same regardless of what season of life we are in: remain in Jesus and love others.
“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:4, 12-13, NIV)
The beautiful thing about following Jesus is that we can do those things in every role he calls us to. Sometimes, laying down our lives means laying down my preferences for how I spend my time so I can nurture the child he has given me. Sometimes it means giving up my freedom to travel and work, so I can raise a son who loves Jesus fiercely.
But I should never mistake my role as a mother for my life’s ultimate purpose – because then I will judge my own worth according to how well I perform in that role.
How many times have you (if you’re a mother) felt like a failure because you snapped at your child? How often have you felt a sense of pride at your own abilities as a mother on a good day? Do you ever have the nagging feeling that maybe your sense of worth is misplaced?
If our life’s purpose becomes centered on us – our title, our role, and our ability to perform as a mother – our identity is not placed in Jesus. Our identity becomes centered on what we do as women, not in what Jesus has done for us.
And if our ability to perform disappears, whether by losing a child or having a child who turns away from God, our identity will disappear also. Or even more likely, we will develop pride and arrogance when our children turn out to be amazing lovers of God, because we have done our duty.
If we believe that our highest calling in life is to be a mother, what does that say about women who can’t conceive – or, shockingly, choose not to? What about the single woman whose husband never arrives on the scene – was she deemed unworthy to be a mother? Will she always be “missing out” on God’s will for her as a woman? What hope can we offer those women?
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.”
(Titus 2:11-14, NIV)
Our “blessed hope” is not motherhood – or ministry, or a great career, or a perfect spouse. Our hope lies in the return of Jesus to our world. And our work lies in telling others about that hope – that Jesus is coming back, and he can redeem the brokenness of our hearts and heal us. That means that all women have received the same calling; it’s just the way we obey that differs.
For many women, the way we live out that calling in our daily lives is to love the little ones that God has given us – to be excellent mothers who point their children to Jesus. When we understand that our main calling is to make disciples, we can stop trying to raise children who make us look good as mothers – well-behaved, religious, straight-A students – and start raising children who are passionate about the kingdom of God.
And at the same time, we can also live out our calling by teaching other believers, running an ethical business, or advocating for biblical justice. The way we follow God changes with the seasons of our lives. But these roles are no less valuable in the kingdom of God, if they are done by a woman who looks to Jesus as her only hope and is eager to do good, for God’s glory.
That is the kind of woman I want to be – one whose biggest passion is the glory and pursuit of God in all I do, whether mothering, working, or creating.
Why isn’t motherhood a woman’s highest calling? Because remaining in Jesus and loving others is her highest calling. And how God tells individual women to uniquely live that out is part of the amazing diversity of the family of God. Believing and embracing this allows us to stop judging other women – and ourselves – based on our status as mothers, and celebrate the ways God moves others to follow him.
I know there are likely to be many viewpoints one might have about a woman’s calling. I would love to hear yours! How do you view the purpose of women in light of the Gospel?
Whitney is a tea-drinking, extroverted, travel-addicted book nerd who currently lives in Cambodia with her husband and son. She blogs at Journey Mercies about pursuing Jesus, loving people, living justly, and exploring the world. You can follow her travels and thoughts on Instagram and Twitter.
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