Motherhood Is A Sacrifice And That’s Okay To Say

About a year ago, a piece I wrote about motherhood was published on Desiring God. In it, I talked about some of the daily struggles and sacrifices that being a mom entails. Most people found it encouraging, as it was intended to be, but there was one man who commented that had a very negative reaction. He was “outraged” and said that motherhood is a blessing and therefore, never a sacrifice. The main objective of the piece was to display the beauty and purpose of motherhood despite the struggles that could make it difficult so I was a little stung by his harsh words (I really need a thicker skin).

At the time, I decided it would be wise to just not say anything, but there have been many, many times since that I wish I had responded. Many times when I have found myself in those difficult moments and thought, “This is absolutely sacrifice.” Like when I emptied my lunch in the toilet during my first trimester and it splashed me in the face. Like when my children have awakened me in the middle of the night or they’ve vomited on me when they’re sick. Like when my back has ached from caring for my children all day while also caring my third in my womb. And many, many others.

Now, I want to be absolutely clear. Motherhood is the greatest blessing and privilege of my life. I know there are many women who have lost a child or struggle with infertility who would give anything to be in my shoes. I can’t imagine their pain and I never want to complain. All of these things, which are relatively small, are nothing compared to the joy of being a mother to my children, but just because motherhood is a joy doesn’t mean every second of it is a joy or that it doesn’t take very real, sometimes very difficult, sacrifice.

The Sacrifice of Motherhood Reveals the Great Worth of Motherhood

From the second we see those two pink lines, we begin giving up things for our children. That’s just the simple truth. Being honest about that truth does not denigrate motherhood, but rather, it magnifies its beauty and worth. Calling something a sacrifice doesn’t make it a negative thing. It makes it a beautiful thing.

One definition of sacrifice is “the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” So, sacrifice merely means relinquishing something in order to gain something else, but no one sacrifices for something they don’t value. On the contrary, they sacrifice for it because they value it. The runner endures hours of training and pain and struggle because they value the reward of finishing the race. The person aiming to lose weight foregoes certain foods because they value a healthy, fit body. The married person gives up certain freedoms and takes on more responsibilities because they love and value their commitment to their spouse.

When we give up things for our children, our time, our energy, our personal comfort and preferences, our very bodies, we are essentially saying to them and to the world, “I cherish you more than a good night’s sleep. I’d rather have you than a perfect home or a glamorous career. I want you more than I want a perfect body or even a healthy, pain free body. You are worth far more to me than all these things.”

To love another is to give them a claim on your life, to voluntarily relinquish and restrict your freedoms and comforts for their sake. That’s what motherhood is. Its inherent beauty and worth is not diminished by calling it a sacrifice, but rather, magnified.

The Sacrifice of Motherhood Makes Motherhood Holy

In its latin roots, the word “sacrifice” breaks down into sacer, “holy,” and facere, “to make.” The word literally means to make holy. Motherhood is a holy endeavor not because we are holy, but because it makes us holy. It makes us holy because it makes us like Jesus.

Jesus’s entire life was a sacrifice. He gave up heaven to come down for us. He gave up His glory to become a tiny, helpless baby cloaked in mortal flesh. He gave up His absolute right to condemn us as judge and surrendered that flesh to pay for our sins. For us and “for the joy set before Him,” He literally became a sacrifice. Because He loved us more than He loved His glory, His rights, His body, His very life. Because we were worth more to Him than all these things.

Motherhood is a holy calling because it is a calling to be like Jesus. Sacrifice is not a hindrance to this calling. It is the essence of it.

I do want to be careful not to over-exalt mothers. Motherhood does not put us on some kind of exalted, saint-like plane. Rather, I think it keeps us very rooted down to humility. It calls us to be like Jesus and also exposes how much we are not like Jesus. It reveals our very great need.

I know many amazing mothers and no, they’re not super-heroes or saints. The truth is they’re all just very ordinary people doing their best to be faithful in very ordinary ways because they have an extraordinary love for their children.

So, moms, I say to you on this Mother’s Day, keep going. Keep loving. Keep giving. Keep serving. Keep giving yourself grace when you fall short. I know you sacrifice constantly for your children and you are allowed to say that. Your sacrifices are real and your sacrifices are seen, by God, by your children, and by the world. And your sacrifices are absolutely, 100% worth it.

mothersday

Advertisements

Is God Anti-Pleasure?

Pleasure and holiness are not things we normally think about in the same category. Pleasure is about doing whatever you want. Holiness is about abstaining and restraining. Pleasure is about freedom from rules. Holiness is about burdensome adherence to the rules.  Pleasure and holiness by definition, must be at odds.

However, I would suggest that these are mistaken understandings of pleasure and holiness that stem from a fundamentally and tragically warped view of God which has pervaded our society and even sometimes, the Church itself. It is the view that God is boring and He wants us to be boring too, that He delights in giving us rules just to keep us from enjoying all the things this world has to offer. To choose a life of holiness is to forego the life of pleasure. The truth I have come to realize and delight in is that this is fundamentally false. In fact, what Scripture teaches us about God is the exact opposite.

Consider the status of man before the Fall. Adam and Eve were brought to life and it was abundant life. They found themselves in a verdant garden, full of all kinds of delicious fruit to taste and beautiful plants and creatures to behold. Above all, they were given each other, companions to love and enjoy for life. And God had equipped them with all the sensory organs they needed to experience all the wonderful things the garden and each other had to offer.

The garden was literally laden with opportunities for pleasure. God called it good and He wanted Adam and Eve to experience just how good it really was and therefore, just how good He really was. Yes, there were rules.Well, really just one rule. Their pleasure was not without its boundaries. There was one tree, just one tree out of many from which they could not eat. What is interesting is that it is after they break this one rule, after they break with holiness, that their desire for pleasure becomes frustrated. Like Adam and Eve, we sin not because the pleasure we seek is itself is wrong, but because, having forsaken holiness, we seek it in perverse ways that God did not intend.  

This shows us that God’s character and attitude towards man is not one of stinginess. God’s delight is not to withhold arbitrarily, but to give bountifully. It is also tells us that, contrary to popular belief, pleasure without bounds is not very pleasant in the end. This in turn shows that our desire for pleasure needs boundaries in orderly to be properly satisfied. Is it not logical that the One who created all the good things in this world would know the best way to experience them? In making this earth, God had a design and His design was perfect and benevolent.

Consider the role of a Father and child.The child has things he naturally and foolishly wants to do. The child has a God-given desire to experience things. Yet, he lacks the knowledge and wisdom to know how the best way to do so. Is it wrong or mean-spirited of the Father to set boundaries and laws for the child? Of course not. A Father does not give his child rules arbitrarily or to withhold good things from him. Rather, he gives the child rules to protect him from harm and to show him the best and most enjoyable way to live.

In the same way, God’s rules (holiness) for the ways in which to live and enjoy His creation (pleasure) are designed for our good. The wondrous truth is that God takes great pleasure in our pleasure. However, our pleasure is most fulfilled when lived within the parameters He has set for us. His holy laws are given to us in love. So we see that contrary to common thought, God is not against our pleasure. His call to holiness is to not a call to dullness. It is a call to life abundant.

It seems then that pleasure and holiness are not mutually exclusive as we might think, but are meant to be united.  For when we experience pleasure through creation, we reflect the character of God who Himself has called it good and desires that we should too. And when we limit our pleasure within the bounds of holiness, we find that our pleasure is not lessened, but rather increased. We find that there is holiness in pleasure and pleasure in holiness.

This knowledge produces in me a renewed awe at the goodness of my God, a God who is overwhelmingly for our pleasure, is also good and wise, delighting to give us good things and to show us the best way to use them.

It also causes me to reflect that ultimately, all the pleasures God has given us here on this earth are meant to point us to Him. They are an overflow of His good character and a mere shadowing of the pleasures we find in Him. He has made known to me the path of life and in His presence, I am filled with joy (Psalm 16:11).

So as I eat, drink, and seek to live a holy and abundant life to the glory of God on this earth, I lift my eyes to Him, thanking Him for all the good things He loves to give and that one day, I will be with Him forever. I resolve to live a life of holiness knowing and rejoicing that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:60) and that this path of holiness is a path to pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

god

The Prosperity Gospel’s Deadly Whisper

“Find rest, o my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all time O people; pour out your hearts to him, for god is or refuge” (Psalms 62:5-8).

That was the verse shared by someone at church about four months ago, a verse I memorized in college. But that Sunday, I just thought, “That’s nice. I like that verse” and moved on with my life. Only later did I realize it was for me, that it was the verse God was giving me as the theme for the season of trial He was about to lead my family through.

A week or so later, my husband lost his job. We had just come off a year of great blessing. Great new job. Great new house. Beautiful new baby. This year could not look any more different. Unemployment. Sickness. Job offers falling through. Maybe we’d put too much stock in these earthly blessings. “Are you punishing us, Lord?” I wondered. Not punishing. Refining. Refining our hope. Refining our rest.

What does it mean when trials come regardless of “good behavior”? This is the great question of the book of Job.

The truth is, we all want a simple calculus. Do good. Get good. Do bad. Get bad. Obey. Reap blessings. Disobey. Reap trials. We want God to operate on our terms. It’s no different, really, from the Old Testament draw to idol worship. Gods made of human hands can be controlled by human hands. They are manipulable. Containable. Predictable. Non-threatening.

A living, breathing, omnipotent, sovereign God on the other hand? That can be a terrifying thing. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. He lives far above us in heaven and does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3). His judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33). If we submit to Him (or not), we are very much at His mercy.

Trials have a way of revealing what we really believe about God and about ourselves. I could give you a point by point run down of the Gospel.  I can scoff at Prosperity Gospel preaching and provide a scriptural rebuttal and yet, its seductive whispers can sneak behind my theologically equipped mind and make their way into my more vulnerable, more wayward heart. It is there that God is sifting.

I must confess that I can want God to behave more like an idol, to be a tool in my hands that I bend into making my life what I think it should be. I can want the Prosperity Gospel to be true.

As we have endured and continue to endure this season, it has forced me to ask myself some questions. Do I really believe that God is sovereign? Is the misfortune that has come our way a product of bad luck or divine providence? What has God promised me? Comfort, ease, and a life free of trouble? Or a hope, a joy, and a peace that remain in spite of trouble? What is the purpose of my life and what role does God play in it? Is my life about me and is God my fairy godmother who makes all my dreams come true? Or is my life about Him and His glory?

The answers to these questions directly determine how we respond in trials and suffering. I cannot pretend that my answers have always been the “right” ones. The verses I’ve been most drawn to are from Psalm 77. “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion” (v. 8,9)  My soul has refused to be comforted (v. 2), and yet still searched diligently to remember the deeds of the Lord (v. 11). I believe. Help my unbelief.

The lie of the enemy is that God owes us much and yet, withholds much. The truth of the gospel is that God owes us nothing but wrath and yet, gives us nothing but grace. Which will I believe?

I do not serve a god made of clay, fashioned by human hands, but the great and mighty creator and ruler of the universe. He has redeemed my life from the pit and it is His to do with as He pleases. He is not a good luck charm I invoke when trials come. He is my refuge when trials come. He is not making a plan for my life. He is making my life for His plan.

No one cares if we praise God when the sun is shining, but the world will stop and marvel when we praise Him in a storm, when our worship operates completely independently of our circumstances. That is the mark of a faith that is really real, of a heart that loves God for Himself and not for His blessings.

I am weak and weary, but I pray that trials will prove the tested genuineness of my faith, refined like gold in the fire, and resulting in the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). I have faltered and will no doubt falter again, but I am resolved to say with Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).


Dear Moms, God Doesn’t Need You To Be Perfect


It was one of those days. One of those days that started out like all the rest and then, somewhere in the middle, headed completely south. I’m pretty sure my son whined from sun up until sun down and was bound and determined to steal all of his sister’s toys just to be spiteful. My patience was thin and by thin, I mean nonexistent. If I’m being honest, I may have even dropped a swear word. Throw in some self-pity and a little resentment towards my husband and you’ve got a recipe for a stellar day.

I can relive these moments and cringe at my failures. Some days, okay a lot of days, it can feel like I’m in competition against some kind of motherhood/homemaker ideal. Her house is always spotless. She never loses her temper. She always has fresh baked cookies and she has time to do creative, thrifty things like turn old pillowcases into adorable outfits. Have you met her? I know you have. She lives in your head just like she lives in mine. 

We have this idea that we need to be perfect, even that God expects us to be perfect. The thing is though, my worst days, days like today, often lead to the sweetest moments. As I put my son to bed, crying softly into his freshly cleaned curls as we read about Jesus, he grasped the Gospel just a little bit more. As we talked about how Mommy sins and Daddy sins and Jesus takes all your yucky sin, I could tell it was starting to mean something to him because it was meaning something to me. 

If we’re not careful, we can offer our kids the Gospel, but refuse it for ourselves. We can preach grace, but live out legalism. In the end, it won’t be our efforts or “perfection” that will lead our children to Jesus. If anything, they will only push them further away. What will make God’s grace irresistible to our children is to stop resisting it ourselves, to let it fill all our broken places and spill over onto them.

So, Moms, God doesn’t need you to agonize over your failures. He’s actually pretty good at using screwed up people to do amazing things (see: the Bible). He doesn’t need you to be perfect. He’s pretty much got that on lock. What He needs is for you to get your messy, broken, sleep-deprived, possibly unshowered self to the Cross and He needs you to bring your children with you. 

Yes, Monogamy is ‘Unnatural’

Friday is my husband and I’s five year anniversary. On that day, my husband and I stood before God, family, and friends and took vows of commitment to one another. I’m not here to hand out marriage advice. Five years feels like a big milestone, but I know it’s not much compared to people like my parents and grandparents, who have been going strong for 30, 60 plus years. Like any marriage, we have had and have our difficulties.

I recently read that, after splitting from her second husband, actress Scarlett Johannson called monogamy “unnatural” and “a lot of work.” This is an opinion I’ve heard from other celebrities and many people in general. I’m not here to condemn her for view. Actually, to some extent, I’m here to agree with her.

We feel that there is something unnatural about monogamy because there is. What comes naturally is what comes easily and what comes easily is self-love. Commitment, the promise to love another more than ourselves, to stick with it when things gets hard, flies in the face of all of our natural instincts. But if our only standard for living is what feels natural, we have reduced our lives to virtual meaninglessness. Nearly everything worth attaining takes work and sacrifice. The student spends hours studying despite the fact that he would naturally rather not. The marathon runner trains, pushing himself through pain and straining against every natural instinct which begs him to stop. If we only do what feels natural, we may have comfort and ease, but we have very little actually worth having. 

In our society, we are both idealists and cynics. We want to believe in a love so powerful, so consuming that it is always easy to give, that never demands something we don’t naturally feel like doing. We want the sensation of falling in love, but we don’t ever want to hit the hard ground of reality, where things become mundane and difficult, where feelings dissipate. The problem though is that we inevitably do hit the ground and when we do, we feel that love has failed us somehow, that if it was real love, it wouldn’t be so hard. Falling in love is effortless and only takes a moment, but choosing to love for a lifetime takes a lifetime of work.

Real love is made of weightier stuff than feelings. It finds its form and substance in difficulty. It is refined in pain and trials like silver in the fire. It is not simply felt, but forged. It matters more when it is given in spite of and not because of natural instinct. Loving in moments of ease might make us feel good, but it means very little.  We all love that which makes us feel good and no one needs vows to do what is natural. Real love, however, is very unnatural and costly, but then by definition, it is very precious. If we only strive for that which costs us little, we will only attain that which is not worth very much.

I write this not to hold my own marriage up self-righteously or to condemn anyone who has gone through divorce, but rather to dispel the notion that love should come easily. Five years is very short in the long run and I know that we will yet encounter greater difficulties than we have so far. There may come a time when one or both of us will want to throw in the towel, but like a runner who runs to win a prize, I set my face toward the goal with the expectation of difficulty, a prayer for endurance, and the hope of reward. I am determined to keep my vow, to strive for the essence of love that God has given me, the love which promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Indeed, we find this love perfected in Jesus Himself. Being fully God, there was nothing natural about Him condescending to come to earth and certainly nothing natural about Him dying on a cross. Leaving us in our sin and self-wrought misery would have been natural, easy, and just. Being fully human as well, we know there was nothing easy about Him doing it. Indeed, he sweat with blood and prayed with tears that the cup should pass from Him. Showering us with mercy and grace came with great pain and at a very high cost. And yet, because of His love for His bride, the Church, He laid down His life in order to make her His own. This is real love, love which has supernatural power precisely because it pushes us beyond our nature to imbue our lives with beauty, hope, and purpose. 

396626_4066663952053_763910180_n.jpg

Holiness Made Its Home Among The Cursed

At Easter, it is natural to reflect upon the death and resurrection of Christ. This year, I find myself also thinking upon the broader scope of His life and its meaning for us. What does it mean that He was Emmanuel? What does it mean that God not only forgave our sins, but came to dwell among us, the sinners? It means God was not merely after forgiveness, but restoration. Restoration of the world in its entirety. Restoration of the human condition in its entirety.

You don’t have to look far to see that we live in a broken world. There is pain. There is injustice and evil and grief. We can find that even our greatest joys can be tinged with sadness as if we know things are still not what they should be. We can be haunted by the dauntless specter of death, our one shared and final fate though something tells us it shouldn’t end that way. Why? Why is the world fraught with sorrow? Why does life end in death? Because we are fallen. We bear the curse of our sin and every square inch of creation bears it with us (Romans 8).

Yet in the life of Christ, we see mercy dawning. We see God retracing the steps of the Fall. We see the Holy One enter the cursed womb and set into motion our ransom, our rescue. The first place He sent sin’s curse was the first place He sent sin’s cure. And there is nowhere He has commissioned His curse that He has not also commissioned His grace, no scars of His judgment that He has not also touched with the healing of His redemption.

The incarnation means that Holiness made its home among the Cursed. Yahweh, a name too sacred to be spoken by our tainted lips, became Emmanuel, God With Us. How astounding that the holy, eternal God entered into the wasteland of our transgressions. How astonishing to see Him be born of a sinful woman, labor among the thorns and thistles of our cursed ground, touch and heal the sick and perishing, and finally, die the shameful death of a common sinner.

Christ, the God-man, our lamb and conqueror, subjected Himself to our curse that He might defeat our curse. The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). Who could but falter under such an unfathomable burden? Yet, He never did. He carried it to completion and finally, cast it off, hurling our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) and with them, our condemnation. Now we find the wrath of God is quenched, spent, satisfied like a fire which finds nothing left to burn. Its cup is emptied. Not a drop remains for He drank it all for thee.

What, then, remains for us to fear? What part of our curse shall hold terror for us still? Shall we fear the womb, be it emptied or filled or aching with the pain of loss? No, for our Lord has been there. Shall we live in dread of sickness? Jesus has taken up our infirmities (Isaiah 53:4). Shall we falter under the burdens of loneliness, grief, persecution? He has been well acquainted with them all (Isaiah 53:3). Shall we tremble as we face our final breaths? No, for Christ has breathed them before us.

He has lived and hurt and died, not merely pardoning us from afar, but entering fully into our human experience and leaving grace for all and in all in His wake. Yes, this ground we tread is cursed still, but now Holiness has been here, sowing the seeds of redemption. For now, they may seem to lie dormant as in winter, or barely shooting up, as in the first, fledgling moments of spring, but someday…someday, they will burst into full bloom. They will chase away the curse forever. All will be made new. It will. It will.

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy….” Isaiiah 35:1,2

“But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter into Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” Isaiah 35:10

jesus walking

Rob Bell, Jesus Wasn’t “Relevant” and His Church Shouldn’t Be Either

Today, I happened upon an article about Rob Bell and his recent remarks to Oprah that the Church will become irrelevant if it continues to cling to the teachings of the Bible. From what I know about this man, he has renounced the doctrine of hell and obviously, doesn’t see the scriptures as authoritative. Without the Bible, I’m not sure Christianity can be called Christianity, but nonetheless, this is nothing new. The church has always been tempted to give way to the culture in the desperate hope that it can influence the culture.

However, this is completely counter to who Jesus Christ was. Jesus wasn’t “relevant” in His day and He never will be today, not in the sense we want. He wasn’t the Savior anyone hoped for or looked for. He didn’t tell anyone what their itching ears wanted to hear.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:2-3

A “stumbling block” and “rock of offense,” Jesus came to love, yes, but to love and lead people out of their sin. Never once did he amend His message in order to make it more palatable, more popular, or more “relevant.”

The great irony is, that if he had, He would’ve been irrelevant. 

Can you imagine if He had told the woman caught in adultery, “Go and keep on doing as you please.” Or to the tax collector, “Continue in your greed and thievery.” Or to the Pharisee, “Stay in the comfort of your self-righteousness.” These messages would have been well-received, no doubt, but they would have had no impact. If this had been Jesus’s message, the Cross itself would be not only pointless, but laughable and certainly, irrelevant.

A drop of rain which falls in a stream becomes indistinguishable from it. It has no power or influence over the stream, for it is simply carried along by its tide. It is the rock which stands staunchly immovable against the tide that has the power to influence the course of the stream. The more the Church adjusts its views to appease the culture, the more it will look like the culture. And a Church which looks just like the culture will have nothing notable to say to the culture.

Those who suggest we “update” Christianity’s teachings say they are motivated by love, but love without truth, love which points out no wrongs and accepts all is a love which renders itself meaningless and powerless. Jesus loved people enough to tell them they were wrong. He loved them enough to tell them they needed something they couldn’t obtain on their own. And He loved them enough to die to give it to them.

Yes, Mr. Bell, love has, indeed, won, but without a battle, there is nothing to win.  As Tim Keller said, “We’re far worse than we ever imagined, and far more loved than we could ever dream.”  Through the cross, Jesus both showed us our greatest problem and satisfied our greatest need. This is the the Good News which Jesus came to bring and the most relevant message Christians have to offer the world.