Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Pain of Motherhood

In a recent article at The Gospel Coalition, I wrote about Mary’s coming pain in the wake of Christ’s birth. Motherhood is filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and she was not exempt from such emotions. With the joy of her newborn baby’s birth came the dark shadow of his foretold death. She felt the sting of motherhood acutely throughout his adult life, and as she stood at his cross and watched him gasp for breath.

I've said before, motherhood, like many things, is a great equalizer for women. It takes women from all walks of life, all cultures, and all time periods and brings them together under one unifying purpose—loving a child. It’s why women cry at birth stories of strangers and weep over the caskets of children they have never met. We know the joy and the pain that comes with being a mother. We feel it in our bones.

But like everything in this sin-cursed world, every joy carries with it the reality of pain. With the overwhelming joy at the birth of a baby comes the paralyzing fear of SIDS. With the excitement of watching your young toddler takes his first steps comes the all-consuming fear that he may one day get hit by a car or run into danger. With the joy of watching your teenager drive away for the first time by herself comes the helpless fear that she may not always be safe on the road alone.

We all have lived long enough to know that every happy moment we face as mothers can in an instant be laced with soul-crushing sorrow.

So what are we to do when we face these fears, sometimes on a moment by moment basis?

It’s easy to look to the temporal, tangible realities staring us in the face as our assurance of hope, like the assurance of our newborn’s breathing patterns or making our toddler hold our hand at all times in public. We feel like we can control those moments. We can put our finger on them as markers of goodness and faithfulness towards us. But those markers aren’t always there, are they? When every earthly treasure gives way, Christ is all our hope and stay.

The psalmist has this to say about our fears:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).

He didn’t look to what was happening around him, good or bad. He looked away from his circumstances to the God who lovingly controls his circumstances and is working them for his good. But the truth is, it’s hard to do when everything is crumbling around us, isn’t it? Trusting God with our circumstances starts when all is well, when we are overwhelmed with joy. Mary couldn’t contain her wonder at what God did through her and for her in the birth of her son. But this wonder is what would carry and sustain her when all seemed hopeless and lost.

The same is true for us. Walking the road of motherhood carries with it more emotion than I ever knew humanly possible. Giving your life for another does that to you. With the intense love I feel for my children comes the possibility of tremendous heartache. Where does my help come when my fears seem to be my undoing? Or even more devastating, when my fears become reality? The same God who gave me these precious gifts, is the God who sustains me in my fears and heartache as well.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learning from Hannah More

Earlier this Fall I received a copy of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. I couldn't wait to read it. I had been hearing about this book from Karen Swallow Prior for a while, and the more I heard about Hannah More, the more I wanted to get to know her. I think you will too. Here are some brief observations about her life that really stayed with me. I hope it will make you want to read the book (there is still time to get it before Christmas!).

  • Her accomplishments as a woman in her time period. Hannah lived in a day where women were not educated like men were. Women had little rights and voice in the powerful ranks of society. But Hannah was an exception. She did not embrace the early feminism that was rising up in her day, instead she understood her creation as a woman and used it to accomplish great things. 
  • She valued female education. In a Western context it's easy to take this for granted. But for many women in our world this is still a very real means of oppression. She taught women to read, to think, and to use their mind for good. But she saw a clear distinction between teaching women to think and making women think like men. "She sought to advance female education in order to fulfill women as women, not to make them like men" (24).
  • She was brave enough to go against her culture regarding slavery and the treatment of all human beings. It's easy to look at history from our vantage point and think Hannah's positions on the deplorable practice of slavery and the refusal to educate lower class people are simply no-brainers. But we must remember that she was standing up for things (abolition of slavery and education of all people of all classes) that were unthinkable to many English men and women. Like every society, we have our own blind spots, and like Hannah, we must ask God to reveal these blind spots and give us the courage to stand against the tide.
  • She had a consistent ethic regarding the dignity of persons and creation. One of the more surprising, and interesting, aspects of her life to me was how she fought for the ethical treatment of animals. It might seem like a random addition to a book on her bravery as an abolitionist and educator, but the more I learned about her the more I realized that it all goes together. Hannah believed in the dignity of people because they were created in the image of God. She believed in the fair treatment of animals because she valued God's creation. Her high view of God enabled her to honor and fight to protect all that he had made. 
Those are just a few of the many things that struck me about her compelling and convicting life. I hope you will take the time to read Fierce Convictions and discover the myriad of ways that Hannah More's life means something for us today.