Telos and Motherhood

Early in the days of this blog, some of you commented that it’s easy enough for Anna and me, with humanities BAs but no advanced degrees, to give up our career path or integrate it into staying home with small children. But what about a woman whose gifting (and professional training) doesn’t obviously jive with full-time motherhood? If my friend involved in cutting-edge mathematical research were to leave her job to stay home with her children for a few years, she would be left behind and could never rejoin her field at the same level. Why aren’t we saying the same things to men? Is our position unfair to women? Those are good questions, and I hope we’ve answered some of them on the blog thusfar. And they all deserve much more time than a quick blog post.

In my quiet time this morning, I was studying Ephesians 2: 8-10, where God talks about our telos, the end for which we were created:

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We’re not saved by our works, but we’re created for good works.  God gave us unique interests and gifts so that we could bring Him glory in various ways. Our salvation, our personality, and our privilege (living in a free, first-world country where we can “follow our dreams”) are all totally from Him. We honor our Designer when we do what He designed us to do.

As women, God gave us a few unique giftings. He made us physically able to bear children and, in most cases, to provide all their nutritional needs for the first year of life (or longer)! God made us to be nurturers in a different way than our husbands. (And I want to emphasize that my adoptive friends have been given just as much of a mother’s heart for their kids as I have.) What a noble and beautiful gift we mothers have been given: we have the privilege of being everything to someone who is totally dependent on us in those early years. It doesn’t stop there—of course we’ve also been given talents and interests in various other areas. The Proverbs 31 woman, and indeed many noble women in Scripture, glorify God and fulfill their telos in countless other ways as well, some of which earn money, and some of which simply bless their families and their communities. But we can’t just latch on to the part of our telos that most appeals to us and skip over the fullness of God’s design for us.

We’ve talked about seasons of life, and we believe that God may call us to different tasks in different seasons. For the single woman or the empty nester, walking in the good works God has prepared for her to do will look different than for the child, the sick pregnant woman, the young mother. I struggled with feeling helpless during my pregnancies, as they are difficult and draining. But as my pastor preached to us yesterday, I am no casualty of God’s plans.  God knew when He designed me that I would have morningsickness and back problems, that I would be spending hours and hours over the toilet or in agony on the floor, trying to force my hip back into its socket so that I could get up and change a toddler’s diaper. He gave me (and my husband) grace to get through those times, and He wasn’t calling me to oversee a public ministry or earn money (or even cook meat) during those times. I’d moan to my husband at the end of a long day of morningsickness that I’d accomplished nothing, and he would remind me that I’d kept the kids alive and safe and that I was growing a baby—pretty huge accomplishments! My illness wasn’t a mistake; God didn’t call me to be a mother and then forget to give me the tools to do my job. Maybe part of His reason was to help me see that in His Kingdom, less activity is sometimes more. Maybe He knew that I’d be writing a blog for women who wonder if “just” caring for children is enough. As a type-A, perfectionistic firstborn, maybe I had to not be able physically to “do it all” so that I wouldn’t try to. I won’t know all the reasons until I see Him face to face.

In the meantime, I’ve had to try to follow God’s lead to do the things that He’s made clear to me. I am a mother, so I’m going to do my best to bring my children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. God gave me passions and abilities that I’m not using right now, but my college degree is not being wasted even though I’m not teaching a British literature class or living in a French speaking country. Part of the reason God blessed many of us with education was not just for job training, but to shape our character. I’m using that training every day! Recently, one of my dear college friends—an unmarried historian—stopped by for a visit. She’s currently using some of her gifts to teach history and get her students to think and see their faith in the context of historical fact. While I know she’ll be a great mother one day, she’s not using all of those particular talents at the moment. She’s doing the good works that God has provided her to do right now, and those may be different than the good works God has for her in five or ten years. The same may be said of my friends who are lawyers, nurses, mathematicians, and musicians. An impressive career at the top of a given profession is not the only way to honor God with our talents. Indeed, the God who humbled Himself when He took on flesh and took on the form of a servant, washing His disciples feet, is less interested in our job title than our heart attitude, and that can be great or rotten in CEOs and housewives alike.

When we’re kicking at the goads, complaining that life is unfair, let’s refocus on our calling to bring God glory in every aspect of our lives. And as mothers, it doesn’t hurt to reread GK Chesterton’s words on the large and enormous vocation of being everything to someone!

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