The Real Purpose of Motherhood

When I found out I was pregnant with my first son, I thought the right thing to do in preparation for his arrival was to pare down my life and shift my focus entirely to motherhood. I immersed myself in the minutiae of choosing the right eco-friendly diaper, the perfect shade of yellow for the baby’s nursery, the age-appropriate sets of clothes and accessories and baby gear. “This is what it means to be a good mother,” I thought. “You pour your life into your children.”

What I’ve learned in the decade since then is that yes, parents have a biblical calling to be the primary spiritual teachers for their children, as opposed to expecting their church to be that primary source as I discussed in last week’s post. But this doesn’t mean our children are to be our sole or primary focus. Yet time and time again, I hear women say that “motherhood is my highest calling” or something along those lines. And I have come to believe she is misguided when she says so.

Let me make this clear: I think that motherhood is a critical calling in a woman’s life. I do not mean to devalue motherhood one bit. I’m a largely stay-at-home, homeschooling mother myself, so obviously my kids are important to me. However, what I have learned the hard way is that when I place my identity as a mother ahead of my identity and calling as a child and ambassador of God, then I get confused about who I am and what I am supposed to do with my life.

Instead, we need to recognize that whether we are mothers or not, we share with all Christ-followers the same calling (to love and be in relationship with God, first and foremost) and the same mission (to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth and make disciples of all nations). This proper understanding of calling and mission gives us the right context within which to understand our role as mothers. I’m reading an incredibly powerful book right now, David Platt’s Radical. I’m three chapters in and I already feel so humbled and challenged. One of the things he writes is this:

“To disconnect God’s blessing from God’s global purpose is to spiral downward into an unbiblical, self-saturated Christianity that misses the point of God’s grace….I wonder if we have in some ways intentionally and in other ways unknowingly erected lines of defense against the global purpose God has for our lives.”

In other words, whether you are a called to be a professional missionary or not, we are all commanded to do more than just receive God’s love and all the privileges, spiritual and otherwise, emanating from him. We are called to release that love to those around us, as near as our neighbors and as far as the ends of the earth. That mission starts at home, absolutely. But it by no means ends there.

When we turn our hearts and minds too far inwardly, we run the risk of becoming self-absorbed in our family life and missing out on how God desires to use us to build his Kingdom. So pouring your life into your children is not intended to be an end in and of itself. Instead, we invest in our kids so that they understand and embrace their calling (and yours) as God’s missionaries to a world that is hurting, suffering, and needing a Savior. That, ultimately, is the real purpose of motherhood.

What do you think about this perspective on motherhood and calling? Does it resonate with what you already think or do you disagree? I look forward to your thoughts!

13 Comments on “The Real Purpose of Motherhood

  1. Hey Helen!

    Great post, as usual. This is the premise of your book that has stuck with me the most. As a reluctant SAHM, this call to remember that children are not the HIGHEST calling has been so freeing for me. In fact, in a lot of ways, it has helped me be more devoted to the boys. Now that I feel the freedom to pursue my own dreams, well…it just helps.

    Thanks for this message. Hope you and your family have a great weekend

  2. Hi Helen! Great post…I am reading Radical as well!

    I found it so difficult to live with intentionality outside of my home when my kids were infants and toddlers…now that they are preschoolers, I have found that they open more doors for potential ministry than I could have even imagined! Motherhood is such a unique and unifying life stage that God uses to build relationships; the opportunities to love and serve others, especially other mothers, are endless!

  3. Hi Kyndi–I think it’s totally true that for many moms, those years when they children are young are the hardest to be involved in missional activity–and I think it’s also true that through them you can get connected to so many other moms once they get older. I absolutely agree with your point that being mothers gives us instant access to a whole sisterhood of women who are experiencing motherhood as well, and as you say, endless opportunities to build relationships with them. Great point! Thanks for visiting and posting!

  4. Hi Helen…

    I’m a new mom and been reading your book. It’s an eye-opening book for me to see and really encourage me so much.

    Before got married and became a mom, I was doing a full time ministry at my home church in Indonesia and some volunteer ministry with a Bible Translation organization, and finishing my school. So it was a very FULL TIME activities that I had before. And when I moved here with my husband, we got married and got pregnant, I was thinking and praying for what should I do, how do I do this parenting life. And more questions came into my head such as, “can I do ministry like before when I have the baby?”,

    “What should I do at home with the baby?”,

    “Where can I do ministry?”,

    “What kind of ministry now my family can do?”,

    “Can we do mission ministry again or not after having the baby?”,

    “When can we go to the mission field after having a baby?” and more questions continued popping up in my head and made me worried and discouraged after thinking the possibilities that we might have after have a baby.

    Just too much for me to deal when I moved to States: culture and language barriers, different people, different food, different whether… etc…

    After been living here for 2 years, God really taught me to rely on Him in dealing every aspect in my life and my family. Then God open ways for my husband and I to serve Him at local church, and even in Indonesia without being in Indonesia (soon we will go…). For example, reading books really help me to learn more and deeper about God.

    At our Bible Study group now, we are discussing the Radical Book, too, and I am reading Missional Mom book. Really a big blessing to me and my family.

    I am now learning and trying to see the way God see and do the way God wants me to do the ministry in my family, neighborhood, church and even to the nations, especially in Indonesia. Above all, seeking God more and pursuing God more that I ever done before. Coz I realize that without Him, His love&Grace, and power, I can do nothing.

    Looking forward for more of you insights.. Be blessed!”

  5. Helen. Thank you for this post. I know I’m a bit late to find it, but I was just tipped off to your website and can’t wait to get my hands on your book. I am a SAHM of 3 kids under the age of 4 and always trying to find that line between engaging in my calling as a child of God and as a mother. I can completely relate to your 2nd paragraph comment in reply to Ashley above. I am finding that as I dive deeper into my personal calling to serve Christ, I’m finding a freedom to be a better mother also.

    I also recently read Radical with a group of women in my church and have been challenged to my core to reorient my family toward a lifestyle that is in constant dependence on Christ. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Monica, thanks for your comment! Isn’t it a fascinating paradox, that as we prioritize our callings correctly, it gives us a greater sense of freedom and purpose? This was true for me as well, and understanding this concept has truly changed the way I look at my life as a mother. I still have those long days and those hard days as all moms do, but they are balanced by the joyful times as well as by those opportunities that I have the chance to fulfill the greater calling God has given me to be his missionary in the contexts he’s placed me. I’m excited to hear that you are feeling a greater sense of freedom as well as experiencing more blessings in your home life as well. Amen! =)

  7. I loved the line in your post–”While who I am is tied to what I do, it is not defined by it”–and also the idea that just because we can’t always pursue a particular calling at a particular time, that doesn’t mean they are not still callings. I completely agree. And there are times in our lives in which motherhood will take a majority of our time and energy. That is the reality that mothers have to deal with, the tensions on one’s time and energy. Even if you have a clear sense of calling, you may still experience these tensions. And I think that’s completely normal. =)

    Thanks so much for posting! Appreciate your thoughts and sharing!”

  8. I really appreciate your comments, Helen (great name, by the way!) and I look forward to hearing about ways in which God is intending to use you in the future! When the kids are young, it’s definitely harder to be missional, but even if you are open to small ways that God wants to use you, He can make a difference in you. Appreciate your heart and your desire to serve him!

  9. Wow, Helen, thank you so much for taking the time to write such a great reply! I love your point when you said, “Those of us who have the luxury to ask these questions and ponder these issues are so fortunate, compared with the vast numbers of mothers who do not have these opportunities.” So true! We really are blessed to have so many opportunities. I think I might slightly disagree with regards to whether or not children should be the first priority (as in responsibility… of course God is our first priority always), especially when they are young and so dependent, but I also agree 100% that children are not the exclusive call given to a mother. We are all so uniquely gifted and I believe that God intended us to use those gifts to build up the body of Christ, each in our own unique way. I fully agree with you that we must, even in the busyness of motherhood, ask God how we can be a part of his kingdom work in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Blessings to you for laboring to encourage moms to be missional!”

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