The hand that rocks the cradle
'The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.’ This is the repeated refrain from the poem by William Ross Wallace, published in 1865, in which he praises motherhood as the pre-eminent force for changing the world.
It is a wonderful sentiment and I truly believe motherhood is a noble pursuit and a high calling and should never be undermined, belittled or outsourced.
I also believe that if you are a mother, there is a unique Biblical mandate that requires faithfulness in carrying out that role.
Having said that, there is terminology that is being tossed around among Christians that motherhood is a woman’s highest calling and her ultimate pursuit. It is often unspoken and couched in spiritual jargon, but the expectation is loud and clear.
I am seeing young, godly girls either wilting under the weight and pressure of this spiritual rhetoric or following their natural ‘feminist’ instincts and rebelling against such ‘chauvinistic’ or self-righteous thinking.
I wonder if this terminology is perhaps a reaction to Society’s voice which tells women that their highest calling is achieving excellence in the workplace and pursuing a career and as a result women are rejecting motherhood to pursue personal goals.
Is motherhood a woman’s highest calling?
Sometimes when we ask the wrong question we never get the right answer.
The question, ‘Is motherhood a woman’s highest calling?’ already has an agenda behind it.
It is the wrong question.
By raising up motherhood as a woman’s highest calling, we have misquoted Scripture, we have misrepresented God and we miss out on God’s highest calling in our lives.
We do not have the liberty to use superlatives if God hasn’t.
I have not found the verse that says motherhood is a woman’s highest calling. I have looked. Proverbs 31:30 says that ‘A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.’ 1 Peter 3:4 says that ‘A gentle and quiet spirit is precious in God’s sight.’
Now let me throw this into the mix: If motherhood is a woman’s highest calling, what is a man’s highest calling? Fatherhood? (Just asking.)
If a woman’s highest calling is motherhood, and woman is created to be a help-meet, then the logical conclusion is that man’s highest calling is fatherhood.
You see where this argument could take us? It is not helpful. The conversations become one sided, distorted and unhelpful.
The assumption that underlines this reasoning is that anything else a woman does that does not involve the role of a mother is ‘less than.’
In other words, our usefulness for God’s kingdom is based on being a mother.
If our life’s purpose is centered around a particular role, we will easily become self-centered and frustrated. We will have made an idol and idols never makes us happy or content. We will become discouraged and our identities misplaced.
If it all comes down to our role, then there are two outcomes: one is pride if our children turn out well, and the other is guilt if they don’t. That is a heavy burden to live with.
Our identity then becomes about what we do for Christ instead of who we are in Christ.
What happens when your children go to school? How do you carry out your highest calling for the hours they are not in the home? What happens if the Lord decides to close your womb? What happens if you marry later in life? What happens when your children leave home? What happens to your highest calling then? Do you then pursue a lesser calling?
At Heaven’s prize-giving, do the accolades go to the mothers, because in God’s eyes that is the highest calling for women? Are the crowns for mothers bigger and more beautiful?
If motherhood is our highest calling, then when we become mothers, it all becomes about performance and expectations put on us by the church, our husbands and ourselves.
If motherhood is our highest calling, we subtly feed an intrinsic ‘chauvinistic’ mind-set in men that is masked by spiritual jargon.
Under the banner of ‘spiritual leadership,’ men requiring women to be ‘barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen’ becomes noble. Domestic responsibilities and duties define her. After all, that is motherhood and that is a woman’s highest calling.
All men are actually doing is being bossy and ruling over their wives according to the curse in Genesis 3. Men deny themselves the opportunity of their wives being their true help-meets and they rob themselves of truly ministering to their wives by making a woman’s divine image-bearing identity and role one dimensional.
It is the horror of Stepford and it does not represent God’s intended design.
Motherhood then becomes mechanical, joyless and burdensome.
Women forget that it is Jesus Christ who gives her meaning over and above her roles. She forgets to pursue Christ and rather pursues a calling.
By calling motherhood a woman’s highest calling, we rob women of the sincere joy of Christian womanhood. We are just keeping up appearances.
What does the Bible say is a woman’s highest calling?
That is the right question to ask.
Jesus tells us that our highest calling, whether male or female, is 'to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbour as ourselves.'
These are the two greatest commandments.
They supersede any role or calling but will impact every role or calling.
Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians and Colossians that 'whatever we do, whether we eat or drink, to do it as unto the Lord and to the glory of God.'
That is our highest calling.
The Westminster Catechism summarises this so clearly in the first question: What is the chief end of man? ‘The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.’
That is our ultimate purpose.
That is not dependent on motherhood. But that will be the goal of motherhood.
As a woman, if motherhood is your highest calling,
you will actually miss your highest calling.
Our highest calling is true womanhood.
True womanhood is displaying the glory of Christ in whatever season of life or role or vocation or everyday calling we find ourselves.
True womanhood is a Matthew 28 mind-set in practice; the furtherance of the Gospel - making disciples of all nations. That may be very well be children in your own home for a season of motherhood which is a wonderful honour and a glorious privilege.
As a mother, your highest calling in motherhood is being faithful to God and making His name beautiful and great in that role.
It is fearing God and looking well to the ways of our households so that our husbands trust us and our children rise up and bless us.
If you are not a mother, your highest calling is being faithful to God and making His name great in whatever role or season you may find yourself in.
God does not rank our roles or callings.
God ranks our faithfulness in those roles and callings.
We are spiritually devaluing women if we think motherhood is our only purpose and highest calling.
If you are a mother, you have the opportunity and calling to have huge kingdom impact for the glory of God. That is a high calling and a noble pursuit. Be faithful in that.
If you are single woman or a wife who is childless, you have the opportunity and calling to have huge impact for the glory of God in whatever sphere you find yourself. Be faithful in that.
To ensure we do not get side-tracked or reactive, but rather stay focused on glorifying God as image bearers and pursuing Jesus as our highest calling, it is worthwhile clarifying some of the principles:
Being a wife and mother are natural God-given desires and unique expressions of our divine design. Genesis 3:15 is where chauvinism and feminism took root and where these beautiful and fulfilling roles have been warped and distorted.
Motherhood certainly involves sacrifice but motherhood does not mean that our beautifully varied and creative expressions of our image bearing dignity will be sacrificed.
I refer again to the principles in Proverbs 31:10-31. As a wife and mother, she did not renege on her first priority to her husband and children, but her expressions of true womanhood were not only limited to the roles of wife and mother. Her fear of the Lord motivated and coloured everything she set her hands and heart to.
Being a wife and a mother is never, never a lesser role or calling and to buy into this notion is adopting feminism.
To not desire these roles at all exposes a heart that spurns femininity and God’s divine design. A woman's mothering and nurturing instinct is not a design flaw. In God’s sovereignty and providence, however, that does not always mean you will get married and have children.
'God gives many promises for those in Christ, but none of them includes a spouse. Yes, marriage is a wonderful gift and one worth praying for, but God doesn’t guarantee we will marry. Even for those who are given this gift, it is not promised for a lifetime, as many young widows can attest.’ [Kelly Needham]
Christ is to be our joy and portion in whatever season God has arranged for us (Lamentations 3:24). God never withholds good things from His children (Psalm 84:11).
This one is on the guys.
To find a wife is to find a good thing and to obtain favour from the Lord. We live in a society where selfishness and self-centredness rule. Many men have also not viewed pursuing a wife as pursuing something excellent or worthy.
They tend to be apathetic and are delaying marriage for further studies, career climbing, selfish agendas and delayed manhood. (And then the church tends to lay the blame and burden at the feet of single women.)
When motherhood becomes the highest calling, it is often pursued at the expense of marriage and becomes about a biological clock. This is a feminist approach and is ironic. Motherhood is pursued sans a husband; sperm donors and adoption become a solution for women wanting to be mothers, to give expression to their natural maternal desires. Single motherhood is applauded as noble and a valid choice. This pragmatic approach once again distorts God's divine design for the family.
As Christian women, we need to be careful of misrepresenting God’s beautiful intent of marriage.
Marriage, not motherhood pre-dates the fall. Marriage, not motherhood is what God chose, pre-Creation, to give expression to His redemptive plan and to illustrate Christ’s love for the Church. Marriage uniquely displays the Gospel. This is God’s sovereign plan and we don’t get to mess with that.
We need to display this as beautiful and desirable.
‘Married womanhood (and motherhood) has a unique potential for magnifying Christ that single womanhood does not have. Single womanhood has its unique potential for magnifying Christ which married womanhood (and motherhood) does not have. True womanhood is too strategic. Don’t waste it. Your womanhood - your true womanhood –was made for the glory of Jesus Christ.' (John Piper)
Both will hear the words on that day, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’
If you happen to be a single women who desires marriage, then please read, 'Waiting for the one'
If you are engaged to be married, a new bride (or even been married a while), please read, 'Dear bride to be...'
If you are a mom, please read, 'Finding my inner gypsy'