Why Mothers Must Be Theologians
Motherhood is apologetics.
It’s hard to think of a role in life that requires a more constant stream of explanations for why we believe what we believe about God and how he relates to everything: family, snack time, naps, friendships, sleepovers, food, medicine, chores, schooling, and whatever else is else under the sun. Because motherhood is apologetics, mothers must be good theologians. We must know God, his character, his words, and his ways.
Many of us enter motherhood thinking we have a fairly firm grasp on what we believe about God and ourselves––what is true and right in any given situation. But motherhood gives us experiences and situations we never could have anticipated, which means it pushes our beliefs about God into a thousand corners of our lives and the lives of those in our care. All the sudden the woman who always called herself “laid back” discovers she is anything but when her son has lost his third pair of shoes in a week. And the woman whose organizational skills kept her college schedule precise, whizzing along, and down to the minute finds that motherhood seems to have her always running behind on everything from getting to church to keeping up with the laundry.
The smallness and seeming randomness of our daily tasks don’t just challenge who we thought we were, but who we believe God is. Are these small, random assignments he’s given us evidence that he is small and random as well? What are we to make of the futility of socks without matches, dumped out bins, children who are never well-enough to make it to the well-child appointments, and vomit in the car seat? Can we trust a God who gives us blow-out diapers and sleep deprivation when we asked for peaceful nights and cozy clean rompers? The answer is yes, we can trust him. But we likely won’t if we aren’t relentlessly acquainting ourselves with him in his Word. We likely won’t if we our theology hasn’t permeated our minds and hearts.
Our Unexpected Blessings
One thing I’ve noticed about my own life as a mom is that I’ve been in the terrible habit of asking far too little of God. We think him small when he doesn’t answer our little requests, when really it’s our own small requests that reveal we have no appetite for him.
We want a day without spills or chaos. He doesn’t give us that, but he’s willing to give us something much bigger: the grace in Christ to be a patient, humble, loving mom in the midst of spills and chaos.
We want zero temper tantrums and kids with good grades and outstanding achievements. He may say no to those requests, but he’s willing to give us something that dwarfs those by comparison: the grace in Christ to shepherd and discipline our children through temper tantrums, apathy, and poor performances.
We want children who have memorized a hundred Bible verses and can impress their Sunday school teachers, but he wants to give us something far greater: the humility to be able to quietly help our children actually know him and love him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength as we diligently teach them the ancient paths of God’s word and ways, which is just another way to say, theology.
We are teaching our children about God in every little thing that we do—by what we ask of him, how we speak, what we say yes and no to. Of course it’s not wrong to ask for good sleep and zero temper tantrums and a day that’s spill-free. God loves us—he isn’t put off by our asking. But don’t let your small asks make you forget that he has promised to say yes to some really big things. He’s promised to give you the grace you need to walk through the day as his blood-bought child; he hasn’t promised a day without trouble—quite the opposite. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
You might be asking God to make you the sort of mom who can effectively potty-train and meal plan, all the while forgetting that he has equipped you with everything you need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him. Christian mom, you have knowledge of God! You are a theologian. And you get to continually cultivate knowledge of him through ongoing study of his word. Your theology is shaped in massive ways by simply reading his words daily. It’s shaped by receiving the word preached every Sunday. It’s shaped through mid-week classes, Sunday school, small group Bible study, and family devotions. You might wonder what that has to do with potty-training and meal planning. Everything! A mother whose theology has been well-stoked and rightly applied, isn’t merely an encyclopedia of the Bible, she is a living apologetic of its message. Even in potty-training, we are teaching about God––that he is slow to anger and abounding steadfast love and that he always does what he says he will do. And even in meal planning we are teaching about God—that he richly provides for us in his Son and that his Son is the bread of life that came down from heaven.
We are theologians in everything we do, not to be mom-professors with rapt pupils, but rather more like a drinking fountain. Christ is the water and we are the means of getting that water to our children. If we run dry, it isn’t because Christ has ceased to be water, but because we have cut ourselves off from the source.
Consider Jesus. He gathered a band of twelve men to follow him around, to eat and sleep in his company, to be taught privately by him, to be granted the privilege of observing him and knowing him. He created a scenario that comes built-in to motherhood. So many of us are desperate to teach someone over coffee once a week with open Bibles and beautiful studies and highlighters. God might say no to that request, but when he gave you children he said yes to something much bigger. When he made you a mother he was affirming your calling as a theologian. Your theology informs and shapes your role as teacher, apologist, and ambassador for him in every tiny corner of your life, from sun-up to sun-down—not just when you’re out drinking coffee with a friend or at women’s weekly Bible study.
Chesterton gets right to the point:
How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No. A woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.
Fellow moms, if we think teaching our children about the Triune God and the universe he made is small or pitiable or unimportant, we don’t understand smallness. We don’t understand the way God works. He takes what is small in the world’s eyes––a baby in a manger––and calls him, “the radiance of my glory and the exact imprint of my nature” (Heb 1:3). He is perfectly able to take the seemingly small, lowly job of motherhood and shine the glory of Christ on us and our children. Go to his word. Learn his ways. Know him. Love him. And share that knowledge––that theology––with the “least of these” that he has put in your care. You are their first and most formative theologian and apologist.
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared the blog for Credo Magazine and is used with permission.