“Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him” (Luke 9:18). At first, this verse might seem confusing. Jesus was praying alone. But his disciples were with him. So, was he alone? Or wasn’t he? The mom in me can’t help but chuckle.
All it takes is changing the pronouns to convert this verse into a familiar scenario for those with small children. “Now it happened that as she was praying alone, her disciples were with her.” Maybe tapping her on the shoulder, prying her hands off her eyes, asking for something to eat, or actually nursing at that moment. So, is she alone? Or isn’t she?
Like Jesus, moms are rarely without their disciples. And though they cannot say, as Jesus could, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), moms are constantly teaching their children about their heavenly Father, whether they realize it or not.
Disciples with Little Disciples
When the laundry pile is high, the refrigerator stock low, the beds unmade, and a Bible nowhere to be found, mothers may feel like the least likely candidates for the post of theological student, let alone teacher. But the truth is, Christian moms are both.
From the moment they wake up in the morning to the moment they go to bed, a Christian mom is living based on an idea of who she is and for whom she was made. She is a disciple of Jesus and she belongs to God. How she does what she does — how she speaks, how she responds, how she comforts, how she disciplines, how she eats, drinks, works, and rests — in everything she is teaching her children something about her heavenly Father. All day long (and sometimes all night!), her disciples are with her.
Moms don’t just have disciples. Moms are disciples. And part of discipleship is learning to speak well about God in all we say and do. The atheist and the astrologist each say something about God. Pastors and parents do as well. What we may not realize as moms is that theology is not optional. It’s unavoidable. We already have theology. The question, then, is whether our theology is good theology.
What is good theology? Good theology knows and speaks the truth about God — what he is like and what he is doing in the world through Jesus Christ. In Knowing God, J.I. Packer says that good theology leads us to know God, not just to know about him. Good theology leads to doxology — delighted worship that works itself out in our daily lives.
“Good theology gives us direction for our everyday life. It is not irrelevant or out of reach.”
If this feels like an intimidating task, you are in good company. After speaking at length about God, Job ends with his hand over his mouth, saying, “I will proceed no further” (Job 40:4–5). In his Confessions, Augustine says, “After saying all that, what have we said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What does anyone who speaks of you really say?” (1.4.4). The posture of all sound theology is humility, because to speak anything about God is dangerous. Blasphemy is a real possibility. What gives a mom hope that she can speak rightly about God at all?
We would never be able to speak rightly about God through our words and actions, if God himself had not first spoken to us. But he has! Hebrews 1:1–2 says,
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
God the Father has spoken to us in the Son, in the gospel, and in his written word. The Son has sent us the Spirit to guide us “into all the truth” (John 16:13). Christian mom, do you know who made the world? Do you know why the world is full of evil and suffering? Do you know humanity’s biggest problem? Do you know the only one who can save us? You know more theology than you may realize. Our theology reveals how well we do — or do not — understand the story that we are in. It is as practical as the script and character descriptions in a play. Or a good map on a hiking trip. Or a light in a dark room. Good theology gives us direction for our everyday life. It is not irrelevant or out of reach.
“Disregard the study of God,” Packer writes, “and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul” (Knowing God, 19). Good theology, however, opens our eyes to the glory of God in all things, including our calling as a mom.
Holding Class in the Kitchen
As mothers, we speak of God when we fill our children’s bottomless bellies. How do we respond when our children are hungry, again? Sometimes it feels like feeding is all we do! Surely we were made for something more glorious than life as a short-order cook for picky toddlers and teenagers?
And yet Jesus says, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). He didn’t just break the bread. He is the bread. He is the one who taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). In gladly feeding our children each day, we are teaching them about their heavenly Father, who cares for their most basic needs. In giving of ourselves to feed our children, we’re living as disciples of Jesus, who gave his body for the life of the world.
We speak of God when we train our children. Does our average day feel eerily similar to a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip? Does the creative sin of our little disciples astound us? Can it send us into another episode of “little sinners in the hands of an angry mom,” as we add our sin to theirs?
In a fallen world, sin is not surprising. But grace is. What an immense grace that a momma’s calm heart in a tense moment teaches her children true things about their heavenly Father, that he “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). When we ask forgiveness of our children, they learn to confess to the One who “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
“As mothers, we will speak of God truly to our children only if we truly know him ourselves.”
We also speak of God in our suffering. Scripture teaches us that suffering can make or break our faith. Like a sound sailing vessel in a wild storm, sound theology keeps our faith from floundering in the ups and downs of motherhood. When our little ones suffer bumps and bruises, nights of illness or long-term diagnoses, our comfort and care as mothers teaches them about Jesus, who entered our suffering in order to bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10).
Our hope in God’s promise of redemption teaches our children that God is good. He turns suffering into glory. “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). Our perseverance through trials big and small tells our children that the resurrection is real.
Four Tools for Busy Moms
As mothers, we will speak of God truly to our children only if we truly know him ourselves. To glorify God by enjoying him forever, we need to know our God. So, we heed the prophet’s charge: “Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord” (Hosea 6:3). Many moms, however, feel hard-pressed just to get diapers changed and dinner on the table. Asking them to press on into the task of good theology may feel like Pharaoh telling the Israelites to make bricks without providing the straw.
Remember, theology is not optional. If we don’t intentionally speak the truth about God, we will say something false. We will make God in our own image and in the image of the surrounding culture. And our disciples will be with us. So, how can a busy, weary mom press on to know the Lord? It may be as simple as asking a question and repeating the answer.
“Do you feel the world is broken?” “We do!” So, speak the opening lines from Andrew Peterson’s song “Is He Worthy?” The church has been teaching theology to God’s people in this question-and-answer format from the earliest days. The Heidelberg Catechism (1563) begins,
Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven; in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Regular meditation on that one question would make any Christian mom a deeper, happier theologian. The Protestant catechisms have been a theological guide to the church for hundreds of years. By working through one question a week, how might our theology take root and blossom?
For those who are willing to commit more time, I recommend making it a goal to work through at least one theological book a year. Knowing God by J.I. Packer, The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer, and The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders are excellent options.
A resource even more ancient than catechisms is the gathering of the local church. As Hebrews 10:23–25 exhorts us, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering . . . not neglecting to meet together . . .” By gathering weekly with the body of Christ to praise God, pray, and hear God’s word proclaimed, we not only hold fast to the truth ourselves, but teach our children to do the same.
WORD AND PRAYER
One final resource available to every mom may be the most underrated, perhaps because it seems the most mundane: God’s word and prayer. Theologian Michael Allen remarks, “Theology should not claim to improve upon Scripture and prayer. Its task is to help return the reader to those primary languages with greater attentiveness and understanding.”
Just like our “ordinary” lives as moms are full of more glory than we see at first glance, so the regular rhythms of Bible reading and prayer are the glorious languages of knowing God. Before we fit anything else into our day, let’s fit in the Bible and prayer. Let our little ones see us regularly looking to God’s word. Let our speaking be guided by God’s voice in Scripture. When we kneel to pray alone, may our disciples be with us, and by God’s grace, may they come to know our heavenly Father as he truly is.