Motherhood Is a Marathon

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I wanted to do great things for God.

In the spring of my senior year of college, on the brink of embarking upon my own journey into adulthood, my future was undecided — and that was simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. As a philosophy major, my path was narrower than I had realized, but I was sure it would take me on some grand and glorious adventure.

I knew the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. “Glorify” sounds like such a grand term. It evokes images of battlefield sacrifices or marathon finishes. So, I thought I had to do spectacular things for God. But years later, I haven’t and I don’t. I must do small, ordinary things for God, and this is, in some strange way, much harder.

As a stay-at-home mom, the most adventurous and remarkable thing I do is manage to leave the house with little ones. There is an almost mind-numbing regularity and repetitiveness to my days. Make meals, clean up, change diapers, put away toys, and then wake up and do it all again. I can grow tired of the monotony — the sameness of my tasks, the dishes I’ve washed countless times, the laundry I’m sure I just folded, the floor that never seems to stay clean. Solomon talked about “vanity of vanities” (Ecclesiastes 1:2), and sometimes I wonder if he had housekeeping in mind. Either way, I can certainly understand what he meant when he said, “All things are full of weariness” (Ecclesiastes 1:8).

I can wonder, as he did, What is the point of it all?

Truly Live, Daily Die

I was a newlywed in my first and final semester of graduate school, trying to satisfy the urge that I had to make something of myself and live up to my potential, when God turned my heart toward the home and the calling of motherhood.

“Calling” is another word that sounds grandiose, but for the Christian, it carries a humbler meaning. Each of us is called to die to ourselves. Jesus tells his disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). But what comes next is not what we’d expect, something that doesn’t sound all that glorious at all.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Jesus is telling us that death is the path to life, humility is the path to glory. This is the path he wore out for us to follow.

Mothers Change the World

When I decided to give myself to the calling of motherhood, it was because I wanted to change the world. I believed that if I wanted to have an impact for God’s kingdom, to do something truly great, then I would pour my life, not into chasing my own success or acclaim, but into raising up the next generation to be lights in this dark world. If I really wanted to make something of myself, I would multiply — not just physically, but spiritually.

This is the calling of motherhood, to fall to the ground and die that we might bear much fruit. This is the glorious vision under all the monotony. The trouble is that it’s an elusive one, so easily obscured in the thickets of the everyday and the valleys of the mundane and menial.

In our daily toil as mothers, we meet with both our curse and our redemption, caught somewhere between the already and the not-yet. Through sin, all things have been subjected to futility, but through Christ, all things are being restored (Romans 8:18–30). To live truly spiritual, God-glorifying lives, we must every day reclaim as holy what the fall made accursed, including the toil of everyday labor and the painful, wearying work of child-bearing and child-rearing. Nothing in our lives is secular or pointless now. All ground on which we tread is holy ground, and all work to which we put our hands is holy work, as long as we live and work for God’s glory.

Not a Sprint

The trouble is it doesn’t always feel holy, and it certainly doesn’t look holy. It looks crude and unrefined and messy. But we are those who walk by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Motherhood is a marathon and not a sprint. The finish line is far off, and the fruits of our labor are long in coming. Before us, we find little ones who are so helpless, so needy, so self-focused, that it can be hard to imagine them as anything else. But if we can picture the godly men and women they might one day be by God’s grace — the kind of men and women this world so desperately needs — if we can hold firmly, desperately to that vision, we will remember the great purpose behind our everyday sacrificies.

We will remember that we are striving towards a goal, laboring in the home so that it is a place where our children may meet Jesus. We are persevering in our often monotonous work, that we might create a place of peace, of love, of grace — fertile ground for the renewal of the precious souls whom God has entrusted to us. This is our great, glorious gospel-task, which manifests itself in such small and humble ways.