I’ve had dozens of mothers. That may raise a few eyebrows around town, but it shouldn’t surprise us as Christians. After all, Jesus promised us much in following him (Mark 10:29–30). Clearly, motherhood is about more than just physically giving birth.
In my case, the main mother in my life has been my biological mom. It may be easy to romanticize motherhood, but only one person picked up after me when I was little and made the best PB&J ever created when I broke my arm — we still talk of that sandwich, never since reproduced. Stories of my mother’s love will fill annals in God’s library of unrecognized faithfulness, even though true motherhood is more broad than just that.
God’s Glory, Many Mothers
Motherhood reflects the glory of God. It is the particularly feminine shape of holiness that women of faith strive for. When Paul says that women are “saved through childbearing” (1 Timothy 2:15), he does not mean that women can earn their salvation by giving birth, but that God is able to save them even as they endure the feminine part of sin’s curse (Genesis 3:16). Childbearing symbolizes the creational role of women because motherhood is the clearest example of the difference between men and women.
When I was a child, a middle-aged woman slipped a torn corner of the church bulletin in my hand with a Bible reference penciled on it. She said it was her favorite passage and that I might like it too. And I remember a young lady with a felt board teaching a Sunday school class on baptism, and that’s when I learned what baptism meant. When I was in college, an older lady in my church would give me weekly hugs and tell me she was praying for me — those prayers would sometimes be accompanied by brownies.
Mothers are everywhere, if we only have eyes to see them. Motherhood is woven into the very fabric of creation, and God says that all of creation tells about his glory (Psalms 19:1; Romans 1:20). What, then, does God have to teach us about his glory through motherhood?
Moms Give New Life
When God made men and women in his image, he gifted women with a peculiar way to showcase his image. Women, like God, have the gift of generative love. A woman has the ability to love a man in such a way that she can turn it into a human being. Indeed, women are the type of people whom other people come out of. Mothers have a kind of incarnational power. They incarnate marital love in a human person. In other words, women manifest the glorious love of God through creation, through birth.
The unique gift of generation that was given to women is precisely what was damaged at the fall. Now, there is pain in childbearing (Genesis 3:16). The pain of birth tarnishes the gift of motherhood. But the tarnish makes way for a new possibility: redemption. After the fall, women can still generate human life, but they must do so by embracing their curse. Mothers embrace the pain of their fallen nature, they embrace death, and from that death a life is born. In every birth, a mother gives of herself for the sake of her child. So, because of the fall, motherhood not only reflects the generating love of God in creation, but also the regenerating love of Christ on the cross.
Mothers embrace the curse so that we may be born, and Christ embraced the curse so that we may be reborn.
Moms Welcome and Nurture
Motherhood also reflects the glories of holy submission. In the very anatomy of sex, women are called to a kind of submission in order to be a mother. The man is the farmer who scatters his seed, while his wife is the fertile ground that embraces, accepts, and grows the seed. So, it is fitting that mothers are called to welcome and receive godly initiative from their husbands (called “submission,” Ephesians 5:22–24).
Mothers are called to showcase to all people, including men, how they should act towards God. Human beings submit to Christ’s loving kingship, and eternal life is planted in our hearts. Because Eve did not submit to God in the garden, all the world fell into chaos. Mary did submit to God, and the whole world was saved through the seed planted in her. All mothers tell the gospel story.
Also, motherhood reflects the nurturing nature of God. When a woman bears a child, she nurses him and cares for him, as his source of life outside the womb. When a person is born from above, God does not leave that Christian to themselves, but cares for them and nurtures them as a mother, and he does this through his church. This is why the church is often called our mother (Galatians 4:26; Revelation 12:1–17). We are born into her through our baptism; she nurses us on the milk of God’s word and feeds us the very body and blood of Christ. The mother of Proverbs 31:10–31 provides food, makes clothes, and deals with finances.
In other words, the whole house would fall apart without the mother. Without mothers, we would be naked, hungry, and afraid. So, mothers are a visual picture of God’s tangible care for us through the church.
Moms Have Faith, Not Necessarily Children
Mothers take the abstract feelings of love and incarnate that love by making a child — and yet I have seen women who are struggling through the pain of infertility still incarnate that same love through a good meal, a hospitable home, or a hard day’s labor. These labors are all the more special because they are birthed out of suffering.
Likewise, an unmarried woman may never nurture physical offspring, but so pour herself into the lives of the church’s young that she walks around with a rambunctious band of kids in tow — a Mary Poppins of Christendom. In many such women, I have seen the mother of Proverbs 31 who never lets a fellow Christian go hungry, works hard to clothe the needy, and takes care to make sure the life of the church runs smoothly. So, even a woman without biological offspring can have Christian children who “rise up and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28). The church is filled with sons like me who need the mothering of many women.
Mothers Show Us God
Mothers are a gift to all humanity because they show us what God is like. In a loving mother, we see Christ, who longs to gather his people like a mother hen would gather her chicks under her wings (Mathew 23:37).
My mom is one of my greatest heroes, and I am the fruit of her labors and love. I have seen in her the God who gives me the courage to submit myself to his reign and the strength to give myself for the sake of others.