As an adult, the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon remembered hearing his mother pray for him and his siblings like this:
Now, Lord, if my children go on in their sins, it will not be from ignorance that they perish, and my soul must bear a swift witness against them at the day of judgment if they lay not hold of Christ.
He recounted how deeply her prayers and warnings had shaped him, writing, “How can I ever forget her tearful eye when she warned me to escape from the wrath to come?”
I too grew up with a mother who warned me of my sins and their consequences. Once, after observing a pattern of sin in me as a teenager, she called into question my sincerity toward Christ, reminding me of the deadly hypocrisy of acting one way at home and another way at church. Her words stung deeply, revealing my cavalier attitude toward God. I didn’t fear him as I ought, nor did I honor him.
Those hard words, although painful, were like a meat tenderizer to my heart, softening and sensitizing it. The frank and pointed way she spoke to me throughout my childhood left me no room to hide in vague half-truths or nice-sounding platitudes or Christless good-girl behavior. She was God’s ambassador to me, and as such, she regularly created a fork in my road: follow Christ or go your own selfish way.
Rare Gift of Warning
The longer I live, the more I realize how rare it is to have a mother, or anyone at all, who earnestly warns those around them of the deadliness of sin.
Many women are simply terrified by the prospect of speaking hard words to someone they love, like their child or a close friend. They are terrified of the possibility that a relationship could be damaged or undone if the person won’t receive a biblical warning. It is easier to offer vague encouragements to grease the wheels of relational ease than to say something truthful that you know could offend.
“Good job, Mama” or “You did the best you could with what you knew” are just a couple among thousands of common encouragement-memes that get shared and reshared among women. They’re tailored to quell an anxious conscience, never mind whether they’re true or not. Yet we rarely hear similar speech when it comes to the warnings of Scripture, particularly warnings shared from women to women.
It seems many today — not just fellow women, but even pastors — have taken a hands-off approach when it comes to applying hard truths to the lives of women. Some of this may simply be because well-meaning teachers feel ill-equipped to understand precisely how they might faithfully apply some passages to women. Some of it may be because we know so many women who are in a self-professed hard time, so we worry that they might hear a hard biblical word and wince, taking it in a way it wasn’t intended.
Yet the Scriptures are full of fork-in-the-road sayings, some of them aimed directly at women. Sometimes I like to picture what might happen if we regularly heard these sorts of biblical imperatives without all the hemming and hawing and caveating and ducking:
Deny yourself and follow Christ (Mark 8:34).
Be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to your own husband so that God’s word isn’t reviled (Titus 2:5).
If you’re a younger widow, don’t be an idler or busybody, but seek to get married and serve the Lord (1 Timothy 5:11–14).
Stop worrying about how you look or being vain; instead, be gentle and quiet in your spirit (1 Peter 3:3–4).
Just as the church submits to Christ, you should submit to your husband in everything (Ephesians 5:24).
If you do not obey the Son, the wrath of God remains on you (John 3:36).
Do you know what I picture in churches where verses like these are stated clearly and unashamedly? Not a mass female exodus or a bunch of mad-crying women (although that’s a possibility) — I picture women receiving a precious gift and becoming strong in Christ.
Hard Words That Heal
Why speak hard words to women about their sin? Because if you believe women can be co-heirs, then you also believe they are fallen in Adam and in need of the salvation found in Christ. Their sin must be dealt with — repentance, faith, and conformity to Christ are the only way.
If the Scriptures rebuke parents for not disciplining their children, calling it hatred, then what must our Lord think of those who refuse to address the damning sins of women with the hope of the gospel? How much do you have to hate women to ignore their culpability for their sins?
“Sometimes, in our good desire to minister to women, we can begin to treat them like hypersensitive car alarms.”
Sometimes, in our good desire to minister to women — to meet their needs, to build them up — we can begin to treat them like hypersensitive car alarms, tiptoeing around their sin, rather than loving them enough to help them obey, and to make them unflappable in him. The truth is, when you read an online “encouragement” that declares you’re doing a great job as a mom, it’s possible that it is true. But it also could be completely false. You may be doing a poor job, and that’s why you’re on the Internet looking for someone to tell you you’re doing great. Yet when we read the hard words of Scripture, they are always true — and they are always truly good for us. There is always an application. We always need to repent and believe. We always need to deny ourselves. We always need to obey God.
We love women with the truth. We speak truthful words that upset, that cause pain, that produce guilt, that pierce, but only because we know his healing and forgiveness and comfort is found no other way. I often think about the hard words my mother spoke to me — they were God’s appointed means to preserve me and keep me from making a shipwreck of my faith. How many daughters have wandered from the faith for want of such a mother?
Make Hard Words Normal
Another statement my mom was not afraid to say to me was, “You’re being too sensitive.” This is true for scores of women today — they are sensitive to their own feelings and reactions and therefore quick to take offense. And we need to hear, in truth and love, from other women when the gift of our sensitivity is becoming sin.
“Flat-out refuse to let yourself be offended by anything God says to you.”
Most of all, the way to desensitize an easily offended or disquieted spirit is by regular exposure to the unfiltered word of God. We can’t survive on a Bible diet of uplifting bits only. We must not let ourselves get skittish and squeamish around direct and discomforting truth. Try saying out loud the parts of the Bible you find most difficult. Put God’s own words in your mouth and start to get used to them. Say them in love to a friend. Make them normal.
Lastly, flat-out refuse to let yourself be offended by anything God says to you — whether his words are on the page of your Bible or rightly handled in the mouth of your husband or friend or pastor (2 Timothy 2:15). You may be wounded by God’s word, but his words are the faithful words of the truest friend you’ll ever have. And they are the only words whose wounds can make you whole.