The Inefficient Ministry of Motherhood

“Two-year-olds take time,” she told me. He was my first, and I had not expected motherhood to consume quite so much time and emotion. The energy and life I had previously invested into eternity-worthy endeavors were now being spent through the inefficiency of motherhood. I’ve often thought back on this grandmother’s wise words, taken a deep breath, and slowed my expectations to a reasonable pace.

But I still grow impatient with the sheer time that it takes to be a mother — to cook a warm meal (only to know that snack requests begin within 90 minutes at best), buy and launder clothes, read storybooks, plan and do homeschool lessons, hear the adventures of Lego inventions, bathe and instruct and buckle in. Especially for those of us with young children, motherhood absorbs the bulk of the labor we would otherwise pour into ministry outside these Crayola-smudged walls. A mom in her home can feel shelved by God from real ministry.

“A mom in her home can feel shelved by God from real ministry.”

But isn’t there a story about this in the Gospels, about adults who didn’t want time-consuming children to interfere with real kingdom work? And whom did Jesus correct? Did he correct the thick-fingered toddlers and long-winded grade-schoolers? Did he correct the boys for how their minds wander and bodies fidget, and the girls for their sticky fingers and their immature decisions?

They were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10:13–16)

Instead of correcting the time-taking toddlers, Jesus corrected the kingdom-driven adults who didn’t have time for the children.

Jesus corrected those who would set aside the least of these in order to embrace the platform-building crowds of a growing ministry. He felt indignant that the disciples would assume that his kingdom work was not wide enough to envelop, on some days, just a few — a few who would take up a lot of his time (since we know how children do). But Jesus brought the children near to him, touched them, and spent time with them.

How inefficient, Lord.

Whom Will We Imitate?

In Christ’s kingdom, the way up is often down, isn’t it? God is often pleased to work through those who copy Jesus, laying down their lives in the shadow of his cross, because real spiritual yield usually comes through intense pressing, downward burial, hidden-away entombment. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24–25).

“Jesus corrected the kingdom-driven adults who didn’t have time for the children.”

How good God has been to women to choose us to join Jesus in lowly, life-giving work among his littlest lambs! For mothers of young children as well as all Christian women, when we are willing to be spent in inefficiency for the most tender, impressionable, and helpless among us, we are choosing the good portion that will not be taken away from us. We die to self, marching with confidence into that grave, because of the sure promise of God that, like Jesus, we will bear much fruit.

But doesn’t our labor for the kingdom feel inefficient and cumbersome to our flesh? Oh, I can think of more efficient kingdom work than motherhood, nursery care, and my dear wiggly three-year-old church class. I can come up with more efficient means to grow our church than Vacation Bible Schools, and Sunday school classes equipped for children with special needs, and mothers filling sippy cups and packing diaper bags for Sunday mornings. And I can think of more efficient means to grow the kingdom than to bury a mother’s talents and gifts and energies into her few who take so much time.

Yes, I can make a list of ways to serve God more efficiently — if, that is, kingdom work can be wrought by my flesh, by giving into demonic lies that echo the serpent of old who casts doubt on God’s ways. Speaking of the devil — whom will we copy? Will we copy the satanic ambition to “make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14), or will we copy Jesus, who said, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29)?

Proving His Excellencies

It’s gloriously true: when Jesus uses inefficient means, working through those who follow him down into a grave of laboring sacrificially and faithfully in the dark, it proves to us and to the watching world that the power and sufficiency is of him and not of ourselves. Because when growth and resurrection and life and new birth push forth from that tomb, there won’t be any doubt that it’s been the Spirit who worked through clumsy, inefficient means so that Jesus Christ alone may be praised.

“Motherhood is our chance to die as we learn from Jesus to imitate his ways.”

How can we go lower into the grave with Jesus? We can embrace the fertile ground that motherhood offers us to spend and be spent in seeming inefficiency. With each unseen, unapplauded offering of time and attention to our children, we take hold of Jesus’s promise for burrowing grains of wheat to yield a harvest. Filled with opportunities to extend grace, patiently instruct and correct, and bless those who are unable to repay us, motherhood is our chance to die as we learn from Jesus to imitate his ways.

Do not fear to lose your life, Christian mother! To surrender to his ways is an invitation to join the King whose burial culminated in resurrection. Look to Jesus, the Firstfruits. Do you see his end? It seems too good to be true. And we are invited to take up our cross on the way to the tomb, to join him in these inefficient means along the road to resurrection.

Won’t you come along, my fellow kernel of wheat? Won’t you delight in the burial he has for you, knowing it’s the true path to genuine fruitfulness? Embrace the daily, cumbersome, inefficient crosses God affords us through motherhood. In our current season of life, these humble crosses are our invitations to genuine and faithful kingdom work as our insufficiency for this task is our platform to prove the excellencies of our beloved Savior, King Jesus.