I have certain days as a mother — like the one I had a few weeks ago — where the eight-year-old, four-year-old, and one-year-old were all crying at the same time, each for a different reason. It is these kinds of days where I succumb to the "what ifs." What if I had gotten my Ph.D?
I could be in a quiet little office at some university doing theoretical physics. Life would be simple, quiet, and I would see the beauty of God everyday in the macro and the quantum worlds. Or, What if I had finished law school? I would be doing constitutional law working to turn this country and culture around.
But as I write the first draft of this article, I am in the car on our way home to Arizona from California, my one-year-old is literally inconsolable — screaming and screeching right behind me. And I have to practice what I am about to write to you. It used to be a lot worse before the irresistible grace of Jesus flooded my heart and soul with a revivifying love for the Son of God, my Savior, my Redeemer. I love the children the Lord has given me, it is my delight to model for them a love for Jesus and passion for serving him in whatever way he chooses. But the road has been long and hard and full of failures and over-corrections.
The heart issue, or one of them anyway, is my idolatry. My personal idols at one point were education, knowledge, reason, and success in those areas. I think for some of us, we have mythologized the concept of a career working outside the home. And the “what ifs” I have heard so many times in my life is the panting after an idol. Or to borrow from Tim Keller, it has been my looking for something to save me, something to rescue me, something to hope and trust in for success in this world.
Searching for an Identity
In the grace of God I have come to think of a two-pronged answer to the “what if” struggle that I and many modern women experience: (1) understanding our identity in Christ, and (2) internalizing his love and grace for us. In this post I will discuss the first one.
This may sound simplistic and almost a letdown because we usually want something that we can do, but the answer is what the cross gives us. This is where the gospel meets us — it gives us a new identity.
Identity Built on Sand
One of the things that the gospel does and should do for women is to change the way they view their worthiness and their own honor. There is value in motherhood. I think many of us can intellectually assent to the fact that what we are doing has infinite consequence.
And there are many books and blog posts out there telling women every day that being a stay-at-home mom is “a high calling” or “a valuable vocation.” But after a while those phrases starts coming across in the tones of Charlie Brown's teacher. What I see behind all this type of attempted encouragement is a premise that motherhood is what gives the mother her worth, value, and importance in the world.
But this "encouragement” falls short and can actually leave mothers even more discouraged and guilty in the end. These types of “exhortations” are based on a sandy premise. While holding up motherhood as a worthy vocation (which it is) it points mothers back to ourselves to get us to feel good about what we are doing. It builds on sand because it tells us to look at ourselves and find worth, honor and value in motherhood. Even saying that motherhood is a high calling because God says so can be unfulfilling.
I know because I used to be like a mouse on a treadmill thinking the next book may just do the trick in releasing me from discouragement, and the guilt and the joyless service of motherhood. I held out hope that the next book was going to set me on fire for my roles as wife and mother. I was looking for something that would put the same kind of zeal in my heart for motherhood as my idolatry did for a would-be career.
I never found it there.
There is no better path to discouragement than to look within ourselves. Instead, we are to look to our Savior (Hebrews 3:1)! We look to Christ because he is infinitely worthy, infinitely valuable, infinitely lovely. A Christian mother is in Christ, and so when God the Father sees me, he sees me through and in him. Follow the logic here. My worth and value is found in Christ.
To all the moms who are busy in the home caring for a family, your worth, value, and honor are all found in Christ, not in the “what ifs” of your academic success or potential in the workplace. My worth is neither in being a theoretical physicist, or a constitutional lawyer, or even being a stay-at-home mom. My worth is in Christ Jesus. And when we grasp that, all our identity problems begin to vanish and all the haunting “what if” questions begin to fade into the background.