What If I Ruin My Kids?
Welcome back to the Ask Pastor John podcast with John Piper. We begin a new week with a question from a young woman named Kate. “Dear Pastor John, thank you so much for all that your ministry has done for my faith and relationship with God. I can’t fully express how much your words have changed my walk with Christ forever. I was very encouraged by your words in episode 908 about fatherhood, directed to the husband of a wife who wanted children. In the episode, you said, ‘There are glories of motherhood, too. That’s for another time.’ I would like to hear about this glory and any other encouragement you have for me.
“I have never taken it lightly to have children. It seems overwhelmingly weighty to me to be responsible for forming another person’s character for 18 years and beyond. It has absolutely terrified me in the past, and for a time I decided not to have kids. As I have found my identity in Christ, I have also found strength to agree to willingly have children, and obey God’s call on my life, but I am still so afraid of perpetuating my own dysfunction and sins into them. I am afraid of childbirth, also, but ruining their hearts scares me the most. I would love to hear any advice you have for me. Thank you.”
There are glories in motherhood that every woman should think about and embrace and rejoice in as God calls them to motherhood. And when I say “glories,” I don’t necessarily mean things that are easy, but things that are profoundly significant and beautiful and precious in God’s sight and essential for his purposes in the world. So, that is what I want to focus on. So much more could be said about those other issues she raised, but she asked me to say what are some of those glories that you said were for another time. So, I will mention five.
“Every man that has ever lived, however small or great, owes his life to a woman, his mother.”
1. It is a glorious thing that human life originates in the womb of a woman and is sustained for nine months by the woman’s own body and in most cultures is sustained at her breasts for another year or two. Both Moses and Paul saw this as a glorious thing, a great wonder of the world, that a mother should be continually amazed at. To be sure, all the glories of this life are fallen glories, imperfect glories, corrupted glories because both our souls and all of nature have fallen under the judgment of God because of sin. But the glories still shine through, and in Christ we are meant to embrace them and free them as much as we can from the contamination of the fall. Immediately following the words of God’s judgment on the serpent and the woman and the man in Genesis and immediately before God’s merciful clothing of the man and the woman with animal skins, right in that little place, Moses records this: “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20).
Now, it seems clear to me that God intends this right where it comes — after the curse, before the mercy of those skins — God intends this to be seen as a gift of unspeakable grace. Both Adam and Eve were warned that the day they eat of this fruit they will die (Genesis 2:17). And, in one sense, they did. But instead of only death, not only did they live, but Eve becomes the source of all human life. He could have done it another way for the mother of all the living and every woman after her. Then Paul tries to show how significant this is in 1 Corinthians 11:11–12 where he says, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God.” In other words, every man that has ever lived, however small or great, owes his life to a woman, his mother.
2. Then the psalms multiply the glory and the wonder of all of life originating in the woman by saying explicitly that her womb is no mere natural cocoon, but the sacred place of God’s own personal handiwork himself. Psalm 139:13–14 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” God is at work in the womb of every mother, and his hands are forming an everlasting human being just as closely as if he were using his fingers and knitting needles — and that is a great glory.
Piper: “In my opinion, the most influential people in the world are mothers.”
3. Then the Bible describes the glorious ongoing shaping of every human by the influence and teaching of his mother. Proverbs 1:8–9 says, “Hear, my son, your father’s instruction, and forsake not your mother’s teaching, for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.” She has given her sons and daughters life and now, by her teaching, she gives them garlands and pendants for their neck. These are intended to be signs of glorious ministry. In my opinion, the most influential people in the world are mothers. Thousands of men may rise up to positions of power all over the world. All of them come from the womb and the influence of mothers, even kings and presidents. This is amazing: it says in Proverbs 31:1, “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.” So, not only do you have the words of a king, but you have Scripture as the oracle of his mother that she taught him.
4. God’s design in all of this is that a mother should be duly honored, or, you could say, appropriately glorified for her gifts and her sacrifices to her children. Ephesians 6:1–2 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother.’” Children are to honor their mothers because their mothers have done an honorable and glorious thing in all that they have birthed and influenced.
5. Lastly, the sorrows that every mother will experience in giving birth and raising her children will be glorious sorrows. And what I mean is that, when a mother has sorrows — even over the forsaking of God, the forsaking of a family by a child — when a mother has such sorrows, it is a glorious sorrow because it is a partaking in the very sorrows that Jesus himself experienced at the one point where he compared himself to mothering: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37). So, here we have Jesus comparing himself to a hen, a mother longing and aching and crying and praying out for the wayward children in Jerusalem, and they are not coming — and he is weeping over Jerusalem. Your sorrows as a mother are glorious sorrows because they share in the very sorrows of the Son of Man when he compared himself to motherhood.
“The sorrows of mothers are glorious because they share in the very mothering sorrows of the Son of Man.”
And Kate, the list could go on. So, take heart. Of course, you and every woman and man bring brokenness. That is what you emphasize. You bring brokenness as well as faith to the challenge of parenthood. But remember these promises. I will just give you two. They are daily precious to me:
1. My God will supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus — that includes mothering needs, as well as others (see Philippians 4:9).
2. God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having all mothering sufficiency in all things related to mothering, at all times in your mothering, you may abound in every mothering good deeds (see 2 Corinthians 9:8).