When it comes to the topic of motherhood, everybody has something to say. (Obviously, I am no exception to this rule.) You new moms out there, get ready! Scores of people will offer you their two cents worth of mothering advice. (And their advice knows no boundaries!) So, when a good friend of mine asked me to give the challenge at her church baby shower a couple months ago, I labored to strike the right tone–to offer advice that would encourage and not overwhelm. And I could think of no better place to start than with Paul’s prayer for the new body of believers at Colossae.
Colossians 1:9-14. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
In this prayer, we see Paul’s heart for every believer, regardless of his or her particular circumstances. Whether you are a single woman, a new mom, married without children, a young girl hardly even beginning to entertain the idea of marriage, this prayer is for you. We see that in whatever situation we find ourselves that our goals are the same–and fairly straightforward ones too! We want to grow and live lives that please God. And if you are also a mother, you want your children to be saved, to grow and to live lives that please God.
So, how do we accomplish these goals? Paul’s prayer is a guide for us. Now, any grammarian would have a party unpacking all the participles in this prayer, but for my purposes, I’m going to boil it down to 3 “musts” for Christians 1) GROW 2) ENDURE and 3) GIVE THANKS
There is no substitute for simple Bible reading and prayer for increasing our wisdom and understanding. So, don’t neglect the spiritual disciplines. Motherhood is a new, intimidating sphere and just the sheer busyness of it can tempt you to neglect those habits. Mothers have to be thoughtful, flexible, and determined to continue developing their relationship with God.
When I was pregnant with my first, I remember reading somewhere that a new mom could expect to spend between 8-10 hours a day just feeding her baby. I was shocked. How was I supposed to get anything else done?! But through the years (and the addition of two more babies), I’ve learned to use those quiet moments when you are forced to sit down with your baby to cultivate spiritual disciplines. Sometimes you’ll be tired and you’ll want to zone out. Sometimes you’ll want to spend the time enjoying your baby. But if you can redeem a portion of that time for Bible reading and prayer you will be rewarded with growth. Babies are happily indiscriminate in their tastes. They universally love their mothers and the sound of their voices. And you can use that to your advantage. I would often just read the Bible out loud to my babies while they were feeding or sometimes I would pray, sing, memorize a passage of scripture or the lyrics to an encouraging song. And they loved it! This served a dual purpose. It helped me focus my thoughts (which were chaotic and undisciplined) and it entertained my baby. Somewhere around 2 your baby will lose that newborn delight in your every word, so take advantage of their uncultured tastes while you can! Don’t just take my advice, though. Ask other mothers how they manage their quiet time with God. Get some ideas and be creative. Find something that works for you. Just don’t neglect the spiritual disciplines.
We all know this is important right? But, it’s not just important for you, it’s important for your children. The 2009 National Study of Youth and Religion suggests that there is another reason to be personally faithful–that is the salvation of your children.
Several studies have made headlines in the last few years saying that children growing up in religious homes are abandoning the faith of their parents in droves when they reach adulthood. But this particular study indicates something quite different–that children who come from the homes of parents with a sincere faith consistently modeled at home are very likely to continue in that faith when they leave their parents home to begin their own. (See here for other influencing factors.)
We know that God is the one who gives life. But, we also know that God doesn’t merely ordain the ends–in this case, the salvation of our children–but he also ordains the very means to accomplish those ends. And one of the most common means he has ordained to bring people to salvation is the sincere, consistently modeled faith of their parents. So, don’t neglect the spiritual disciplines–it is vital both for your growth and for your child’s.
As any mother of young children will tell you, the early years are consumed with caring for your baby’s physical needs and watching for their physical and mental development, sometimes even to the point that we forget that they have a soul that will never die. But, the day is coming–faster than you can imagine–when your child begins to react to your “NO” and the contents of his heart begin to slowly reveal themselves. And you need to be prepared to tend to their hearts as well as their bodies. So moms, tend to your heart first, and then you will be ready to help your children tend to their hearts.
Besides praying for the Colossians growth in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge of God, Paul also prays for the Colossian believers to
2) ENDURE with patience and joy.
I hate to talk about endurance and patience at the happy occasion of a birthday, but I also want to offer helpful advice. For every Facebook worthy mothering moment you have, (And there are lots. And they are just as wonderful as the diaper commercials look!) there’s probably at least one (or two!) you’d really rather not record for posterity sake. Motherhood is wonderful, but it can be physically and emotionally exhausting, surprisingly lonely, and even a little monotonous. It is a marathon, not a sprint. And you have to endure. But Paul implies in this prayer that God himself can strengthen us for this task. He will draw from his vast reserves of power–the very power that brought Jesus back from the dead (Eph 1:19. 20/ Col 1:11)–to strengthen us to endure. And not just to endure, but to do so with patience and with great joy! So, ask for his strength. He will gladly give it to you. In addition to the very strength of God to support us, Paul offers a practical tip for joyfully enduring as well. He exhorts us to
3) GIVE THANKS.
Being grateful is an effective antidote to discontent and discouragement and self-pity. The very first thing we have to be grateful for is our salvation. God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col 1:13,14) A continual rehashing of the gospel is a must for cultivating a grateful heart. Speak the gospel to yourself first and then turn and speak it to your child. But, besides reminding us to continually give thanks for our salvation, I’d like to offer three other tips for cultivating a grateful heart:
1) Put your hand to the plow and don’t look back. Embrace this new role that God has given you unreservedly. It is a gift from God. Resist the temptation when it comes to continually count the costs and to indulge in self-pity. There are a million sacrifices–big and little–that you will make over the course of your life because you are a mother. In your interactions with other moms–especially those outside your church community–you’re going to hear a constant refrain: “Yeah, I used to be able to do that before I had kids.” (Or some variation on that theme). And you’re going to see some of those ideas rooted deeply in your own heart as well. So, resist that temptation when it comes and instead offer a prayer of thanks to God. Thank him that this is what he has designed specifically for you. Recognize it as a gift from your Father who lovingly plans your every step. And you will see, despite the sacrifices, how truly “the lines have fallen for [you] in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6)
2) Stay alert and observe how God has been faithful to you. Enjoy the challenges of motherhood as they bring growth. Enjoy watching your husband grow. Be gracious and point out the areas you see him grow and change. Notice how you have grown and changed and thank God that he is faithful to sanctify you–that he is completing the good work he began in you at salvation. (Phil 1:6)
3) Learn to love the small things. When I was a teenager, my mom would often quote Zechariah 4:10 to me when I complained about household drudgery or piano practice or math homework. She would say. “don’t despise the day of small things.” Who can say what the cumulative effect of faithfulness in the small things will be? God delights in seeing his children faithfully discharge their duties, even the monotonous ones.
G. K. Chesterton’s once wrote:
[Children] always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
The suggestion here is that God does not hate the monotonous or the small things, but the contrary–that he delights in them. And so should we. We can bring much pleasure to God with the simple tasks of changing a diaper, cuddling a baby, preparing a meal, _____ (fill in the blank with whatever task you tend to despise as “small” or meaningless) when we do it with a thankful heart, desiring to please God and further his purposes on earth. These are the works of our hands. This is how we “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” These–often despised labors–are our good works.
New mom out there, as you begin your mothering journey
1) Don’t neglect the spiritual disciplines. You need them and it’s quite likely that God has ordained them as a means to accomplish your child’s salvation.
2) Endure with patience and joy. God himself will strengthen you to do so.
3) Cultivate a grateful heart by continually recalling the blessings of your salvation, by not counting the costs, by observing God’s faithfulness in your life to bring spiritual growth, and by learning to love the small things.