Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Flowers are being ordered, gifts are being bought, and tomorrow mothers across the nation will be pampered and treated to breakfast, lunch or some other special treat in their honor. This tradition is a wonderful opportunity to say thank you and love on one of the greatest gifts God has given to us. Throughout the generations and cultural dynamics of the day, however, it has been wrongly and detrimentally taught and believed within the church that motherhood is the highest calling for women.
I personally am a woman who has been involved in a denomination which historically has downplayed the role of women in the church and often (hopefully unintentionally) leads women to believe that it is their greatest calling to be a wife and a mother. In seminary I took a class on Biblical manhood and womanhood, and the professor actually led the class (of almost all men) to question whether or not girls should play sports. We, as a denomination, have several thousand fully funded missionaries on the mission field. Women outnumber men at a rate of 2:1 on the field, but if a married couple is sent out the husband is deemed a missionary and the wife is federally unemployed and called a “missionary’s wife”. We have tragically missed the boat.
On the most basic of levels, to define Biblical womanhood as being a wife and a mother, we cause great turmoil and doubt for those women who long so deeply do to married and/or to have children but are currently single or barren. The church is full of women who desire to be married but there are very few godly men to love, pursue and marry them. One glance around pretty much any sanctuary on a Sunday morning reveals the stark fact that many more women go to church and are serious about their faith than men. There are also countless couples who long to be parents but are unable to reproduce, and do not have the finances or calling to adopt. There are also those who simply do not have the desire to be parents.
And you know what? That is OK!
Why? Because God never said that every woman has to be a wife and mother. God never said that every man has to be a husband and father. What does God want most from us? To know, love and abide in Him. Why did Jesus come to the Earth?
– John 10.10
God is fundamentally concerned with our salvation and our relationship with Him. The whole of Scripture writes redemption’s story from creation to the New Earth, and focuses on Jesus as the central and pivotal point. He came to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19.10). Every person – male and female – must be born a second time, born Spiritually, in order to inherit the Kingdom of God (John 3). Then, once we are born Spiritually the Holy Spirit begins the work of Sanctification in our lives. In Christ, there is no distinction by race or gender:
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.”
– Gal 3.27-29
Thus, as transformed people who are now Spiritually alive, God desires to see in us the fruit of the Spirit and maturity. These things, too, are for everyone and not gender specific:
“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
– Gal 5.19-23
In regards to our salvation and our walk with God, Scripture continually and regularly addresses our heart and our attitudes. God desires that we know Him, that we abide in His Word, that we draw our strength from the Holy Spirit and obey. We kill sin, we die to our flesh and we live to glorify Him by making disciples of all nations. That is the big picture.
So what about our gender roles?
It is clearly seen in nature that men are different than women. Our bodies look different, we have different abilities and our differences compliment one another. In order to reproduce, you must physiologically have a man and a woman. A woman will carry and produce food for the baby, a man will not. Scripture also teaches us how husbands and wives should interact with one another: both putting the other before himself/herself. This is a general teaching, for all of our relationships as well as specific instruction for married people:
Everyone should put all people before himself:
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
– Phil 2.3-4
Spouses should put their spouses before themselves:
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.”
– Eph 5.22-27
Wives are commanded here to respect their husbands. Husbands are commanded here to love their wives. It has been tested and proven that women desire love and men desire respect – and both interpret their marriages as most healthy and balanced when women receive love and men receive respect. Men, however, are hardwired to give respect since that is what they want, and women are hardwired to give love since that is what they want. Paul recognizes this fact and therefore commands us to put each other first by loving and serving our spouses in the way that they will feel most loved.
And while we are clearly instructed how to best love one another, Paul profoundly states that it is better for people to not get married. We will be more focused on God and His kingdom and purposes if we do not get married and tie ourselves down:
“Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
– 1 Cor 7.7-9
“But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”
– 1 Cor 7.32-35
If the Bible teaches us that it is better to remain single than to get married, then marriage and motherhood is not only not the highest calling for women – it is a distraction that will tie us down for a season and make us less effective in the work of disciple-making.
Lastly, should we choose to ignore all of the social and Biblical realities already explained, the simple fact is that of a woman’s life, she will only have small children for a very small portion. Even if we consider a woman an “active mother” with children in the house until they are 18, the average woman has 2.5 children, usually 2-4 years apart. This means the average woman would be considered an active mother for 22 years. If the average life span is 78.7 years, those years of child rearing make up for only 28% of a woman’s life. Yes, she might help with grandchildren or other children in the church, but why would we confine a woman’s highest calling to something she will only do for a fraction of her life? This is simply nonsensical, compounding the unbiblical factor.
So ladies. What does this mean for us? It means that God wants our hearts first and foremost. Before we give them to our husbands, before we wrap them up in children, He wants our whole hearts. He wants us to trust Him with our futures and our circumstances. He wants us to submit our relationships and children to Him – because they are His and not ours! Are you married? Great! Love and serve God first, your husband second. Are you a mother? Then you have been given a wonderful blessing and treasure from the Lord (Ps 127.3). Your spouse and your children, however, are not your highest calling and if you expend all of your energy on them and find your value and worth in them, you will be left disappointed, hurt and empty – without vision or passion when they move out and move on.
Are you single? Great! God has clearly stated in Scripture that you are in the most opportune situation to serve Him – not being distracted by a relationship and trying to please your husband or care for children. Does God want you to be married? That is His sovereign plan for your life, and each situation is unique. We cannot say Biblically yes or no. However, you are not less of a woman or missing out on God’s plan for your life if you do not yet have a husband or children. So take it to God and ask Him what He has for you. It may be marriage, it may be singleness.
Do you want to be married but you are not? Do you want to have children but are unable? Take those passions and longings to God. Many women throughout Scripture and throughout history have had those exact feelings. God wants us to bring our hearts to Him. He also wants us to be satisfied and content in Him. Marriage and children are only a blessing when they are a gift from God. If we are expecting them to fulfill us, we will be constantly yearning for more and unsatisfied because God alone can satisfy. You are not missing the calling on your life. God has a perfect plan, and He will work all things together for your greatest, Spiritual good and maturity as well as His glory.