Motherhood as ministry is not limited to personal spiritual growth. The biblical definition of ministry, as communicated by the Apostle Paul, is rooted in the growth and health of the body of Christ: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–13 NKVJ). In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul’s conversation is expanded to highlight the importance of each gift within the body of Christ as necessary to the proper functioning of the body. Within these definitions of ministry is the understanding that each person within the body of Christ has been uniquely gifted so that the church would be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ: wholly loving, deeply selfless, and totally reliant on God. Although the Apostle Paul does not explicitly name mothers in his litany of ministers, what would it mean for the church to take seriously the role of mothers in the growth of the church? Moreover, what would it mean for mothers to take seriously their roles as mothers—even the seemingly mundane aspects of motherhood—in the overall growth and health of the church? In particular, the ministry of mothers to mothers is of utmost importance.
Nobody Told Me the Road Would Be Easy
If we are honest, motherhood is not always an easy journey. It is downright hard some days. This truth rarely gets told, but one night this truth unfolded before our eyes on the nightly news. Miriam Carey was a 34-year-old African American woman who was fatally shot by police after a high-speed chase from the White House to the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Her story was gripping, not because of the location where her life came to a tragic end, but because she was a young mother a long way from home driving recklessly with her one-year-old daughter in the car. In the days following the event, the new outlets reported that she was suffering from postpartum depression. The diagnosis was later changed to postpartum psychosis. Miriam Carey was a young mother suffering after one of the most joyous occasions in a woman’s life. And if the truth is told, Miriam Carey may have been suffering alone, but she was not the only one suffering.
According to the American Psychological Association, postpartum depression is “a serious mental health problem characterized by a prolonged period of emotional disturbance, occurring at a time of major life change and increased responsibilities in the care of a newborn infant.” Postpartum depression affects between 9 and 16% of women. It is more serious than the “baby blues” which affect most women after the birth of children. It can be prolonged, lasting up to two years postpartum. It can be emotionally painful. It can be physically paralyzing. Mothers suffering from postpartum depression can identify with the Psalmist, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?” (from Psalm 42:5, NKJV). Surely there are new mothers in our churches dressed in their Sunday best while suffering deep within just like Miriam Carey.
Sadly, within the body of Christ, we do not always know how to handle mental illness, including postpartum depression. As Terrie M. Williams, author of Black Plain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting, writes, “Too many of us believe that our pain is a kind of punishment for our flaws, that maybe if we were better people or better Christians we would not be suffering.” This is where the ministry of motherhood is vitally important. When I think about Miriam Carey, I wonder where were the mothers in her life? Where was the community of mothers praying with her? Where was the community of mothers telling their truths about the realities of motherhood?
There are three key ways in which mothers can minister to one another during this time: prayer, plain talk, and presence.
First, the ministry of motherhood requires that mothers pray for and with one another. Scripture teaches, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:17, NKJV). Depression of any kind is not a sin, however, God does not call us to live in a prison of grief. There is power in praying with another mother. If you are suffering in any aspect of motherhood, tell the truth about your situation to another mother that so that she can pray with you and for you. There is healing in prayer. God inclines His ear to the cries of His children. And while your suffering may not be miraculously relieved through prayer, you will feel God’s presence in the valley, and God will lead you in a direction to get adequate help (see Psalm 23:4).
Second, the ministry of motherhood requires that mothers tell the truth to one another about the realities of motherhood. Many mothers suffer a tremendous amount of guilt and feeling of inadequacy, especially in comparison with other mothers. If women tell the truth about the daily joys and grind of motherhood, perhaps many others would be set free. No one shared with me how difficult breastfeeding would be in the first few weeks of my daughter’s life. I felt alone and inferior because I was having trouble feeding my child. I now share my experiences with other mothers so they know they are not alone, that they are more than adequate, and that there is hope.
Lastly, the ministry of motherhood requires mothers to be present with and for one another. This can be especially difficult in an age of texting, tweeting, and status updates. Motherhood can be an isolating experience, and our society has abandoned the ethic of care that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As mothers we should connect ourselves with other mothers face to face. This can be through play dates which minister to mothers as well as to children. It could be a mother’s only date. Many mothers, especially stay-at-home moms, are thirsting for adult conversation. If there is a mother who is struggling, offer to help her out: grocery shopping, washing dishes, or cooking a meal are easy ways to help her overloaded schedule. When mothers are present for one another families are strengthened, which helps strengthen our churches and communities. This is the heart of ministry.
This subject is deeply personal to me. I am an ordained minister. Prior to the birth of our daughter 18 months ago, my husband and I made the decision that I would stay home from my position as an assistant pastor for a time to nurture and care for her. There were moments of insecurity and challenges, balanced with moments of intense joy. The biggest challenge was coming to the understanding that what I was doing was holy work. It was easy to qualify preaching, teaching Bible study, and counseling grieving families as ministry, but I had a difficult time seeing motherhood as ministry. This vocational tension, coupled with shifting hormones, led to a period of postpartum depression.
But God sent some mothers into my life who prayed for me, encouraged me, and told me the truth about motherhood. Their witness, alongside the support of my husband, the help of a therapist, exercise, and rest ushered me into wellness. Now, not only do I value the ministry of mothers, I engage in the ministry of motherhood, praying with, supporting, and encouraging mothers who need strength for the journey. If you are a mother struggling through the terrain of motherhood, get with some mothers who can encourage you out of their experience. And when possible, encourage another mother in her journey. Motherhood is not a perfect experience, but through it, especially when mothers minister to one another, we are being conformed into the image of a perfect Christ.