When I was growing up, my mom often said everything I needed to know about life was in the Bible. She called the Bible a manual for living. Because I observed her faith and life up close and personally, I know she believed this statement and lived her life always looking for God’s answer in the Bible. But, when I grew up, got married, and had a child of my own—one of the first things I heard was that kids didn’t come with a handbook. While there was plenty of information on pregnancy, what to expect at each stage of child development, and a boatload of books on raising kids, there was still a sense of adventure and fear of the unknown amongst my mommy friends. We gathered together often to talk about the latest development and wondered what to do next—often googling a phrase just to see what would come up (after all, that was how I had handled every symptom I had had during pregnancy).
Then I got to thinking: what if the Bible has the answers? I took my mom’s advice and opened up the pages of the Bible in search of answers on being a successful mom, teaching my child about life, handling bullies, balancing this mommyhood thing, and so much more. I reread some of the stories of moms of the Bible—and I’m happy to report that my mom was absolutely right. We have lots to learn from the pages of scriptures and what they say about moms of the Bible.
If we open our eyes and hearts, we can hear the moms of the Bible teaching us invaluable lessons about raising our kids. Some things have changed—thank God—but for the most part, we—just like the women of antiquity in the Bible—all want the best for our children and take this special task of mommyhood seriously.
I hope you will journey with me as I retell the stories of some of my favorite—and successful—moms of the Bible and gather real, motherly advice on raising children. Whether you are expecting or nursing a baby or caring for a toddler, tween, or teenager, these women have something to share to encourage you on this journey. Or perhaps you’ve successfully raised or mentored children who are now adults; I bet you can still relate to these women and the challenges they faced and overcame.
Motherhood is not for the weak. It takes guts to raise children well and still keep ourselves intact. We need more than a firm hand and a special, authoritative look; we need wisdom and help. God has placed all we need inside of our manual—the Bible—and as we unpack the messages shared from the moms in the Bible, we will garner the support we need. Take a seat and soak in the stories of our foremothers so you can gain new strength for the motherhood journey.
God has called us to this special task—and has left us with special help and messages. Let’s acquire some motherly wisdom.
Mary, a Beacon of Wisdom
I don’t see Mary fighting to get Jesus into the best daycare program because that will lead to selective enrollment in the top kindergarten, which leads to the best college! (Huh?! Really, the method you use to teach our children their colors determines their future college admissions? And the price tag for those early childhood programs could very well pay for an Ivy League college education!) I don’t see Mary stressing over how many kids to invite to the party—or even the venue—and scheduling it four months in advance and preparing just the right take-home goodie bags. (What happened to the parties where cake and ice cream were enough and playing pin the tail on the donkey was a really big deal?!) I don’t see Mary working late at night to create yet another class project or filling out college applications for her children because she’s afraid they won’t make the deadline and they’ll never get into any other school and then their lives will take a spiral downward and…No, when I look at scripture, I see a totally different picture of motherhood in Mary. She doesn’t seem fazed by the clarion call of mommyhood. She isn’t cloaked in worry—the byproduct of attempting to maintain control over every iota of her children’s lives—like most moms I know. What I see when I see Mary is calmness and peace, a demeanor that eludes today’s soccer moms.
Studying Mother Mary teaches us how to raise children in a crazy and cruel world. She is a beacon of wisdom and demonstrates the attitude moms need in order to navigate through the overwhelmingness of mommyhood while crazily trying to have a life at the same time.
How do you do it, Mary? How can you be so calm while raising kids—while raising Jesus? Please share.
Piecing together Mary’s story throughout scripture may give us moms some clues.
Like us, Mary’s life changed immediately once she heard those words: “Congratulations, you’re pregnant!” The Message translation actually says it more accurately. It records that the angel Gabriel showed up, greeted Mary, and said: “God has a surprise for you” (Luke 1:29–33). Now, that’s a line for every mom to remember: God has a surprise for you! And yeah, while Mary’s surprise was a little more surprising than any mother’s I know—that producing-a-child-before-having-sex part—I believe that line is still true for every woman whose life is changed by nurturing and caring for a child—God has a surprise for you! But, almost instantly upon hearing the life-changing news from Gabriel —Mary declares herself a true servant of God (Luke 1:38). She had a few questions for Gabriel when he thrust that news upon her—and who could blame the woman?! I can hear her asking, How is this so? I’ve never been with a man. Oh, my what will Joseph say?
Whether God has chosen you to be the mother of the Savior or of a president, a teacher, or the next person who will grow up and show love and care to another (you know your child has all of that potential bottled up inside of her little body or teenaged heart), apparently learning that you’ve been called to the sacred task of motherhood puts you in a new mode. You are forever changed. You know you are called to serve and nurture and care for someone precious, even more precious than yourself.
What a daunting task. What a surprise God has for you!
Mothers Are True Servants
Mary shows us how to handle this amazingly awesome task. It’s almost as if she took in every word dear Gabriel had to say, processed it rather quickly, and came up with her wise conclusion. Mary hears the angel Gabriel, in all of his lofty language. She hears his words and knows he means more. I can hear her wondering, So, yeah, Gabriel, you say I’m going to have a child—even though I haven’t been with a man yet? This must be some child, some miracle. And what if, just what if, I were to believe you and think I would produce the Savior of the world this way…may I ask, why me? I’m not noble, I’m not the prettiest. I haven’t even been the best. I’m just a little country girl trying to get through this life. I have someone who wants to marry me, and I think we can settle down and have a good life. But, you say, it’s going to be a lot different than we’ve dreamed, huh?”
Within just a few moments, Mary continues to take in this life-changing news: I know Joseph’s a good man but come on…you think he’s going to believe I got pregnant miraculously. Yes, you say. Well, let me tell you one thing—I’m going to have to let you and the good Lord handle that one. If you say Joseph will go for it, great, but you’re going to have to make that one work out on your own. I already know there are some things in this life I just can’t deal with—so that one is on you and God, Angel Gabe.
Gabriel returns with: Don’t worry, Mary, this is just the beginning. Your motherhood journey is going to be one for the books. The Almighty God knows motherhood is no easy road, but God is going to surprise you, my dear. You are going to be amazed by the child God gives you. You’re going to be filled with wonder at everything he does—and blessed by what he ultimately does for the entire world. And, just for the record, I like your attitude. Remember to let God handle that really tough and perplexing stuff—you don’t need to understand everything if you’re willing to trust God.
And almost instantly after she gets those questions out Mary accepts the news of her pending parenthood and says, Okay, I’m up for this. I’m God’s servant. How do I get started?
Mary was a wise chick. Clearly, she understood—more than many of us—that one big part of motherhood is service. From changing diapers to wiping off spit-up and washing and washing and washing clothes, to carpooling and shuffling around town to baseball and tennis and swimming and ballet and piano and birthday parties (oh, the birthday parties), to cooking vegetables and cutting them in cute shapes in hopes that someone, anyone, will eat them and grow up to have strong bones and healthy teeth…yes, healthy, nonexpensive teeth! Mary accepted that mommyhood meant taking a back seat in your own home, going without so your children can have. Staying up late and rising early—all in the name of the children. She understood that servanthood was a huge part of this mommy thing. And she openly and gladly accepted it.
Whoa, mother of God! She should be considered a saint…no joking. Many moms, myself included, still struggle with the servant word. We love our kids, Lord knows we do, but do they have to need us all of the time? Do you really need to call my name one more time? Can I just use the bathroom in peace or talk to my girl pal for fifteen uninterrupted minutes? (I really do miss talking to her—ever since she was blessed with her first child nearly fourteen years ago!) Just one moment is all we crave, just one—without the threat of returning to find paint on the walls and the one precious figurine from Aunt Claire broken! Can I get one moment, please? Um, no, you’re a servant now! God has a surprise for you.
I think when we begin to see ourselves as Mary saw herself, as a servant of God, we can handle those duties with a little more grace and patience. We are, in essence, working for God, tending to the souls and care of the little ones and the older ones in our charge. This mommyhood thing is a sacred task, and we have been assigned to it. In all of its glory and in all of its messiness, we have been selected and chosen to be called mother.
Okay, I see myself as a servant now, a servant of God, called to nourish and guide and lead this one toward adulthood, independence, citizenship…Yes! Our task is no slight one; there is no greater calling. But how can I, like Mary, break out into the Magnificat (Mary’s praise song in Luke 1:46–55) because of what God has done, because God has chosen me to serve these particular children?
Still, Mary teaches. One of the first things she does—after she questions Gabriel and accepts life as a servant of God but even before she can sing her praise song—is to run to be in the company of another woman who is pregnant with possibility and whose prayer has been answered (Luke 1:39–40). Mary wants to rejoice with a woman who understands her condition.
Know Where You Can Find Support
When the young Mary first found out the news, she ran straight to her older cousin Elizabeth, who was also carrying a miracle baby. Scripture says Mary stayed three months in the company of this older cousin. Mary was hanging out with another promise-bearer; she was soaking up the awesomeness of God, bathing in the beauty of answered prayers and the sacred call to servanthood. She knew where to hang out; she didn’t run through the streets sharing her good news with everyone—not just yet. She ran to the side of someone she knew would understand her and support her and rejoice with her (and this person wasn’t her husband-to-be; sometimes our dear mates just don’t understand the magnitude of motherhood!) Oh, the joy of having supportive sisters and aunts and moms who can rejoice with us even when life seems strange and daunting and overwhelming. Do you know whom you can call or text or visit when you need this type of care? Keep that woman on speed dial and use her number as often as possible! She can somehow remind you about the awesomeness of this task. Yes, even though you’re buried in homework and tournament schedules, another mom—a sister in solidarity—can remind you of your ultimate task: to serve these kids. You can see the joy in her eyes—most days. You can be reminded of the calling because of the joy she has. You can see God’s promise when you look at her. Keep her close. Keep her near. Hang on to her for dear life. No one knows what you’re going through quite like another mommy.
Your Elizabeth could be the woman who knows you’re overwhelmed by the look in your eyes. Even while you have a smile on your face, she can sense that you can use a break. She’s the mom who drops by and says she’ll sit with the kids while you go do anything else, even just sit in your car and catch your breath. Or, she’s the aunt who just happens to come by to take the kids out for pizza so you can catch a nap or clean or cook or do whatever. Or that friend who sends the text at the right moment: “You’re a great mom.” Ah, yes, someone sees and knows. Thank God for sisters who understand. Thank God for women who journey with you. Keep them close.
I still remember the sweet words of a mother I sit near in church most Sundays; she actually sits with her twenty-something grown daughters—a reminder to me that our kids actually do grow up! As I fretted over my nearly five-month-old precious child, this veteran mom reached over to hold her and whispered: “Sometimes you need a break too.” Those little words made such a difference. She knew what I needed, and she knew what I needed to hear. She went on to reminisce and educate me about how she had encouraged her husband to help more when her children were little and how she had laid out clothes for him to get the girls dressed in (already colored-coordinated, she explained with a smile). Had she looked into my home and observed my struggle? Moms just have a way of knowing. Keep your mommy support group close.
Katara Washington Patton has written and edited Christian books for children, teens, and adults and created supplemental materials for books by T.D. Jakes, Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer. She served as general editor and writer of Aspire: The New Women of Color Study Bible. She is currently the engagement editor for Christian Century. Katara holds an M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.