“How are your kids?” It’s an easy question to ask in casual conversation, one I find myself asking others all the time. But this is a tricky question to answer. It makes mothers pause. Maternal pride in a mother’s heart swells when she thinks of her kids. Concurrently, a variety of anxieties may be trying to get her attention. This question could also wedge open the crack in the weakening wall of the levee, letting loose an overwhelming flood of grief.
In a casual conversation a mother can easily answer the question with the general reply, “Good!” but she can always think of a thousand different things she could say. You would not have to think for very long to come up with a list of the mothers in your life who are living with a broken heart because of the pain in their parenting. With an intensity matched only by her fierce love for her children, a mother’s agony may swell and burst like waves crashing.
Because we live in a fallen world, suffering is reality. This pain is part of the curse. The judgment of Genesis 3:16 addresses the physical pain of childbirth specifically (from puberty to menopause!). But we also see empirical evidence of how sin, judgment, and suffering impact all areas of motherhood generally. The pain of pregnancy and birth are both a preparation and precursor for the trials ahead.
You may know people who have observed these various parenting pains and then chosen not to bring children into “a world like this one.” Mothers (and fathers) watch their children suffer, and suffer with them. Many mothers suffer greatly for their children, or even suffer because of them. Some mothers witness their children inflict pain—on themselves, on others, and even on the mother who bore them. It is devastating to consider the reality of our brokenness as human beings. Across the globe and throughout history, a mother’s experience is diverse and wide-ranging, from the socially acceptable lament of “my kids are making me crazy” to the unspeakable griefs that a mother would never dare to utter aloud. Along the lines of Lewis’s comment on pain rousing a deaf world to the existence of God, the megaphone of maternal pain calls us to repent and believe in the gospel—the one resolution to our sorrow. While the pain of pushing may last mere hours or minutes, the pain of parenting in this sin-sick world can last a lifetime. At every point in this journey of parenting, we mother our children by grace through faith in Jesus.
God Help Us
My circle of friends and acquaintances in this global city [Dubai] represent only a minuscule fraction of the diversity present in the world today. But among these women, we share many commonalities with one another. One is that the effects of judgment for our sin reach far past our wombs. We all need hope and help for our labors in parenting. We need to know there is a resolution to our suffering. We all need to see how our pain as mothers points us to a man who hung on a cross for our sin and three days later walked out of his grave for our justification.
In the first few verses of Genesis 4 we read that Eve became pregnant, persevered through pregnancy, and survived childbirth—twice! The Lord delivered Eve through her increased pain in multiplying. She explicitly acknowledges that God is the one who is responsible for her successful conception, childbirth, and deliverance. She calls him by his personal, covenant name—“the Lord.” Eve gives credit where it is due. I’m filled with hope when I consider that whereas Eve had been in error in her representation of God while speaking with the evil serpent, here she has no doubt whatsoever in God’s trustworthy and gracious character.
Our covenant-making, promise-keeping God had said that a serpent-crushing man—the Messiah—would come through the seed of the woman. And now Eve recognizes that she has “gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” What a thrill! Mothers who have persevered through pregnancy and labor in order to hold a squalling infant in their arms—no matter how long ago it was—can still taste the trembling joy of that moment. For Eve, this moment meant much more than simply being given a baby to love and to raise in the fear of the Lord. Her and Cain’s deliverance through labor were a signal to her that God’s promises would endure. Perhaps Eve examined Cain and Abel’s chubby little feet and their tiny toenails wondering how a son of hers would one day crush the head of the vile serpent.
Eve’s dreams of deliverance through Cain and Abel were crushed, however, when it was revealed that Cain was no match for the serpent. Cain, filled with hate, murdered his brother. In one blow, the mother of all living lost both of her sons. One of her sons was slain and the other was revealed to be on the serpent’s side and was not her promised Deliverer. Who would deliver them now? God had provided for her in the daily trials she faced as a mom raising kids with a sinful nature in a broken habitat outside of God’s perfect garden. Was this all for naught? What went wrong? Why such overwhelming heartache?
Hope Like Eve
Perhaps this question—Why?—haunts you, too. Perhaps you rehearse a litany of your sacrificial, motherly service and love and conclude: I carried her, I raised her, I fed her and clothed her, so why this pain? What hope can I have?
Adam and Eve’s sin, our sin, and the sins of all humanity deserve the righteous judgment of our holy God. God does not err in his judgment. “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4). Considering the utter holiness of God should humble us sinners low.
Our pain is greatly multiplied. Dear readers, we all suffer. Like Eve, we cannot assume we will be given conception. Like Eve, we cannot presume that we (or our children) will persevere through pregnancy or that we (and our children) will be delivered through labor pains. Like Eve, we cannot assume our children will “turn out” the way we hope.
It is a hard truth to accept, but a solid one to stand on: we cannot deliver ourselves. May God’s rich kindness to us lead us to repentance. Like Eve, we can trust God to keep his promise.
Only the grace of God through Jesus Christ can deliver us from the worst pain and fate a human being can endure—eternal separation from God and punishment in hell. Now, since God has provided deliverance from this fate worse than death, will he not also provide deliverance from our doubts in his character, from our faithlessness as we go on autopilot and forget him, from our arrogant, stubborn hearts that insist we can save ourselves and our children?
May God’s faithfulness be what gets us out of bed in the morning, closes our eyes at night, and sustains us during the nights filled with mothering work. Like Eve, let us give credit where it is due, praise God for the various means of common grace in our lives like the medical community, and cling to the Lord who has saved us by grace through faith.
This post is taken from Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood by Gloria Furman, ©2019. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.