Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Missional Mothering, Day 3

Leslie Basham: Jani Ortlund talks about a mom's number one priority.

Jani Ortlund: When I stand before the Lord Jesus, when I finally see Him face to face, He's not going to ask me, "Now, Jani, I want you to tell me, remind me how good you were at getting Ray to change," or "Now, tell me all the ways you got your kids to be perfect." He's going to say, "Oh, tell you how you loved me."

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Choosing Forgiveness, for Wednesday, July 12, 2017.

Those of us who are moms need to hear the wisdom of other moms who have gone before us. We've been having that opportunity this week. Nancy has been in a series with Jani Ortlund called "Missional Mothering."

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, it's been great having this conversation with my sweet friend, Jani Ortlund, this week. And we've surprised her with some comments that we prerecorded from her children. And as I listened to these before Jani got here, I thought of that passage in Proverbs 31 that says: "Her children [the children of this woman who fears the Lord, they] rise up and call her blessed" (v. 28).

Now, that doesn't mean they do it when they're six or sixteen. But now Jani's children are young adults, mature adults, with their own children. It's been very sweet for me, and I think for her as well (for her in particular) to hear how her children view some of their memories of growing up as sons and a daughter of Jani Ortlund. Let's listen.

Son 1: I think Charles Spurgeon said that who you are at home you truly are. You can fake it outside, but when you are at home, you can't fake it after a while. And our family growing up are a bunch of people who needed a lot of grace—each one of us. Yet the dominant feeling I have when I think about growing up in Ray and Jani's home is this happy, safe, warm environment. That's a good place to be.

Son 2: She had a certain genius about dealing with the typical squabbles and spats among us kids. I think it was partly due to her unusual ability to get inside the heads of us kids and understand us and sort of see things through our eyes, empathize with us, see where we're coming from instead of just bringing down an iron fist or just yelling us into submission or something like that. She had a way of dealing with it that I think was a gospel-informed way. She had a way of giving us the benefit of the doubt, of listening. That was a great gift and brought a lot of health into the family.

Christa: Part of the way she gave is she gave herself. She would spend time with us. She would get down on the floor and build a train. She does that even now with my own children when we come to her home or when she comes to our home. She'll get down on the floor and look them in the eye and kind of come down to their level in more ways than one. She would do that with us as kids. She would run around in the back yard and play baseball with us or like I said, go horseback riding with me or build a science project with one of my brothers. She would play with us and spend time with us. That was kind of on the day-to-day. But she made sacrifices for us. Later in life she went back to work.

Son 3: When I was thirteen, my dad was pastoring in Oregon, and we moved to Chicago, to the northern suburbs of Chicago. So we moved there, and it wound up being more expensive than my parents anticipated. And my mom had to go back to work. My mom got a job teaching second grade which is a totally low stress, easy job, as you can imagine—you know having a bunch of second graders all day!

Christa: I think maybe for some women a way to sacrifice for their family would be to pull back from work and to stay home. She had really wanted to stay home full time, but she was willing to sacrifice for us by going to work. That meant leaving behind being a stay-at-home mom for that season which was hard for her. But she did not want to have to uproot us again and move us to a place that was more affordable. So she was willing to go to work each day as a teacher and care for us both in the home and outside of the home.

Son 2: She's so hard working in being willing to go and teach second graders all day. And then instead of coming home and just collapsing, she would come home, and she's still in that mindset of being a servant and she's available to her family. She's so hard working with cooking and cleaning and laundry and all that kind of stuff—the faithfulness and the daily consistency of being there for the people around her. It's really amazing, and I'm really grateful for it.

Nancy: Your takeaways, Jani, as you hear your adult children reflect on those days.

Jani: Oh my goodness. My takeaway is that the Lord covers a multitude of sins. We can feel as moms like such failures. And yet, God redeems those. He gives your kids eyes to see the good, and they recognize that and embrace that and the negative falls away. I'm speechless, Nancy, which is hard to find Jani Ortlund speechless. But oh, my goodness! I thank God for that.

Nancy: And I think that's such a word of encouragement for moms who are there in the trenches now.

Jani: Hang in there.

Nancy: Hang in there.

Jani: Don't beat yourself up.

Nancy: They cannot imagine their children ever coming back and having this good perspective on what they are going through. But the Lord is able to redeem that. I think it's just a good reminder that it's the spirit of the mom and the spirit of the home that matters more than a lot of the details and the set up and the structure. There's not one right way to do family at every season.

But the things that your kids now, reflecting back decades, are taking away is that it was a safe and warm and happy environment. Now I'm sure as a mom in that season you weren't always feeling warm and happy.

Jani: Well, I was struggling with a lot of guilt then because even in those years when the children were little I was doing conferences and speaking to women. I had taught and I do believe that the best place for a mother to be is in the home, not to seek her fulfillment outside the home.

And here I'd been teaching this and then when our youngest, Gavin, turned six, Ray and I looked each other in the face and said, "We can't keep living this way. We don't have enough money. Jani has to go back to work."

So I had to look my own ideal straight in the eye and say, "Are these God's guidelines or are they Jani's guidelines?" You know, my baby was going to first grade, and now I was going to be the room mom and have the Bible study during the day in my home rather than the evening and all of that. And the Lord said, "No, I have a different plan for you."

As it turned out, it was a good plan, but as Eric mentioned, it was a hard plan. Not only was I teaching, but I was also tutoring after school and teaching piano three days a week after school. So the kids came home to a mom who was also working.

They were hard days. But really, Nancy, it is a spiritual battle. What goes on inside here does come out. And as the Lord met with me, He gave me the ability to meet the needs of our home.

Nancy: And I think it says, too, not every season in family life will look alike. And your following God for your family will not look like your neighbor or the other person in your church entirely. But the things that are consistent, the principle for example of the priority of the family and the heart being in the home. But how that gets lived out, how that gets worked out from one season to another, from one family to another may look very different. That's where I think we need to extend grace to each other and not say, "Look, it has to be this way."

I have a dear friend, they have young children. They told me the other night that they're in the process of changing their approach to schooling for their children. I think for a lot of moms that's a fearful thing to say, "We sense God leading us, in this season, to do it differently than maybe our peers are doing it." And to be willing to say, "We believe this is what God has for us in this season."

And then to feel the freedom to do that and to know that there is grace for that season. And that may change at some point. It won't always look this way. That flexibility and sensitivity to the leading of the Lord is such an important thing as a family is growing.

Jani: Yes, I think as young women we have dreams. And those dreams really become our story. We want our story to be written this way and end in a certain way and look this way throughout life.

Nancy: It seldom happens that way.

Jani: It seldom happens. The Lord writes every day of our lives down in His book. And our joy, our desire is to say, "Okay, Lord, today is Yours, and I'm Yours. So let's connect on what You'd like me to do today. It might look different from what I had thought or hoped. But because I'm Your servant, not Your boss, I bow and say, 'Whatever You want, I'm all in.'"

Nancy: And that includes seasons when children might not follow after Christ. I know I have a lot of friends now with young adult children. They're telling me this is even harder than having small children. It's harder in a different way. Those children are making some choices that their parents can't control in the way that they could when the child was three.

And even the script at that point to trust that He is God and that the weight of the world is on His shoulders, not ours. I think for women in every season of life, knowing that is a very life giving and liberating thing.

Jani: That's right. I think a mom needs to remember, "My relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship. He's caring for my children. He will have His will done. I need to make sure I'm walking with Him and offering Him to them."

Jesus really is an offering. He offers Himself to us when we receive Him. He empowers us. He offers Himself to our children, and they receive Him sometimes at different stages in life and in different ways.

Nancy: The choices that your children make as they get older—again, I'm thinking of some of my peers and friends whose children are making some very foolish choices in some cases. I've had those moms say to me, "I can't let what my child is doing define who I am or control my life or my joy. I have to have a relationship with the Lord that holds up and is sufficient apart from what's happening in my children's lives."

Jani: Yes. I think that's key. When I stand before the Lord Jesus, when I finally see Him face to face, He's not going to ask me, "Now, Jani, I want you to tell me, remind me how good you were at getting Ray to change," or "Now, tell me all the ways you got your kids to be perfect." He's going to say, "Oh, tell you how you loved me."

Now, part of serving Him is working with my children. It's hard work. But you're so right, Nancy. It is individualized salvation. We cannot prop ourselves up by the good works of our children. We must be singularly, solely devoted to the Lord, one on one and offer our kids up to Him.

Nancy: I think for every mom at some point, this requires humility because there are always somebody else's kids who seem to be stellar.

Jani: Perfect, smarter, more beautiful, more godly, whatever. Of course. There always is someone better.

Nancy: So our salvation, our sanctification, our worth, our value to the Lord, our spiritual maturity is not tied to our performance or the performance of those around us, which is why have to keep coming back to the grace of God. I loved how your kids said, "We all needed grace in our family."

Jani: Yes. And God gave it, and we give it to each other. I think that can develop along the way as we as moms understand God's grace for us. I think it's Romans 15:7 where He says, "Accept one another as Christ has accepted you. Welcome one another." How does Christ welcome us? He just stretches out His arms and He says, "Come. Come as you are." And He absorbs a lot. Grace absorbs a lot, and we need to do that in our family.

Nancy: Well, He stretches out His arms on the cross and suffers. And what a parallel there is there. I remember hearing John Piper preach a message on (I think) Mother's Day many years ago. It was the suffering of motherhood. And how unusual to hear a message like that on Mother's Day, but how appropriate.

There is suffering involved. There's humility. There's relinquishing your children—giving them over to the Lord knowing that you cannot control the outcome of their lives. They are His, and you are His, and you lay down your life for those who may reject you and Him. That's a risk you take. It's a risk of loving.

Jani: You are very much like Jesus when you do that. You lay down your life not counting the cost but for His glory.

And that reminds me of something, Nancy. I think it's important for us as moms to think about priorities. We need, as women, to define our priorities. What are we living for? When we get to the end of our life, what do we want to see when we look back.

Nancy: How would you answer that yourself?

Jani: In our family we, Ray and I, talked about this. There were certain things we wanted to see developed in our children, but we listed them under three main priorities.

Christ is our first priority—before my kids, before my husband. Christ is a greater priority for my husband than I am to him. We wanted Christ to be the first priority for our kids. Christ is the first priority. That means we get to know Christ; we talk about Him; we love Him; we incorporate Him in worship; we look toward presenting Christ as the most beautiful and joy-filled and joy-giving Person in the whole universe. He's worth everything and anything.

Nancy: The Pearl of great price.

Jani: Yes. So Christ is the first priority. And then in our family, we counted the body of Christ or the Christian community the second priority. So church was very important. Opening our home was very important to other believers.

Building the community of a family. We're the Ortlund family. The Ortlund's do things this way. Outside that door people might do things differently. They might say this or watch that or do this. We're Ortlunds. We don't. That's a priority. Community. The community of the body of Christ.

Our third priority was missions. How can we share Christ and build more Christian community in this world that God has called us to? And so the kids would see us have unbelievers in and missionaries. They'd see us give and save for certain projects. And I think that it's important for a mother to say, "What kind of priorities do I want to have in my home?"

Now, under the number two of community building, we had to teach our kids how to live in community. And that's where we worked on behavior. "In our community we respect those whom God has put in authority over us." So we'd work on respect when that was needed.

"In our community God calls us to pure hearts toward each other. No deceit. So, yes, when you see someone taking extra candy out of the Christmas box when they weren't supposed to, that's not what we do in our community."

So there might be priorities of respect, honesty, hard work, those kinds of things in priority.

Nancy: Talk about work, in teaching your children to work. I think today where there's a lot less manual labor required for a home to function, it's easy to raise kids who haven't learned how to work. But you considered that something important for your children.

Jani: It was very important because God blesses hard work. He says, "Whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord." So we wanted to teach our kids that work was really from the Lord. He gave it to Adam before sin entered the world. He told Adam, "Keep the garden. Work there." So work isn't sinful. It's a gift from God and we wanted our kids to see work as a gift, Nancy.

I think as I look back, we did have a plan. It took me a while to verbalize it, but it went like this. When the kids are little we'll do it for them. Then we'll do it with them, teaching them how to do it. And then the third part of that plan is that they do it on their own, cheerfully, of course.

Well, what we found, and I see this in moms who are friends of mine as well. You work really hard on the first one. You're exhausted because you're doing everything for the child those first few years. And then you kind of assume they'll get how to make their bed or do the dishes or mow the lawn or clean the toilet—whatever the job was. And you do it once or twice with them and instruct them and then you leave them on their own.

I think the greatest part should be in the middle section of doing it with them. And we should keep entering back into that part time and again. That's one of the blessings of my having to go back to work when my children they were six, eleven, twelve and thirteen when I went back to work. I couldn't keep our home. I couldn't manage healthy homemade foods and teach. And it's a long story, but I had to go back and work on my master's degree during that. It was just a very busy time for us.

I couldn't have done it without my children's help. So we established a system where every child had a duty to do between three o'clock Friday and seven o'clock Saturday night. They had that time frame in which to do it. And we would switch jobs. But the most fun came when I got my job done and I'd say, "Dane, can I help you dust today?" And we'd dust together, and we'd talk.

Or, "Christa, do you need help?" She asked to clean the bathroom. We only had one bathroom that six of us used. And she didn't like the way the boys did it. And she said, "Mom, could this just be my job?" So we let her be the bathroom cleaner. "Could I work with you here, darling? Let me help you." That entering back into hard work and showing them that hard work is really a good thing. It's not slave labor. It's a gift from God to be able to work hard and to see a job well done.

So I would encourage moms to figure out jobs that they want their children to do, teach them how to do it, have them do it on their own, then go back and do it with them, then go back and do it with them again. This really works with dishes. When it would be our kid's dish night, and I would come out and say, "Hey, Dane, can I help you with the dishes tonight?"

"Oh, sure, Mom!" His heart would open. He'd tell me about his day. It would just be a beautiful gift to me. So hard work is a gift.

Nancy: And a means to relationship and communication if you do it together.

Jani: Yes, that's right. Yes.

Nancy: We were sitting, talking over break just a little bit ago and I said, "Is there anything else on your heart about parenting, motherhood that perhaps we haven't touched on?" And you said something I thought was really helpful about when to say "yes" and when to say "no."

Jani: Oh, thank you, Nancy. I had a rule in my heart. I didn't tell the kids this. But to say "yes" whenever possible. But when I said "no," to mean it. Would it really ruin their whole future existence if I let them have a cookie at five o'clock in the evening if they were starving and couldn't wait for dinner? No. Why not surprise them with that.

Would it really be terrible if we were on a TV system where they couldn't watch TV during the week and then they had four tickets during the weekend for two hour's worth of TV? Would it really be awful if one night we watched America's Funniest Home Videos together and didn't take their tickets from them? No. Say "yes" whenever possible.

But when I said "no," I wanted them to understand it was "no." No is not the first bid in a negotiation process. And there will be times where you'll realize your kids keep coming back to you over and over again after you've said "no." They do that because you haven't enforced the "no" the first time.

I remember one time when we were living in Scotland, Christa must have been six. I was in the kitchen doing dishes, and I heard her singing. She'd often sing to herself. She'd made up this little ditty of a song. "If you beg and beg my mommy, she always will say 'yes.'"

And I thought, Oh, no! What have a taught this girl? On the one hand I felt, This is good. She feels like she can come to me. But I had to check myself. Was I letting begging determine? You know, once I said "no" and if they begged in a cute enough and sweet enough and numerous enough ways, would I give in? So I came to understand, say "yes" the first time. Don't start with, "Well, no, we shouldn't have a cookie right now." "Well, why not! Yes, let's have a cookie right now."

But then when I say "no," mean it, follow through, and they'll get that. They'll know that "no" means "no," and they'll learn to survive that.

Nancy: Holidays at the Ortlunds. Were those special? Birthdays, Christmas, how did you approach that?

Jani: Yes. I think Christmas was our most special holiday. As the children grew, there came a request from them. We had people in our home frequently, as a pastor and then as a seminary prof. Your listeners would understand that our home was open. And our children asked, "Mom, on Christmas Day could it just be the six of us?" And we said "yes." We made that day just for the six of us.

We weren't able financially or geographically to travel home to be with our family, our extended family, parents. All but one year. One year we were able to. And so we had family alone, the six of us, on Christmas Day. And that was very special. Christmas Eve we always had a big Swedish smorgasbord and invited in lots of friends and had fun. Thanksgiving we always had people around.

But right now let me encourage some of the empty nesters whose holidays are beginning to look different. You look back to the fun and joy of having little ones and the tree just full of gifts under it and Thanksgiving together.

If you raise your children to serve the Lord Jesus anywhere He calls and they get it, they will. And they will go. You can either send them off with a song in their heart and no guilt and joy in serving Jesus and a promise to pray and support them any way you can. Or you can make them feel just a little bit guilty that oh, once again, you and dad are home alone for Christmas.

And Ray, around our table would pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, let the whole world hear about Jesus through these four kids." And I couldn't agree with that at first, Nancy. I was scared. "The whole world? Lord. Lord."

But eventually the Lord captured my heart in that way and I said, "Yes, Lord, the whole world. Send them out." And He has. We have no children, no grandchildren near us. The closest are a nine hour and fifteen minute drive from my driveway to their driveway. But I wouldn't trade it.

So holidays now with Ray and myself are filled with friends, not always with family. On occasion a family can come for Thanksgiving. But generally speaking, Christmas we are each in our individual family units establishing traditions.

Nancy: And you have freed your children to do that.

Jani: By God's grace. With my words and with my actions. In my heart sometimes it's hard. But that's all right. God doesn't tell us it's going to be easy. He just says it's going to be good.

What would I rather have? My four kids living very near me, gathered near me and dedicating their lives to the American dream? Or four children out serving the Lord in the hard places, raising kids to serve Him in hard places and all eternity together? It's not a trade-off I even want to contemplate. I just want them to love and serve Jesus.

Leslie: That's Jani Ortlund talking with the host of Revive Our Hearts, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. Jani's been talking about a change in mindset she's gone through. She's been showing us what it looks like for a mom to think about her kids in a mission-minded way. And Nancy, this is such an important topic.

Nancy: Well, today, Jani Ortlund has challenged every parent to invest in their children's lives for God's kingdom sake. And every parent who wants to do that needs God's grace and daily encouragement, right? Because there's so many challenges when it comes to raising kids in today's world.

It's true here in the United States, and it's also true for a woman who wrote us from Egypt. She wrote: "I'm the mother of three boys. Two have already been diagnosed as ADHD."

Now, this woman shared how listening to the Revive Our Hearts podcast has encouraged her as her family has faced trials. She said, "Thank you for this great service. You're influencing the lives of others who live miles and miles away."

If you've given to help support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, that woman is thanking you. You've help make it possible for us to speak to her there in Egypt.

Finally, this mom asked our team for advice on memorizing Scripture with her family. She writes, "My ten-year-old boy is very excited about memorizing the Bible especially after hearing Revive Our Hearts programs about young children who have memorized so much."

Now, just imagine how God may want to use these three children. They're watching their mom grow in godliness. And God only knows how the investment of His Word in their hearts will reap a harvest there in Egypt.

Revive Our Hearts can invest in that mom and in that family because listeners like you have a vision of what God is doing in women's lives around the world.

Now, I want to ask if you would be willing to help us accelerate that movement and support Revive Our Hearts this month.

And Nancy, when listeners support the ministry, we’ll say thanks by sending the book from Erin Davis called Beyond Bath Time: Embracing Motherhood as a Sacred Role. This book will show moms of younger children how to invest in these moments while you have them. Your process of launching adults into the world to build God’s kingdom starts now. Erin will show you how. Ask for Beyond Bath Time when you call with your donation. The number is 1–800–569–5959. 

Leslie: Thanks, Nancy. Well, tomorrow Jani Ortlund will be back to talk about mission-minded grandparenting. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you invest in the next generaton. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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