Missional Mothering, with Jani OrtlundFree from the Pressure to Be Perfect
Leslie Basham: Do you ever keep turning worries over in your mind? Jani Ortlund knows what that's like.
Jani Ortlund: As a woman myself, many times I am just rehearsing a difficulty in my mind, trying to creatively solve it, where what I need to do is verbalize it to the Lord Jesus Christ and lay it out to Him either in journaling or audibly in prayer. And once it's out of my mind and into His hands, He gives wisdom.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, May 5, 2015.
Yesterday Nancy began a conversation with our guest Jani Ortlund. Let's get back to the series "Missional Mothering," recorded before a group of women in our audience.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Well, we're talking with Jani Ortlund. She's a pastor's wife. She's the mom of four grown children and eleven grandchildren, so far. And she and Ray live very busy and full lives, but I love the fact that she has such a vision for what she calls "missional mothering."
What do you mean when you say missional mothering, Jani?
Jani: By missional mothering, I mean that each one of us who knows the Lord Jesus Christ is on a mission. And our mission when our children are little is primarily showing them Jesus Christ in all of His beauty and living a life as an example of what it means to follow Jesus Christ that as, when those little ones grow up, they find Jesus irresistible, and they want to come to Him themselves.
Nancy: It's interesting, as we were preparing to be together to have this interview, in my reading of the Scripture, I came to . . . I have been going through the book of Deuteronomy, which has so much to say about this. Let me just read a couple of verses here from Deuteronomy 4. It says,
Take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children (v. 9).
What a sequence that is. First, it's got to be in your own heart, and you've got to be diligent to get your own soul fed so that you will have something to pass on to your children, and not just your children, but your children's children.
Nancy: In fact, this is one of the things that, when we talked to your children on the phone a few days ago, they said really stood out to them was your love for God's Word, how it was in your heart and how that impacted them as little ones.
Son 1: There's a verse in Deuteronomy that I can't to this day read without thinking of my mom due to hearing her recite it. At the very end there of Deuteronomy, "Be careful to do all the words of this law for it is no empty word for you but your very life" (32:46).
That's how my mom has treated the Scripture.
Son 2: I remember there were times when we'd have family devotions. My dad normally led it, but every once in a while he'd say, "Jani, can you read something?" Again, I don't remember specific times or specific verses that she read from, but it was very clear that the Bible was the most important book to my mom, and that it was a matter of feeding on it, not just saying, "Here are the rules."
I never felt that religion was being used as a way to keep me in line.
Daughter (Christa): What comes to my mind is her own life verse. Her life verse is Psalm 62:1, "My soul finds rest in God alone."
I think the reason that stands out to me is that Mom embodies that. There is a weightless, joyful, willingness to give her life away for the gospel because she feels loved by the Lord and cared for by Him. And I see that in her ability to rest in the Lord and give her life away.
Nancy: I love how Christa explained that. "This weightless, joyful, willingness to give yourself away for the sake of the gospel." That would be a great definition of godly mothering. But she said you first had to lean on the Lord and find your fullness in Him. Here's your daughter, who herself is a young mom, growing from, learning from your example.
Nancy: It probably didn't feel so weightless when you were in the midst of it, but that was the takeaway your children had as you were imparting God's Word to them.
Jani: Yes. And let's encourage every mother listening. We feel we make so many mistakes, and we do, but the Lord covers them in His grace. I mean, just to hear my kids, Nancy, oh my heart is so full with gratitude for what God did. This wasn't Jani. Oh my, the kids would see me cry at times.
When we were in Scotland (we were there four years while Ray worked on his PhD in the northeast corner there near Aberdeen, in a tiny little village), during that time it was a hard time for me, Nancy, as a mom. I got pregnant with our fourth baby. We were broke. Our investor had gone belly-up while we were there, and Ray was unable to work. He was on a student visa which didn't allow him to work. So we were stretched financially.
I remember those times as being very hard. The kids remember them as being joy filled. Well, the Lord did that. It wasn't me.
Nancy: There were some ways that you . . . some practical ways you've shared on the True Woman blog in the past about how you created a sense of expectation in your children?
Jani: Yes. I really believe that that's important. If children know what's coming, then they can prepare emotionally for what's ahead. They don't like to have something sprung on them. "Come on, get in the car. We're going to go to the doctor right now." Instead, "Tomorrow we're going to visit Dr. Miller, and you'll get your physical." Talk through things. Children are much better able to absorb that.
When we lived in Scotland, we had a car the first year there, but then when we went belly-up, we had to sell the car. We were living just on, really, nothing, and we lived a mile from our church. Ray was working in the church there, and so he would have to leave early on Sunday morning. He wasn't working for pay. The minister just asked him to come on as his associate, and Ray was so happy to do that. So I would have to get the four little ones to church without a car, and it was a mile walk. And Scotland can be brutal in the winter. So I had to think of a way to get the children to church without a lot of whining and complaining.
I think each mom has to get their children to church on Sunday morning, no matter whether their dad is going with them or not. And Sunday morning, it's amazing how it can be the worst day of the week. We can get our kids ready for school and husband off to work and on time, and everything's fine. But Sunday morning comes, and somehow chaos, tears, fights—everything brews.
So while we were there in Scotland, the Lord took me by the heart and by the hand and said, "Jani, this is up to you. You need to make this work. You can't count on Ray here. He's gone."
So I prayed about it. I said, "Lord, all right. It's going to be hard, but I'm going to do it."
And that's what mothering is—hard work. We started Saturday. The kids and I would make yeast dough (Ray worked on Saturdays). And we'd make cinnamon rolls that would rise over night. I'd make a double batch so I'd only have to do it every other Saturday and freeze half of it. And overnight they'd be rising, so the children could wake up to smelling cinnamon rolls, which, when you don't have a doughnut shop near, it's the next best thing on a Sunday morning.
We tried to make Sunday fun day, not terrible day. And we'd talk during our breakfast of cinnamon rolls and scrambled eggs. I'd say, "Oh, we get to walk together to church. I wonder who we'll see? I wonder what we'll do?" And I would buy a few little, we called them "Smarties." Little candies. They're kind of like Skittles. I'd have them in my pocket, and I'd say, "Now remember, as we go there might be a reward for everyone who can get to the end of this street without a fight." And whoever got there got a Skittle.
Then we'd cross the street and carry on: "Who can get to the mailbox first and wait for me to catch up without a quarrel?" We'd get there, there'd be another Skittle.
We'd walk the whole mile that way. The last few blocks would be, "Think what we're going to do. We're going to be with Jesus with other people here in the village who want to hear about Him. Oh! Maybe we ought to think about how we can sit quietly so the people around us can hear Him and sing to Him and pray to Him." There's no nursery, and so the three little ones, and eventually Baby Gavin, had to be with me during the service until our last year there. Then they emptied out a nursery for this growing Ortlund clan.
And then after church we'd talk about, "Oh, thank you for letting Mommy have this one hour out of the week to listen to Jesus and to pray to Him and to sing. And I loved, Eric, how you stood when the rest of the people were singing. And, Christa, I loved how you tried to find the hymn. And, Dane, you tried to read those words that Eric was pointing out to you. Here's a Smartie. You were really great. Thank you, thank you."
And we'd walk home getting the giggles out, and when Ray got home for lunch time, I'd brag about them. "Oh, these kids were fabulous. You didn't hear them cry while you were praying, did you, Daddy?"
"Oh, no. I saw them sitting so quietly."
And eventually they learned one hour of the week they could sit still and listen and begin to enter in.
I think part of it, Nancy, was just being willing to accept the responsibility. Someone had to do it.
Nancy: And the circumstances that God had you in at that point—it was a season.
Jani: It was a season. It's not that way now. I have a car to drive to church. And the children are older. But I see our children bringing their children to church and entering in. I love that.
Nancy: I love how you took it to the Lord. You had a dilemma. You had a situation that you didn't really know how to handle, and so you asked the Lord to give you wisdom. I see you doing that in a lot of life's circumstances.
We were talking about something last night, and you said, "Can we just pray about that right now?
Jani: Where would we be without Him? Oh, He promises that when we ask, He loves it when we ask. I mean, think of it, even in the Lord's Prayer, what's that, one of the first phrases? "Give us." Give. He doesn't mind us coming to Him. He promises, Proverbs 2, "Those who ask for wisdom will indeed find it." I think it's so important.
I don't know about you as a woman, Nancy, but as a woman myself, many times I am just rehearsing a difficulty in my mind, trying to creatively solve it where what I need to do is verbalize it to the Lord Jesus Christ, lay it out to Him either in journaling or audibly in prayer. Once it's out of my mind and into His hands, He gives wisdom upon wisdom.
Back to Deuteronomy, this whole emphasis of Moses telling the Children of Israel as they are getting ready to go into the Promised Land, "You need to fear the Lord and love the Lord with all your hearts. You need to remember His commandments because they are your life." These are not idle words. "And then you need to teach your children to fear the Lord and to love the Lord."
Nancy: Now, you don't really think of fear and love as going together. That's awesome reverence for the Lord and love for Him. You see it in Deuteronomy 6, the first few verses, "Fear the Lord, love the Lord, and teach your children and your grandchildren to do the same" (see v. 2).
As your children were little, as you think back to that, how did you teach them the fear of the Lord and to love the Lord, and where did obedience come into all of that?
Jani: We taught them around the dinner table. Even when Ray wasn't there, there were times when he had to leave (he was traveling overseas) sometimes for as long as eight weeks. I would still gather the children each night for one meal where we sat down together. We worked on table manners, talking, looking each other in the eye as we spoke. And then we would spend some the in the Word together.
They learned to fear the Lord by seeing what that means in a parent or in someone who is fearing the Lord if their parents don't. We sat around the table.
Now, Ray, as you know, you're a friend of his, he has a PhD in ancient Near Eastern semitical languages. He's just so smart. I am a second grade teacher. I love the little ones. So he called on me to help during those times. And I would encourage moms: Maybe your husband isn't a believer yet. You can still teach your children as they go to bed. Read them stories from the Word. Read them the Word. Bring prayer needs together.
We would pray as a family. We would share needs. And we would say, "Oh, Mommy has this hard situation. Can you pray for me about this?" And the kids would see how the Lord would answer. Or we would have a hard situation. "We don't have enough money to move back to America. We need to ask the Lord to provide $5,000 for us so we can buy our tickets to go back home. Daddy's going to graduate in six weeks." And the children saw that. This is that crazy, but an inheritance from a rich uncle who died brought us a little over $5,000 so we could buy those tickets the day before we needed them.
Nancy: Oh, wow!
Jani: Bring your children into it through prayer, through Scripture, through stories, and through personal example. They will sense how active God is in your life. They will see if you're fretting and stewing and fusing and crying and anxious and short. They will sense that tension. But if they see, "Oh, this is scary, but Jesus is so much bigger than this. Let's ask Him. Would you pray with me?" And you get on your knees with them. They will see that as a way to go to the Father over and over again through His Son Jesus Christ.
Nancy: So they're seeing the example in your life of someone who honors the Lord, who reverences Him, who puts Him first, and who loves Him.
Nancy: Your faith in Christ is not a burden to be born, but it is your life. It is your joy. So then, as you're teaching them, you want them to reverence the Lord, to reverence His authority. And God's put you in their lives, they can't see Him, but He's put parents in their lives as their immediate authority.
So I've heard you talk about the importance of training your children, disciplining them, teaching obedience. That seems to be antithetical to joy and love. But part of experiencing ultimate joy and love is to learn obedience.
Nancy: So I imagine you were pretty busy about that in those years when you had the four little ones.
Jani: I was. I think all mothers go through cycles where the kids are doing pretty well, and you begin to pat yourself on the back, and then one falls flat, or all four fall flat, and you think, Oh, my goodness! You go through cycles like that.
I think discipline is very important. Think how closely disciple and discipline are connected. When you are disciplining your child, you are building a disciple. I think that there are many things that we worked on in our family. We did discipline our children, Nancy. I believe in spanking. And I did spank my children on occasion.
Nancy: And that's something that has a lot of pushback today. So tell what you mean by that so we're clear that you're not talking about child abuse here.
Jani: No, no. Never abusive, but I see in Scripture that God equates not disciplining your children with hating them, and He puts the rod in that very verse in Proverbs. "If you spare the rod, you're hating your child, but he who disciplines him, shows him love" (see 13:24).
In our family we practiced it seldomly. This is how we decided when it was needed: If the child was exhibiting a behavior that he might still exhibit when he was sixteen, in other words, if it wasn't just childishness, if it wasn't just because he was overly tired or overly stimulated or overly fatigued, but it was defiant disobedience, "I want to rule," that would be a spankable offense if he didn't change.
And so we would spank our child and love them and talk to them tenderly afterwards and welcome them back in and talk about the joy of obedience.
Discipline, it's so hard. It's usually the mom who has to discipline. But if a child from very early on, I think from about nine months on, if a child can hear a firm "no" and not melt into a pile of frustration but learn the resilience of, "All right. I've been refused this request, but my life is not ending. I'm going to carry on, and the relationship will be okay, and it's not the end of the world," then as that child grows, that child learns self-control.
And when he is teenager or she is propositioned by that handsome eighteen-year-old football captain, that child will know that, "I can say 'no,' and my life won't be over. I can wait. I can have patience."
So it's very important to discipline when they're young. I think part of that is teaching respect, that there is an order of authority in God's Word, in God's kingdom, in God's world, and we need that. If a child can respect his mommy, then he'll learn to respect his teacher, and he'll learn to respect government authorities, which the Bible tells us we're to do, and he'll learn the whole authority structure in Scripture.
That, again, is so important as a young mom.
Nancy: I have a lot of sweet friends who have a lot of young children, and so my heart goes out to these moms. It's a hard season.
Jani: Yes, hard.
Nancy: I want to be careful here because at its best, it's hard and tiring. I don't know if there's any more difficult season in a woman's life.
But I see sometimes the moms feeling very frazzled and perpetually frustrated because the children are kind of controlling the environment. I don't necessarily mean with defiance or rebellion, but just with busyness, with activity.
Jani: With noise.
Nancy: Yes, with noise, with can't sit still. You had four little ones all at the same time.
Nancy: How did you find the balance between letting them be children but also saying, "You don't control the environment here. You need to learn self-control"?
Jani: Well, that's a hard question to answer, but I know in my own heart, when I felt frustrated, when I felt hassled, when I felt irritated at my children, I knew that wasn't from the Lord. I knew that something was wrong, and it was my problem, not my children's problem. And generally, what would happen is, when my kids were good, I was happy.
But when I felt that frustration, I was either tired because they were over-stimulating me, they couldn't control themselves. I needed to bring it back down. And what I would tell them is, "As a mother, I need you to do this, and I will require this of you."
Sometimes it would be setting the timer for fifteen minutes. "We're all going to pick a book. You may not come to me unless you're going to throw up or you're bleeding, until you hear the timer."
Other times it would be a little stop sign I had with a clothespin. "If it was on green, you could come talk to mom. If it was on yellow, make sure it's important. If it was on red . . .
Nancy: . . . don't dare.
Jani: Yes. "Do not bother me." But very young children can learn that. They learn to read quietly. The Bible says in 2 Timothy that lack of self-control is an anti-God spirit. Oh, as moms, we want to help our children not to be anti-God.
And as moms, God has put us in the place of God in their lives. We provide for them. We protect them. We guide them spiritually. We discipline them. Those are all God things that He does for us. And if we can do that when they're little and give them a secure environment in which they know, "Okay, this is something I can control. I can control my tongue. I can control my body for these five minutes." Then, as they grow, they will begin to look to God for those things that their mother has been giving them and helping them with.
And so I think if a mother is feeling frustrated, there is a reason, and there is a way to relieve that frustration. Go to the Lord. Ask Him for help. "What can I do? What do I need to change so that I feel happy in this situation, so the joy can flow?"
I believe, Nancy, that rewards are really important for children. They are for me. Think of the rewards the Lord promises us in His Word. So He understands that. I think, as a mother, we sometimes feel guilty if we give our children rewards. I say, "What? You're very God-like when you reward." God offers us rewards when we get to heaven, and He gives us some here on earth as well.
So I would encourage moms to find out what makes your children happy and reward good behavior. Sometimes just on the spur of the moment. It doesn't have to be just at Christmas, birthday time, but reward good behavior as much or more so than redirecting bad behavior. Let your life be one that your children look back on as happy and joyful because you were happy to reward good behavior.
Nancy: I know a lot of moms are being encouraged by listening to what you've shared, Jani, and they want to hear more, and we're going to come back and talk a bit more about some of the things God's shown you as your children have grown to know and love Him. But I just think a lot of our listeners would be encouraged if you would pray for them, especially I'm thinking of younger moms and those who are in that very busy, hard season.
Jani: I would be so happy to do that.
Nancy: You are now beginning to reap some of the blessing and reward of faithfulness years ago, and they need that encouragement of somebody praying for them. So would you do that now?
Jani: Of course.
Dear Lord Jesus, You who became a baby and lived life as us so as to be able to sympathize with every single temptation and feeling, we come to You right now as moms. I want to pray particularly for the young mothers right now listening on the radio. Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, draw near to that mother who is so tired she doesn't think she can make it through today. Strengthen her in her inner man. Give her a greater portion of Your Spirit to live today in Your grace.
Lord, I pray for the woman who's just found out she's pregnant again, and she doesn't know how she can do this again, Lord. Bless her with the fact that You are in this. You've created this baby. This baby is from You.
Oh, Lord, I pray for the mother who is raising her children alone. Strengthen her, Lord. Be her husband. Be strong there for her.
I pray for the mothers that You would give them times with You, times of refreshment. Open Your Word to them, Lord, and apply it individually to each individual need. Show them that they're not alone.
Oh, Lord Jesus Christ, rule in our hearts as moms. We want our kids to know You. We want to see a generation raised up that love You, that bring renewal and revival upon this earth. Lord, we're willing to do anything for that, but we're so weak. Strengthen us.
Thank You that it's the weak to whom You come. You don't need those who are strong in themselves. You show Yourself strong to the weak. And we tell You we're weak. We're powerless. We're helpless. And we come to You and cling to You and beg You for more of Yourself. We want all You will give us.
So, as mothers, help us, in Jesus' name, amen.
Leslie: That's Jani Ortlund, praying that all the moms listening will have a mission from the Lord in their important role. She's been talking with Nancy Leigh DeMoss who will be right back.
I'm so thankful the Lord gives Revive Our Hearts the opportunity to enter homes over the radio and the web and provide encouragement to families. When moms are encouraged, whole families are encouraged, too.
We got a cute letter from a listener named Jennifer that illustrates this. She said:
Just an encouragement for you all. My two-year old has been saying something that I couldn't figure out for the past two days. Today I got it. "Lady Moss."
She and I listen at lunch time every day, and by 10:30 today she was saying, "Lady Moss, ready for the show."
Thanks so much for all the encouragement over the years.
Just think: That two-year old is growing up in an environment where she's hearing God's Word day after day and probably more importantly, her mom is getting encouragement from God's Word day after day.
Nancy: Yes, Leslie. I'm so thankful we can encourage that family, reminding them of the truth from God's Word so that they can then apply it to whatever situation they're facing day by day.
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Thank you so much for prayerfully considering how the Lord wants you to partner with us during this important month.
Leslie: Thanks, Nancy.
Tomorrow our guest, Jani Ortlund, will be back. She'll remind us that a mom's most important job is to love the Lord with all her heart. Please be back next time for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.