There has been a lot of controversy in our church circles during the past few years about the role of women in the Church. We hear it said that women’s gifts have not been valued, and that we need to usher in a new era where the church finally frees women to do valuable and worthwhile ministry. When I first started hearing the rumbling of these complaints I’ll admit I was confused, since in most the churches I have been in, women were already playing such a vital role, particularly in the hidden roles of service, helps and working with children – roles that Jesus assures us are among the most important in His kingdom.
My second thought was to feel a little sad that, although the world has for a while been minimizing the extremely important roles women have always held in the home, family and church, it seemed like our churches were a safe place for women to live out their God-given design as nurturers, doing hidden but vital work in creating human flourishing of every kind. So it was with great joy that came across Tim Challies’ book Devoted: Great Men and their Godly Moms about a year ago. The book doesn’t touch at all on the “hot topics” of our day. What it does do is highlight biographies of the mothers of some great men in church history. We often see an attempt today to highlight women in history that made a name for themselves doing things that normally only men in that time period could accomplish. But I firmly believe that women have never been chained or held back in God’s kingdom. And one of a woman’s unique contributions is her role in shaping her children for God’s kingdom. Challies presents us with eleven such women – women who are great in God’s kingdom, not because they made a name for themselves, but because they were faithful to God’s humble calling on their life to train their children for His kingdom.
Each of the women in the book have her own unique set of circumstances and time in history. What ties them together is that each had a son that made a notable impact for God’s kingdom. Also, each of their sons mentioned the great influence their mother had on shaping their life. Some of the sons were rebellious for many years before having a conversion later in life. Some mothers were single and struggling, working many hours or facing difficult health struggles. Some stories overwhelmed me by the sheer devotion a mother had to teaching the catechism and Bible to her son. Other mothers seemed more down to earth. Through most of the biographies we see the foundational pair of prayer and teaching – a mother devoted to prayer and devoted to teaching her son.
I love this book because it encourages me in the work of motherhood. It is easy to get distracted by the noise from the world that has been encroaching upon the church, the voices that tell us that we need to recognize that we can do so much more than just be a wife and mother. This book reminds us that the truth is far different: while we may have vocations or ministries outside the home, for most of us the work we do inside the home makes a much greater impact on the world. It is tragically easy to get distracted from our high calling. I love my work as a missionary, but I firmly believe that my most important role in my life has been as a wife, mother, and homemaker.
I also love this book because it encourages me that the time I spend in prayer for my children is meaningful. The honest truth is I spend a lot of time thinking about my husband and children, thinking about how to help with their needs and take care of them. I am uniquely positioned to have a passion for praying for them: it is quite likely that there is no one who will pray for a person with quite the level of discipline and passion than a mother or grandmother. Two big passions I have in life come together as I pray for my children. One is for the well being of my children and another is that I would use my life for God’s kingdom. The time I spend in prayer is time in which I am pursuing both of those passions.
We hear so much these days about unleashing women to do the important ministry of teaching in the church. But those who teach children have the greatest opportunity to make a kingdom impact. And while it is a wonderful blessing to be a school teacher or a Sunday school teacher and I am sure a book could be written about the impact teachers have had on the lives of famous men and women, the reality is that parents make the deepest imprint on the character of their offspring. I am inspired as I read this book to make the teaching I give my children a priority in our lives. There is so much that pulls us in this direction or that direction. As a mother of eight children and a missionary, I am very familiar with the reality that I will never be good at doing all the things the culture says I should be doing. Mom-guilt is a constant companion for me. As I write this, we have been on COVID lockdown for almost three months. I always cringe to hear moms talk about all the amazing activities they are doing with their children in the home because I am left feeling inadequate. For me I have to major on the basics: meals, basic hygiene, basic home schooling and spiritual teaching. Although I will not become the super mom that John Newton’s mom was, who taught him the answers for the Westminster Shorter Catechism with the proofs by age four, at least I can begin our morning with Bible reading and prayer. It is good for me to be reminded to make their spiritual instruction one of my fundamental priorities.
I believe that Challies has done a great service to the church with this book, reminding mothers of our important work in the kingdom. I would love to see it inspire even young women that motherhood is worthy of their time. When the Bible says children are a blessing, it is not just the parents who are blessed, but the society and the Church as well. A mother in the home is making a worldwide impact, training the future members and leaders of the church and society.