Biblical Womanhood Part Three:
The Blessing of Loving our Children
By Jan Kopfstein
Titus 2:4 . . . That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children . . .
In February, while visiting our daughter, we were grocery shopping with her four youngest. We were standing in a check-out line and heard a huge commotion coming from a few aisles down. A child was lying on the floor, refusing to get up. A frustrated mother was shouting. Finally, she shouted, “I am going to count to three! One, TWO, . . .”
We were all watching, staring with bated breath to see what was going to happen at three. But mom picked up the child and carried her away kicking. What an anti-climax! Then we looked at one another and burst out laughing.
Truthfully, can’t we all identify with that mother? Aren’t there days when if someone were observing inside our homes, they might see an irritated, impatient mother, with a pack of whiny children?
Motherhood can be both exhilarating and exasperating. It can present us with a delightful experience one moment and a baffling encounter the next. There are days when we can’t imagine doing anything more rewarding; then we have days when caring for our children feels like anything but significant. I know. I have a good memory of being a mother and I am still a mother. I can attest to the fact that mothering includes a vast and varying range of experiences that produce inconstant feelings and conflicting emotions.
However, our perspective of motherhood shouldn’t be defined by our diverse experiences and fluctuating emotions. We must discover God’s view of motherhood.
Our Titus 2 passage exhorts us to “love our children” -- a phrase loaded with meaning for modern moms. We will confine our thoughts to loving our children, not disciplining them; there are many good books on that subject.
First, a mother’s love is an uncommon love. Think back to the wonder you felt when your first newborn was placed in your arms. What an overpowering sensation of love for that child! You had no need for anyone to come alongside and tell you to love that baby. Not at that moment, anyway.
But life does change. In the days, weeks, and months following we faced the persistent crying of the newborn, the temper tantrums of a two-year-old, the whining of a four-year-old, the disrespect of a ten-year old, the selfishness of a teenager—you fill in the blanks—we didn’t always feel the same tender emotions we did in the birthing room.
Yet in the midst of the trials and challenges of motherhood comes the command to “love our children.” Once again, the Greek word phileo is used to describe the kind of love we are to show. As with our husbands, we are to love our children with a tender, affectionate, and passionate love. Sometimes, as mothers, we are so committed to caring sacrificially for our children that we can neglect to enjoy them. We fulfill the responsibility of motherhood but overlook the pleasure. I am sure I have erred in this myself. I have said to others that I have enjoyed my children as teens and adults more than as little ones. Perhaps that was because when our children were two and four years old, we were serving, on deputation, going to a foreign country as missionaries; life was busy. But that was no excuse, and I was the loser. So were they.
This passage in Titus calls us to something more than a sacrificial, dutiful love. We are to delight in our children. Let’s not forget why:
1) that the Word of God be not blasphemed (Titus 2:5)
2) that an opponent will have nothing evil to say of us (Titus 2:8)
3) that we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things (Titus 2:10)
This phileo kind of love is seen by those who observe our lives. It stands out in stark contrast to the strife and discord in families all around us, and draws attention to the transforming effect of the gospel. May this extraordinary call to commend the gospel infuse our hearts with fresh vision and enthusiasm as we seek to love our children.
When my daughter Kim’s first child was born, the midwife handed Joshua to her and said, “Congratulations, Mrs. Hinchliffe, your sleeping days are over.” In the career of motherhood there are no weekends off, no paid vacations, no quitting time. “A man works from sun to sun, but a mother’s work is never done.”
I am convinced that no profession requires harder work or greater sacrifice than motherhood. In Stephen and Janet Bly’s book, How to be a Good Mom, we have this job description: “No job on earth takes more physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual strength than being a good wife and mother. If a woman is looking for the easy life she might try coaching tennis, cutting diamonds, or joining a roller derby team. There is nothing easy about mothering. It can be back-breaking, heart-wrenching, and anxiety-producing. And that is just the morning.” Have you ever noticed how ready husbands are to go back to work after a week home with a young family?
A caution, ladies: because mothering requires constant sacrifice, the temptation to resentment, complaining, and self-pity are always close at hand. Such selfishness will quickly sap the strength of our love for our children. Motherhood can become a chore—a duty—instead of a joy. This is what we observe around us but it must not be said of us. As Christian mothers we must draw from God’s grace and ask His help daily.
The world may not applaud us for wiping runny noses, driving carpool, or talking with teenagers until the wee hours of the morning. And until our children are grown they might not thank us either. But as we set aside our own selfish desires and glorify God by joyfully serving and loving our children, we are pursuing greatness according to the Bible. Let’s do so with tenderness, affection, and with a smile.
How do we do it? Our only source of refreshment comes from God. In Him and in Him alone are we going to find daily strength to carry out this enormous task of mothering. So here is the secret, ladies: our daily devotional life is vital. Some of you with little ones are asking, “How is that even possible? I can’t even go to the bathroom by myself!” Be creative. We can usually find time to do the things we want to do: our priorities must be right. Ask God to help us. The Lord Jesus Himself was our example—no one was busier than our Lord and yet He found time to pray. If Jesus needed to withdraw frequently and pray for His Father’s help and strength, is our need for this less than His?
One more thing before we look at loving our children with that tender phileo love: a word of caution. We must never allow our warm affection and tender love to degenerate into indulgence. Do we give into our three-year-old’s demands at the grocery store? Do we give in when our eight-year-old desires the latest gadget? Or allow our teens to watch movies that undermine biblical values?
In our effort to enjoy our children, we must never become tolerant of sinful behavior or worldly compromise. Prov. 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” We and our husbands have a great responsibility. It involves a godly example and constant correction.
As a side note, I can’t over-emphasize the importance of consistency in our training. If something is wrong today, and tomorrow I don’t have the energy to deal with it, we are doing our children great harm—and giving ourselves more work. We must be consistent.
Growing in warm, affection love does not conflict with the responsibility to teach and discipline our children. Tenderness actually softens our children’s hearts and wins their affection, which helps them to obey. Prov. 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” This is a verse I have had over my kitchen sink for years.
Phileo love involves tender thoughts for our children. A newborn requires 30-40 hours of care per week—would that overwhelm you? Where am I going to find time? Consider Psalm 127:3-5. God doesn’t want us to think about the time it takes to care for a newborn; He wants us to realize that our children—each child—is a gift from God! Look at the words the psalmist uses to describe our children: heritage, reward, arrows. “Blessed is the man who has his quiver full.” Our speech and our actions are shaped by our thoughts. Therefore, we must make every effort to think Psalm 127 kind of thoughts about our children. Thinking of them as a heritage, a reward, and a blessing will give us the right attitude in which our tender love can grow.
Tender love isn’t complicated and doesn’t require a huge bank account or creative genius. This love can be demonstrated by seemingly insignificant activities like singing together, reading together, praying together, and small gestures of kindness. If you have older children, just spend a few minutes talking with them at night. How did we know that our own mothers loved us? Did she cook your meals? Give you a tender hug?
The main point is that we need to seize the opportunity we have right now to love our children with a phileo kind of love. It is easy to become distracted by the constant demands of motherhood and lose sight of the fact that “our children are only young for a very brief time.” In Ps 90 we are told about the brevity of life: our lives are compared to a watch in the night, a dream, grass that flourishes and then fades; and then he says, “so teach us to number our days.” Have you numbered your days lately? If we think about how fast our children grow up, it may give us an urgency to express this tender love more often. During my last visit with my daughter Kim, I commented to her: “Your life is only going to get easier.” She replied, “I don’t want an easier life. I want to enjoy my children at every age.”
What is the ultimate purpose of a phileo kind of love? It is nothing less than the salvation of our children’s souls. This is the chief end of mothering. Our goal is not that our children be happy, fulfilled, and successful, even though we desire these things for them. Our highest objective should be that our children repent and trust the Savior, and reflect the gospel to the world around them.
J. C. Ryle wrote this admonition: “This is the thought that should be uttermost in your mind in all you do for your children. In every step you take about them, in every plan, scheme, and arrangement that concerns them. Ask—how will this affect their souls.”
We know that only the Holy Spirit is able to reveal the truth of the gospel, but our tender love is certainly an instrument in God’s hands. I am convinced that no one has more potential to influence our children and to receive and reflect the gospel than we do as mothers.
John Angell James in his book Female Piety illustrates this point. He tells of a pastors’ conference with over 120 American pastors in attendance. They were asked to state the human instrument used in their conversion and over 100 said that it was their mothers. What greater privilege could we possible have in all the world than to lead our children to the Lord? May we never underestimate the power of a mother’s tender love.
Turning to II Cor 12:9-10 we find our source of help: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” So today if you have missed opportunities to show a tender love, or neglected to pray for your children, or were impatient with them; and even if you lost your smile and feel like a complete failure—take heart—God’s grace is sufficient for you. We look to the cross, and seek His forgiveness and help.
Not one of us is up to this task of mothering, but God helps us in our weakness. God will provide all the grace we need to love our children tenderly, affectionately, and passionately.