“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
The interconnectedness of joy and pain in a mother’s calling is uniquely expressed in childbirth. Expecting a child awakens in a woman such varied and intense emotions ranging from shock, elation, hope, and expectation, to fear, anxiety, or even dread. Yet in childbirth, pain is productive. Its fruit is an overflow of both emotional and physical joy when the first cries of a baby break through the strain of labor. It is a wondrous sound that silences any other voice of pain or exhaustion. In motherhood, we share in both the sufferings of Christ and in the fullness of joy that he has promised to those who abandon themselves for His purposes, for “the joy set before [us].”
I can allow Christ access to my time, my talents, my energy with little suffering on my part. Yet to give up control and ownership of my body — to be a vessel — requires greater abandonment. My natural bent is to pamper it, clothe it to fit my image and my purposes. Yet in the process of childbirth and extending into motherhood, my body becomes a refuge, a place of nurture, a metaphorical and physical representation of a calling that, similar to marriage, is to offer oneself to another.
Through motherhood, a woman walks alongside her child through seasons of development. She witnesses and experiences her child’s growth — in his understanding of himself, of the world he inhabits, and changes in his body and his inner person. Whereas in the beginning, he identified his mother as a part of himself, there is a gradual and necessary trajectory of separation. In the gospel of Luke, we see this when a harried and distraught Mary finally finds her twelve-year-old son who dropped out of view for days on the trip back home from the Passover feast. In response to her anguished cried, Jesus calmly replies, “Why were you looking for me? … I must be in my Father’s house” (Luke 2:49). To this both typical and atypical preteen response, we see Mary’s humility and trust in God, “…his mother treasured up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
The mother of Jesus was told from the beginning that, as a result of mothering the Savior of the World, “a sword would pierce through [her] heart” (Luke 2:35). Many of us have experienced but a fraction of this pain, and it has potential to call forth such a torrent of hurt, anger and sometimes bitterness. Here is a woman whose very life and reputation were turned upside down with this seemingly illicit birth. Yet she embraced the calling she received.
This is a woman I would like to emulate. Her peace was in the treasuring, the pondering, and the complete entrusting of her mothering experience into the hands of her Heavenly Father. Because she accepted from the beginning that she was but a vessel entrusted with a gift so precious, she could most fully experience the joy of motherhood. I believe this to be one of the greatest relational paradoxes I have known. Christ ushers us into this way of holding lightly to our children in order to offer them fully to His purposes.
Now that I am expecting my fifth child, with four children here on earth and one in heaven, I am learning to treasure each season with expectation. My understanding of who they are and who they will become is so limited, yet God has known each of their days with complete clarity and understanding from the beginning, having knitted them together in my womb and having “[ordained] all of [their] days before one of the them came to be” (Psalm 139). Motherhood has been both a humbling and growing experience for me as I painstakingly learn to hold my children lightly. I don’t yet know how to do this, but I am learning to treasure up each moment, in hopeful expectation.
Adrienne Shore currently lives in Jordan with her husband and four children. She counts it a privilege to be able to homeschool her children overseas — having previously lived in Korea, Germany, and several American states — and has worked to bring home educating families together wherever she lives. Her other passions include writing, reading, painting, and playing the violin.