May 14, 2006

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY

A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

What do mothers need? What does it take for mothers to blossom and thrive and be happy? Various things could be mentioned, but one of the most basic is this: mothers need to feel valued.

A mother who knows she is valued can handle almost anything. She can conquer a host of hassles and heartbreaks. But if a mother feels unappreciated and unloved, her strength drains away. Her spirit withers. She feels empty and useless. A mother needs to be prized, praised, honored, appreciated, thanked, encouraged, cherished, and loved.

In Proverbs 31 the Bible describes a woman “of noble character” who “is worth far more than rubies” and says that such a woman “is to be praised.”

Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate. Proverbs 31:28-31

A happy mother is valued by her husband, valued by her children, and valued by her community. They should prize her in their hearts but they also should praise her openly.

Good mothers should feel valued, but many don’t feel valued. Why not? One problem is that mothers are seldom praised “at the city gate.” The city gate represents leaders in society. What gets praised at the city gate these days? Do politicians and business leaders place a high value on mothering? No, social policy invests big money in child care so women can spend more time on their careers and less time with their families. Do magazines, TV shows and movies honor motherhood? No, the media is mostly hostile to those who put family first. Do colleges and universities encourage girls whose main ambition is help their husband and rear children? No, educational institutions focus on career, not family. A lot of educated young women are made to feel that only a loser would want a husband and children more than a career. Later, when many of these young women marry and become mothers, this low view of motherhood may still haunt them.

It’s hard for a mother when society doesn’t praise and value motherhood, and it’s even harder if her own children don’t appreciate her. A mother whose children bless and compliment her might feel valued even if society at large undermines motherhood. However, if her own kids don’t honor her and show how much she means to them, then all her efforts as a mother can seem thankless and useless.

But there’s an even bigger reason why many mothers don’t feel valued: their husbands don’t praise and honor them. This does more damage to a wife and mother than any failure of society or children. No human can do more to build a woman up or tear her down than her husband. So as we explore what it takes for a mother to feel valued and happy, let’s begin with the husband’s role.

Valued By Her Husband

In order for a mother to be happy, she needs to be not just a mother pouring her energy into her family but a wife being loved, led, and strengthened by her husband. A mother needs a man she can be proud of and who is proud of her. Proverbs 31 says of the excellent wife that “her husband is respected” and that “her husband has full confidence in her” and “praises her.”

Show me a gloomy, weary mother, and I’ll show you a man who is probably failing her. He may be a man who left her and her children on her own. Life is hard for a single mother. Not only is it hard for one person to do the work of two, not only is it hard for a mother to fill the shoes of a father who ought to be there, but it’s a terrible burden for a mother to have no man to be proud of and no man to be proud of her.

And single mothers aren’t the only ones who struggle. Many mothers are married but have a husband whose idea of leading his wife and family is to be the one who switches channels on the TV remote. He can spend three hours watching a game but can’t spare five minutes to listen to his wife or to guide their children. He can shout in praise of his favorite team, but he can’t even mutter a compliment to encourage his wife. He can find time for coworkers or drinking buddies, but he can’t make time to have dinner with his wife and children regularly.

If a man beats his wife or tears her down with insults and arguments, he’s obviously a lousy husband. But even if he’s not abusive, even if he’s a harmless, mild-mannered guy, a man can sap his wife’s strength by neglecting her. He can frustrate her by not showing leadership and not winning her respect. Motherhood can be miserable for a woman whose husband doesn’t cherish her and take the lead in rearing their children.

Am I being too tough on men and too easy on women? Maybe so. I know women aren’t perfect, and I know it’s hard to be a husband and father. But the fact remains that the final responsibility for a mother and children rests with the man. In God’s design, the man is the head of his wife and the head of the home. If you are a husband and father, the buck stops with you. How are you leading your family? How are you making your wife feel valued? What steps are you taking to make her happy?

Your wife needs to know that she’s not just the mother of children who make lots of demands on her. She needs to know that she’s the wife of a man who treasures her and builds her up. She needs to know that “her husband has full confidence in her” (Proverbs 31:11) and thinks of her with honor and respect. She needs to hear him praise the many things she does as a wife and mother, to know that he recognizes her abilities and efforts. She needs to know that he finds her beautiful and attractive.

At times a mother can feel almost like a slave as she tries to handle the demands of children. Changing diapers, wiping noses, washing clothes, preparing meals, stopping kids from fighting, making sure homework gets done—such activities are a rich and meaningful part of shaping precious persons, but such things can smother a mother if her husband is just one more kid making demands. The burden is even heavier if the mom works outside the home and then has to do almost all the work at home too. A busy mother needs her husband to do his share with the children, and she also needs to know that she is the love of his life, that he is crazy about her.

If you’re a husband and father, make sure the romance doesn’t leave your marriage when the children arrive. Borrow a page from the biblical Song of Songs and tell your wife, “How beautiful you are, my darling!” “Your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.” “You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes” (1:15, 2:14, 4:9). You don’t have to use those exact words, but make sure you get the point across. Praise your wife’s appearance. Express your love frequently with kisses and physical intimacy (1 Cor. 7:4). Make her feel beautiful. When God gives you children, let your wife know that you still love her as your bride and that your love has only grown larger and deeper now that she’s the mother of your children.

It may help to think of what a mother needs when she is nursing a baby. She needs more nourishment than when she was eating only for herself. She needs good food and she needs more of it. Otherwise, her baby will suffer and the mother herself will suffer. Now, apply that not just to the nourishment of the body but nourishment for the spirit. Children take a lot out of a mother, so she needs a husband who provides more encouragement, more tenderness, more direction, more passion, more joy than ever. A father must dig deep to become the main leader and instructor of his children, and he must pour himself out to feed and care for the mother of his children. If a man does this, his wife will flourish, his children will flourish, and he himself will flourish.

Valued By Christ

A mother needs her husband to cherish and treasure her. In fact, she needs a husband who pictures the love of Jesus Christ himself. The Bible says, “The husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” This involves leadership, but it also involves sacrifice. Scripture says, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Just as Jesus poured out his life to make the church a radiant bride for himself, so a husband should pour out his life to make his wife a radiant bride. Just as Christ regards Christians as members of his own body, so a husband should care for his wife as he cares for his own body.

If a man is not a follower of Jesus and not self-sacrificing like Christ, he would still be smart to love his wife and treat her right. Why? Because what’s good for her is good for him. “He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it” (Ephesians 5:28-29). It’s not just wrong to neglect your wife and her needs; it’s crazy. It’s like starving your own stomach or stabbing your own leg. Why would anybody in his right mind try to damage his own body? A man who feeds his wife’s spirit with love, leadership, and encouragement isn’t just helping her—he’s helping himself. The more she is loved, the more lovely she becomes. The more she is valued, the more valuable she becomes to him. The more he builds her up, the more he benefits. The happier she is, the happier she’ll make him. So it’s just common sense for a man to care for his wife and family, even if he doesn’t do it for Christ’s sake.

But if you really want to be the husband your wife needs and the father your children need, you need Christ in your life. It’s hard for you to lead your family as you should. In fact, it’s not just hard; it’s impossible. You can’t do it on your own. You need power from Someone else. You need power from God. You need the Spirit of Christ to be living and working in you, making you the husband and father God calls you to be. As the head of your family, your calling is nothing less than to display to your wife and family the life and reality of Christ Jesus himself.

God designed marriage to portray the relationship between Christ and his church, so as a man you’re always saying something about Christ in the way you relate to your wife and children. You can’t help it. You are either displaying truth about Christ or telling lies about Christ. Either way, you are a picture of Christ to them, whether you want to or not.

If you don’t value your wife, you’re sending the message that Christ doesn’t value his church. If you don’t care about your wife’s wellbeing, you’re sending the message that Christ is uncaring. If you are unfaithful, you’re sending the message that Christ is unfaithful. If you don’t love her, you’re sending the message that Christ is unloving. If you’re harsh, you’re sending the message that Christ is harsh. If you don’t lead your wife with wisdom and don’t teach your family God’s Word, you’re sending the message that Christ does not lead his people or care how they think. If you’re a bad husband, you are telling one rotten lie after another about Jesus Christ himself, and you make it hard for your wife and children to hear the truth of Christ and hard to live in the power of Christ. What a horror if your life proclaims lies about Christ!

On the other hand, if you’re a godly husband, you are showing the truth of Christ. If you treasure your wife, you are sending the message that Christ treasures his church. If you make sacrifices to help your wife, you’re sending the message that Christ gave himself up for us. If you’re faithful to your wife, you’re sending the message that Christ is faithful. If you care for your wife with tender affection, you’re sending a message about Christ’s love. If you lead your family in Scripture and prayer, you’re sending a message about Christ’s wise leadership. If you’re a godly husband, your words and example nourish your wife and children with the truth and power of Christ. What a privilege to make Christ real to your family!

When you husbands hear about making your wife feel beautiful and valuable, you might object, “But she’s not! If I had a great wife, I would treat her well. But I can’t pretend my wife is wonderful when she’s not.” Okay, fair enough. Maybe your wife isn’t so wonderful. But before you blame her too much, here’s some advice: Look in the mirror, buddy! Before you complain that she’s not the wife and mother she ought to be, take a hard look at yourself. Are you the husband and father you ought to be? Do you nourish and cherish your wife as your own body? Do you encourage her? Do you take the lead in bringing up your children in the ways of the Lord? Can your family see Christ in you? Or is your life telling lies about Christ? I’ll be blunt: I don’t know many excellent husbands who have rotten wives. There may be a few but not many. Usually a godly and wise man has a flourishing wife and family (Psalm 128).

But just suppose you’re one of those rare exceptions who has been a good husband but your wife still isn’t very praiseworthy or lovely. Well, if your wife isn’t what she should be, then even if her problems aren’t your fault, it’s your responsibility to help her to grow and thrive. Remember, as a husband you are called to display Christ. Did Christ love his bride, the church, because she was already perfect before he saved her? No, she was badly flawed. But Christ sacrificed himself to make her radiant and flawless. He took responsibility for those he loved, even though he wasn’t to blame for their sin, and his love and guidance transformed them. As a husband, follow Christ’s lead. Focus your love on your wife and make any sacrifice that will win her heart, show her how much you value her, and make her a radiant bride.

Valued By Children

A mother who is valued by a Christ-like husband and knows Christ for herself can handle almost any challenge motherhood throws at her. Still, motherhood is more enjoyable if her children also value her. When a mother sees her child smile and hears a heartfelt “I love you—thanks for being such a great mom”—then she’s glad to be a mother. Little children are often better at showing appreciation than teenagers. But if you’re a teenager, let your mom know how much she means to you. And as for those of us who are grown and no longer live at home, let’s keep honoring our parents. Looking back, you may see how much you took your mom for granted when you were growing up. Well, then, make up for lost time by praising and thanking her now.

The Bible tells children of all ages to honor your mother (Exodus 20:12). It’s foolish to dishonor and despise your mother and bring her grief. Don’t be foolish. Instead, make your mother’s heart rejoice (Proverbs 15:20, 10:1, 23:25). Live in such a way that she’s glad to be your mother. “Arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28).

Valued by Community

As a mother is valued by her husband and children, she should also be valued by the community. As the Bible puts it, “Let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (Proverbs 31:31). Society needs to honor the family above the economy. A mother should be honored more for what she does for her husband and children than for anything she does for her employer.

A society which doesn’t honor motherhood can hinder mothers. It can also hinder young women without children from preparing themselves to become wives and mothers. Many young women go to elementary school, middle school, high school, university, and graduate school, immersed in a setting where motherhood doesn’t seem to count for much. They spend year after year in one class after another, but no one ever teaches them how to manage a home or bring up children.

A young mother told me that back when she was a college student, she felt insulted when a person she knew told her she’d probably get married and be a really smart stay-at-home mom. Ten years later, that’s exactly what she was, and she was glad about it. But she struggled not to feel inferior for following that path. When she did become a mother, there was an enormous amount she had to learn which nobody had bothered to teach her and which had never been treated as something essential to know.

Society in general must honor mothers more, and the church in particular must be a special community that mentors mothers and helps them to see motherhood as a noble calling. The Bible pictures motherhood as a beautiful, honorable way for a woman to live out her salvation and new life in Christ (1 Timothy 2:15). And the Bible urges older women in the church who have experience in rearing children and managing a family to become mentors for younger women. “Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:4-5).

If you’re an older woman, you might say, “I’ve raised my kids. Now it’s somebody else’s turn. I’ve got better things to do than guiding younger women. Let them figure out motherhood on their own.” But that is selfish. The Bible tells older women, “Train the younger women.” Don’t defy the Bible. Young women need mentors, and nobody is better suited to be a mentor than a woman who has spent years rearing children and loving her husband.

This emphasis may sound strange to quite a few church people. Some churches involve women in so many different church activities that the women are hindered from tending their own homes. It’s a shame if the church is no better than society at valuing mothers and building healthy patterns of motherhood. Churches must find ways to mentor and strengthen mothers. Churches must also find ways for older men to mentor younger men on how to be godly husbands, lead a home, and value their wives.

Valued By God

I hope that this message challenges husbands, children, and leaders in church and society to value mothers. I hope it also encourages you mothers and helps you feel valued.

But for some mothers, a message like this can be painful and frustrating. Some time ago I spoke with a woman—let’s call her Julie. Julie had lived for years in a so-so marriage with a passive husband who did very little in the home. He showed no leadership, did little to help with the children, and showed less and less affection to his wife. For years Julie just accepted this as normal. She didn’t know the Bible’s teaching and didn’t know many marriages that were much better than hers.

But then she joined a church which emphasized how husbands must lead and value their wives. She saw beautiful marriages. And that made her own marriage all the more painful. Julie cried as she spoke to me. She said she might have to stay away from that church, because hearing God’s teaching and seeing those happy families just made her own situation seem more disappointing.

Maybe you’re like Julie. You hear a program like this and something in you stirs. You think it sounds wonderful, but you also realize what you’re missing, and you feel sadder than ever.

Let me just say this. Even if you’re not valued by people around you, find your joy in being valued by the Lord. Focus your heart on Christ and on what he thinks of you. Your husband’s life ought to show Christ to you, but if his life is telling lies about Christ, don’t believe those lies. Instead, trust in Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to live in you and shine from you. Cultivate “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4). This may win your husband to the Lord, and it will certainly please God. In the end, it’s not what other people think of you that counts. It’s what God thinks of you. And God values every woman who honors him. “A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” So whether or not you’re praised by others, seek the praise that comes from God, and find your happiness in him.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.