When a mother learns she will have a child (whether through birth or birthed in her heart through adoption) she knows things will change. From observing others, she knows her sleep will change. She knows her time will no longer be hers. She knows she’ll sacrifice and love and worry in ways she never has before.
One change she may not expect, but perhaps is the biggest change of all, will take place in her own heart.
A Mother’s Heart
Moms read many books, blogs, and articles to prepare for motherhood. One thing these resources can’t prepare a mom for is the reality of how hard motherhood can be. Unlike the difficult jobs we’ve had before, motherhood is all consuming. It consumes energy, time, emotions, and wisdom, and everything else. It’s a 24/7 job, without breaks or vacations. It challenges us in our weakest areas and reveals our insufficiencies. It shows us just how much we don’t know and how incapable we really are. It also seems to spotlight sin in our heart, magnifying it so that we see the depths of our sin in ways we’ve never noticed before.
It’s not as though motherhood makes us more of a sinner; rather, areas of sin we didn’t realize we had are brought to the surface. Sinful habits and patterns are brought to light that may have once been in the shadows. The pressures and challenges of motherhood somehow make the sin we already have more pronounced. It’s like when the sunlight streams through the windows at just the right angle and shines upon the furniture. That light reveals all the dust layered on the tabletop. It was there before, we just didn’t notice it until the light shone down on it. In a similar way, specific areas of sin in our heart are brought out into the light in motherhood in ways they never had been before.
While God uses many circumstances and situations in our life to sanctify us—relationships, illness, work, even getting stuck in traffic—he also uses motherhood. That teething baby who keeps us up at night, that toddler who throws tantrums in the grocery store, that teen who insists on doing the exact opposite of everything we say, are all circumstances God uses to help us see our sin, show us our need for his grace, and change us into the image of Jesus Christ.
One area of sin in our heart God transforms is that of idolatry.
Idols of a Mother’s Heart
We were created to worship. We were made to glorify and enjoy our Creator. But because of the Fall of mankind, our hearts are prone to worship anything and everything else. We seek after our own glory. We seek after things we think will make us happy, whole, and complete. We look for hope, life, and meaning apart from God. We seek after false gods and give them the honor that God alone deserves.
Children are a blessing and a good gift from the Lord. But they, like many good things, can become idols in a mother’s heart.
In motherhood we see idolatry reveal itself in unique ways:
The Idol of Children: Children are a blessing and a good gift from the Lord. But they, like many good things, can become idols in a mother’s heart. This happens when we as moms find our meaning and significance in being a mother or in living through our children. We spend so much of our time, energy, and life serving, loving, and training our children, it’s easy to see how our life can revolve around them, where everything becomes about them, and where we find our purpose and identity in them, rather than in the One who made us.
The Idol of Success: Who doesn’t want their children to grow up into happy, healthy, productive adults? We all want good things for our children. The problem comes when we put our hope in their success — in their performance in school or sports, in how they behave in front of others, in how they look, or who their friends are. When we worship this idol, we take our children’s failures personally, as our failures, because our worth and value rests in our children’s success, rather than in Christ’s success for us.
The Idol of Comfort: At the end of a long and weary day with our children, we often turn to things to give us comfort. Maybe it’s binging on Netflix. Maybe it’s scrolling mindlessly through social media. Maybe it’s a big bowl of ice cream. The idol of comfort serves to numb us from the difficulties and challenges of life. For moms, there are many reasons we might seek an escape. We might even think we deserve an escape after a particularly rough day. The problem is that we seek refuge, hope, and help in created things, rather than in our Savior.
The Idol of Control: The idol of control involves a desire for things to go according to our will and plan. We don’t like chaos or disorder. We live by to-lists, plans, and routines. We may seek to control our children’s health, doing everything we can to keep germs away. We might research and study every strategy to manage our children and our home. We may be vigilant in keeping our children’s routines. While there is nothing wrong with order and structure and routine, the problem comes when we put our hope in our methods to make life work, rather than in the One who gives us life. Ultimately, our strategies to control things end up controlling us.
The Idol of Approval: When we worship the idol of approval, we long to accepted by others. Deep down, we believe we must be loved or accepted for life to have meaning. We care most about what other’s think of us. For moms, it can involve what our children think of us. It also includes what other people think of how we are doing with our parenting and whether we are doing a good job or not. In worshipping the idol of approval, we find our meaning and worth in what others think of us, rather than in what God thinks of us.
Good News for a Mother’s Heart
The good news is that idolatry doesn’t have the final say, the gospel does. The gospel tells us that because of Christ and what he did for us in his life, death, and resurrection, we are redeemed from sin and purified to live for him. We are being remade into worshipers who worship in spirit and truth. We don’t have to worship lesser gods and created things. We have been set free from slavery to sin and are now free to worship and glorify God. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
This means that when God looks upon us, he sees Christ’s perfect life lived for us. He sees Christ’s righteousness and his life lived to the glory of the Father. He sees Jesus in the temple, praising and worshipping him. He sees Jesus standing firm against temptation. He sees Jesus eating, serving, working, teaching, loving, resting, worshipping, and doing all things to the glory of God. He sees Jesus’ obedient life—from birth to his final breath. Every moment of our Savior’s life is credited to us as if we had done it ourselves.
There’s more good news: when Jesus ascended into heaven, he sent his Spirit to live in the hearts of believers. The Holy Spirit has made a home within us. He comforts us, guides us, convicts us, instructs us, and prays for us. He enables and empowers us to worship and glorify God as we were created to do. Though we are tempted and often give in to the desire to worship lesser things, we are strengthened by the work of the Spirit in us to put to death our idolatrous worship and learn to live more and more for God’s glory alone. The Spirit teaches and trains us to love the Lord with all our heart.
Motherhood often shines a light on things in our heart we didn’t know were there, especially idols of the heart. We shouldn’t waste the opportunity motherhood provides us to see the true content of our hearts and turn to our Savior in repentance. May we see each late-night visit from a little one, every tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, each disruption to our routine, and every unexpected illness as an opportunity for God to show us our need for him. May we see that he alone is our salvation and life. Because no matter how hard we try, we cannot find life and hope outside of him.
Christina Fox is a writer, speaker, and author of several books, including Closer than a Sister, Idols of a Mother’s Heart, and Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms. She serves on the PCA’s national women’s ministry team and is the editor of the enCourage blog with CDM. She lives with her husband and two sons in the Atlanta area and worships at East Cobb PCA. You can find her at www.christinafox.com.