Amber is a very dear friend of mine who also happens to be an amazing mother to a super-adorable 10 month-old and a wonderful wife to a god-fearing, preacher (my husband's best guy friend).
Please take time to visit her blog The Crunchy Christian:
a blog devoted to spiritual articles centered around the Word of God.
Raising a child is unquestionably sacrificial work. Many times we need to be reminded that loving others as a Christian means so much more than harboring warm feelings; it means action and service and doing when you no longer feel like doing. Yet, in contrast, the decision to have a child is generally already weighed with the sobering realization that your life will no longer be yours and therefore, teaching "love" calls for a different approach.
When we look at the phrase in Titus 2:4, "to love their children" in the Greek (philoteknos, used only once in the scriptures), we find that it really was expressing a fondness, a tender love.
Caring for a baby full-time (since I don't have experience with older children yet), is demanding. Demanding as in you simply don't get to call the shots when your infant is hungry or tired or fussy or teething, and you can't take a day off when you're sick, tired or wanting to spend the day relaxing at Barnes & Noble with good coffee and a book; a mother takes care of her child's needs, often at the expense of her own wants. A mother is required to be sacrificial. And when sacrifice is continually demanded rather than volunteered, tender affection may quickly fizzle out.
Yet, when it comes to our discipleship, sacrifice without the heart avails nothing in the sight of God.
"This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me" - Matthew 15:8
Consider when Christ taught that even unrighteous anger would be judged as equally as murder (Matthew 5:21,22). Perhaps under the Old Law God may wink at our corrupt hearts and words, so long as our actions weren't, but Christ came and showed us the better way. He showed us that everything comes from the heart (Matthew 15:18), and if our hearts are purified, our actions will follow(Matthew 23:26).
Similarly, when our hearts toward our children are pure and tender, seeking the will of Christ above our own, our actions will follow and God will be glorified.
"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward." - Psalm 127:3
It is so simple, even after only months of motherhood, to fall into the trap of self-pity, selfishness and frustration and therefore it is essential to remember that how we parent and how we choose to treat our blessings is very much a part of our discipleship, which is why we need the encouragement and teachings of older and experienced Christian women.
The root words of both "philandros" (the former exhortation to "love their husbands") and "philoteknos" come from "philos", meaning "friend." Have we learned this love for our children? Jessica wrote rightly that our husbands need to be our friends, best friends even, and despite the negative connotation that comes with saying it: our children need to be our friends as well. What does this mean? What does it not mean?
It does not mean indulgence. It doesn't mean an intense desire for our children's approval and it does not mean displacing discipline or rules so that acceptance or praise may come to us by our children.
It does mean always approaching our children, babies, as friends. It means looking on them as we would a dear friend. It means being willing to lay ourselves down for them, whether this comes in the form of putting off something we want or were in the middle of for our babies when they need us, or putting off negative thoughts when we wake yet again at night to care for them. Laying ourselves down for them may mean doing for them what they need, even if it means more work for us. Laying ourselves down is more than just outward action, it is a willing, loving, tender heart that motivates to action.
I want to suggest that this tender love is a decision we can make at the start of every interaction we have with them. Do we approach them with resentment and bitterness? Like a burden or an enemy? An annoyance or inconvenience? Or do we approach them humbly, with compassion and empathy? Like a friend; someone we want to see happy, someone we care deeply for, someone we will give and give for, even with nothing in return?
Do we make the conscious decision to put them first and treat them with gentleness and kindness, to the glory of God, when they're crying inconsolably and everyone is at their wit's end? When we only have half an hour left to finish dinner, or cleaning, or a project but they can't be set down? When they're fussing and screeching during services and the pressure is mounting? When we have to abandon any hope of "me time" because of a need? When things just don't go according to plan? And I can't even imagine the list as they age! Certainly, balancing the fondness and affection of friendship with discipline and authority is something that must be learned.
Something else to consider: how does our Father want us to serve Him in other aspects of our life?
"Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." - 2 Corinthians 9:7
"the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness." - Romans 12:8
"Let love be without hypocrisy..." - Romans 12:9
"He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" - Micah 6:8
"For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one." - Hebrews 10:34
"Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." - Hebrews 13:17
"Show hospitality to one another without grumbling." - 1 Peter 4:9
Our hearts, our attitudes, are truly important to our heavenly Father and He is not pleased with Pharisaical, superficial obedience. He desires our love and our hearts, and if we delight in Him, we can joyfully live for Him and bear His fruit even through the mundane and tedious tasks that so often accompany motherhood.
And we ought to take joy in our children. I found a little excerpt from another blog that really expresses this point well:
"I have heard from more than one mother statements such as these: “Don’t get me wrong, I love my son, but I don’t enjoy him”, or “I don’t enjoy those toddler years.” We are wrong! I don’t think we can say “I don’t enjoy my kids”. We are supposed to – they are to be cherished greatly with unreasoning affection. They are not an accessory that we pull out when convenient. They are also more than a “do-to” list (that finger is pointing squarely at me). If my children are greatly cherished, they are more important than “things”. They are more important than how I feel, and all the things that need to be accomplished. I know, here in this fallen world, in reality, I have a list of a million things to do today, but at the top of that list I need to make sure my children are cherished with great affection" (Frazzled Mama)
Sometimes it helps to see ourselves as God sees us. We can direct our minds to Him when we catch yourself not loving His gifts the way He loves us. Pray, plead for His grace and His help. Then, take a breath, smile, and love our babies with fondness and with the love described in 1 Corinthians 13.
Can I also say for a moment that without that love, it is incredibly difficult to "bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord"? Hypocrisy kills, but unselfish and genuine love that results in joyful service demonstrates Christ.
I'm positive that there is so much more that could be explained from this text by a proper "older woman" since tender love will manifest in many different ways as the years go on. Nevertheless, the foundation is the same: let's approach our children with a gentle and friendly disposition. Sacrifice, but joyfully and humbly. Parent to the glory of God, by the grace of God. Cherish our blessings, and know that is exactly what they are.
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." - Galatians 5:22,23
"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Didn't she share some great passages and thoughts for us to consider as mothers? I personally gained a lot from reading her article, and I hope you did too! Children are a wonderful blessing, and even though I haven't held my child yet, I am certain my life will be changed in January - for the better! May we all grow in motherhood so that God may be glorified in the way we parent our children.