On Being a Mother (to the women who aren’t)

The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.  Judges 5:7

Almost immediately upon becoming a mother, a part of my heart turned to those women who weren’t.  As surely as my heart grew soft and tender toward the child in my arms, so it has grown toward the women who would never be described by that word – mother.

The women whose bodies cannot conceive or bear children.

The women who have lost children.

The women whose life calling does not include having children.

There are so many different names and faces that come to mind as I write this.  It would be impossible to detail each of their nuanced situations here, but I pray that their stories echo through these words nonetheless.  These past years, my life has been inextricably bound to the lives of these women.  I have hugged their necks, they have held my children.  They have worried over my babies’ bumps, bruises and runny noses, I have prayed over their early pregnancies, miscarriages and stillborn children.  They have championed my causes, dreams and callings, I have applauded them in theirs.  In and through all this, these women have imparted life into the life of my family. And although the world may not grace them with the title of mother, they have taught me so much about what God purposed in motherhood.

My thoughts turn to these women often, but never more so than on Mother’s Day.  On Mother’s Day, more than any other day of the year, we separate women from one another.  On this day we divide mothers from all other women – as if that’s even possible.  The fact is, it’s not.

The first time a woman is given the title of mother is in Genesis 3:20  The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. Eve was the first mother.  We know this.  She was the first woman to give birth to a child.  She was also the first woman to experience the searing pain of losing a child.  (Genesis 4:8)  But take note that God counted her as a mother before she had a child.  Eve is given the title of mother in Genesis chapter 3, but it’s not until chapter 4 that Eve conceives and bears a son called Cain.

Eve was a mother before she had a child. 

Think for a moment about the implications that carries.  Eve’s maternal designation came primarily from the fact that she was created a woman, not from her ability to birth children.  Women beautifully reflect a part of God’s nature and character when we take on the maternal role designated for us whether we have physical children or not.  In Genesis, we learn that in order for God to more fully reflect His image, He created man and woman.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Genesis 2:26

A part of who we are and what we do as women uniquely reflects aspects of our Creator.  Women, like Eve, we were all created mothers.

The Hebrew word for “mother” carries with it the meaning “point of departure or division”.  The word represents a nurturing source from whence those of similar character disseminate.  This goes to the heart of what it means to be a mother.  It goes to the heart of what God purposed in us and for us as women.  In Genesis chapter 17, we see this meaning of mother imputed to Sarah when God says “I will bless her and indeed I will give you a son by her. Then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”  (v.16) While Sarah did go on to give birth to Abraham’s son, Isaac, the meaning of mother in this verse is referring to her as a point of departure.  She shall be a mother of nations.  God began something in and through Sarah that continued well after her death.

Mothers give life – they nurture, they raise-up, they guide, they equip, they encourage, they confront, they protect, they restrain,  they love and then they send out.  These roles are not only fulfilled by the women who have physical children.  The Lord’s mandate for us to be fruitful and multiply extends well beyond the realm of the physical and into the realm of the spiritual.  I can think of no greater example than Deborah, a woman who lived during a day in time when a women’s ability to bear children was paramount.  Although Scripture makes no mention of Deborah having biological children, we know she seized hold of her role as mother by leading the nation of Israel towards God’s protection and provision.  She was a prophet, a judge and a warrior, yet over all these noble titles she places the banner of “Mother”.  She wrote of herself,

The villagers ceased in Israel; they ceased to be until I arose; I, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel.  Judges 5:7

Under Deborah’s leadership, the people of Israel flourished.  With care and pain, she led Israel back to their God and King.  Under her example, others rose up.  She was a mother.

My point in all this is not to give Mother’s Day the stink eye.  I am a mother – to three amazing boys.  I love being a mother.  I love my mother.  She is beautiful and hilarious and just a little bit mean. (She can’t be blamed for this trait; it was passed down from her own mother).  I love other mothers.  Their very existence encourages me.  It reminds me that I’m not alone in this daunting task I’ve been given.  But we must not push these women who do not have children aside – not even for one single day of the year. Indeed, these women do give life.  We need these women:  They mother too.  Don’t reserve your gratitude on Mother’s Day for only those women with children, but go out of your way to thank the ones who don’t.  Let’s rightly celebrate them on Mother’s Day as well.

On being a mother image

My friend, if your heart is so broken over a lack of physical children that you have opted out of mothering, I beg you to reconsider.  There are so many who need what you do.  God made us mothers before He gave us children.  It is part of who we are.  Do what you do, sweet friend.  The world will experience more of God’s glorious grace because of it.  His very word promises it.

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;

    break forth into singing and cry aloud,

    you who have not been in labor!

For the children of the desolate one will be more

    than the children of her who is married,” says the Lord.

“Enlarge the place of your tent,

    and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;

do not hold back; lengthen your cords

    and strengthen your stakes.

For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left,

    and your offspring will possess the nations

    and will people the desolate cities.

Isaiah 54:1-3

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13 thoughts on “On Being a Mother (to the women who aren’t)

  1. Beautifully written. Thanks for opening my eyes to what it means to be a mother for women with AND without children. The scripture references and biblical examples were insightful, especially on Deborah, as “the mother of nations.” Thankful for your encouragement, Summer, and for sharing the gifts God has given you through this blog.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you so much for writing this. Perhaps the most beautiful, sensitive post I’ve read about dealing with infertility/childlessness, written by a woman who has children! Mother’s Day is one of the hardest days of the year for me, and it means a lot to see someone not only acknowledging that difficulty, but also expanding the definition of mothering to include the ways I contribute to the church and world outside the high calling of raising children. So very well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, Emily, thank you so much for telling me that. Your post – Making Church a Place for All Kinds of Women – affected me greatly when I first read it. In fact, I went back and re-read it before I published On Being a Mother. It has stayed in my mind for that long and really begged me to examine what we do with people and situations that don’t “fit” as neatly into the safe and uncomplicated categories that we feel comfortable with. I appreciate your willingness to engage in this conversation with people. I appreciate your grace for us still learning to navigate this topic as well.

    Here’s the link to Emily’s post in case any one is following…https://emilymullaswilson.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/making-church-a-place-for-all-kinds-of-women/
    This one of Emily’s was so enlightening as well – on the topic of infertility

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is soooo beautiful! Wow! You have an incredible amount of biblical, practical wisdom on this issue. I can tell that it is the Lord’s will for your to serve as an encourager to these women. You have inspired me to pray that the Lord will soften my heart toward barren women. I’m an awe of your heart for them and it even allows me to see God’s heart toward them. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this wisdom & love!!!!


  5. Summer, I had a similar sensitivity awaken in me towards women who would never be called mother when I took on that title myself. In women’s ministry now, I continue to watch for those who may feel left out; also including singles, widows, women attending church alone. We must include everyone! Here’s a piece I wrote on Mother’s Day two years ago. http://www.tracesoffaith.com/blog/2015/04/when-all-women-celebrate-mothers-day.html I try to remember to share it each year. I’m with you on this one!


  6. Summer, your insight and wisdom opened my perspective so much. I absolutely love this message. I too, have many beloved friends who were unable to have children or lost children- and it pains me so. But what you shared through God’s Word is an incredibly beautiful way to honor women as Mothers.


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