One of the most profound ideas that I have carried with me throughout my mothering journey thus far is something I read back when children were just a wonderful hope I was trying to prepare for, and that was the idea that we, as parents, are our children’s first introduction to how life works. We help form their attitudes, their presuppositions, their worldview, and even more importantly, parents are a child’s first exposure to the character of God. What we teach our children about the world through our behavior towards them right from the very start shapes their earliest understanding of what is true in this life, and opens the door for understanding how God relates to them.
Up until recently, I mostly thought about this as it relates to two specific aspects of parenting: authority and provision.
We are our children’s first authority. Through interactions with us, they learn how their greatest Authority (God) relates to them. If we are harsh, they may very well grow up suspecting that God is harsh. If we let them get away with things (always my weakness), they may grow up thinking that God will wink at their sin.
We are our children’s first care providers. Through interactions with us, they learn how the ultimate Provider relates to them. If we are there for them, meeting their needs, they learn to suspect that God, too, will be there for them to meet their needs. If we ignore them, they can easily get the idea that they have to face the world alone, in their own strength even apart from the care and provision of God.
These were things I had thought of often, but recently I came across a passage that led me to think about this in yet another way.
Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice for joy with her, all ye that mourn for her: That ye may suck, and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream: then shall ye suck, ye shall be borne upon her sides, and be dandled upon her knees. As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you; and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. –Isaiah 66:10-13
Throughout the Bible God uses human relationships to explain our relationship with Him. He is our “Master.” We are His “slaves.” He is our “Father.” We are His “children.” Christ is the “Husband” of the church, and our “Brother.” These are familiar and common metaphors. But when God wanted to choose a metaphor for how He would comfort His people, He chose to talk about mothers. He reminded His people of the way mothers nurse their babies, carry them around on their hips, and play with them on their laps. He said, “Remember how your mother comforted you when you were a baby? That’s going to happen again. Jerusalem is going to be that kind of mother to you, and I’m going to comfort you just like a mother comforts her children.”
When we are doing some of the most ordinary, everyday acts of mothering our small children–nursing them, carrying them, playing with them, we are preparing the way for them to understand how the Lord comforts His people. Mothering is a huge job made up of lots of repetitive little jobs that can feel insignificant and draining sometimes, but when we’re feeling “touched out” and worn out and tired of carting around 20 pounds of baby on our hips, we can think about this passage and remember that even this seemingly mundane business of caring for a tiny, needy person is a chance to glorify the Lord and reflect His character to the world.