Tanner Swanson

Through the Valley of Miscarriage

Sobs shook my body. Nurses couldn’t help but squeeze a shoulder, hand, or foot whenever they entered the hospital room. Eventually, I’d cried so hard for so long that one felt the need to say, “You’re going to be okay, honey.” She must have thought it was the abdominal pain, or the bleeding, or the impending surgery.

“I know,” I whispered. “But I miss our baby.”

Considerate as they were, the staff struggled to understand my sadness. Perhaps no one who refers to an unborn child as “remaining fetal tissue” really can. They seemed to look away in discomfort whenever my husband and I called our baby what our baby was: our baby.

But now our baby was gone, as were deep breaths and clear thoughts. Did I cause this? I should have gone easier on my body. Was it my sin? I’ve been so impatient lately, even harsh. Maybe if I hadn’t — maybe if I had . . .

Never had I entered a valley quite like this.

Our Greatest Need in the Valley

The mysterious sorrow, the frantic questions, the lingering pregnancy hormones. In the days and weeks surrounding miscarriage, a mother’s faith often sits under fire, as we ache in ways we so little understand. We lost our child — but who was that child? Girl or boy? Mom’s nose or dad’s eyes? We’ll never hear her first word, or know his favorite food, or teach her to read, or watch him run. Much of our pain is the pain of receiving a gift along with so little time to unwrap, hold, and love it.

In its place stand questions that, left unanswered (or answered only by our pain), can distance us from who God is for us in Christ. Instead of clinging to him as “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4), we can begin to wonder who he is, where he is, what he’s doing — and why it had to involve our baby never taking a breath. He whom we beheld as sovereign, good, and near to us the day we grasped a positive pregnancy test suddenly feels out of reach. We begin to cast him sidelong glances from afar. We had thought he was our good gift-Giver. Is he actually a cosmic and cool gift-Taker?

But the God whom we are so quick to doubt — he is quicker to respond. Throughout the ages, he put together a Book brimming with words not only true, but satisfying and strengthening. That is, a Book about himself. No matter how many our tears, mothers who take hold of its words can hold fast to God, eternal life, and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Indeed, there is no other way through the valley of miscarriage.

When You Cannot See, Read

Like the mother who miscarries, the author of Lamentations was no stranger to loss. Babylon laid waste to Jerusalem before his very eyes. He saw attackers drag away children. He watched Israel’s rulers flee. He looked on as young and old groped for bread yet rose empty-handed, covered in the city’s ashes. When his eyes could take no more, he wept.

But even as his vision blurs and stomach churns, his mind holds fast to something far sturdier than Solomon’s temple: this.

But this I call to mind,     and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;     his mercies never come to an end;they are new every morning;     great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21–23)

Though he swims in a sea of unthinkable grief, still he is able to reasonably say, “I have hope.” How? Because he has “this” — the truth of God’s unending love, mercy, and faithfulness — and because he calls that truth to mind. Whenever his pain rises up and shouts about who God appears to be in the moment, he directs his thoughts toward who God has revealed himself to be “from everlasting to everlasting” (Psalm 90:2).

“If we are not careful, wondering about God without talking with God can lead to wandering from God.”

Grieving mothers, how much greater is our access to truth and, through it, to our God? In the Bible, we can read the words God “breathed out” (2 Timothy 3:16) for us, each of which “proves true” (Proverbs 30:5) and “gives light” (Psalm 119:130). In his many sufferings, can you imagine the lengths to which Lamentations’ author might have gone to possess a single copy of the full Scriptures we have? Yet “this” was sufficient for his time of need. Might the entirety of the Bible be sufficient for us?

Though tears cloud our eyes, hormones our emotions, and sorrow our thoughts, we can arrive at truth and its only source, our God. For what we cannot see through the fog of loss and grief, we can read. Because of the Bible, there is no shortage of hope-restoring words to choose from (Romans 15:4).

At the same time, we are wise to spend what time and energy we have reading (and rereading) passages that address our darkest questions. Is God sovereign over miscarriage? If he is, what is he doing through it — and can he still be good in it? I wish I had space to respond. For now, I’ll leave you with the texts to which I turned (along with links to other resources that may serve you): Job 1, Isaiah 48, Psalm 91, Psalm 119, and Romans 8.

When You Cannot Pray, Repeat

Grief affects more than our ability to get truth into our minds; it can also keep us from getting truth out of our mouths in prayer. Upon parting with children we never cradled, fed, or dressed yet inexpressibly loved, we may feel little desire to address the One who either “didn’t spare them” or “couldn’t save them.” We tend to curl into ourselves, as we believe one of a hundred lies about God’s lack of interest or power.

Despite our unbelief, God stands ready to help through the Scriptures once more. In our most clouded moments, not only can we speak his word to ourselves, but we can repeat his word to him. When we do not have the words to talk to our Father, we have only to open the Book with a thousand pages’ worth of ways we might pray.

Lamentations 3:21–23 remains a fitting guide. The author, upon telling himself that God’s mercies “are new every morning,” turns immediately to address God: “Great is your faithfulness.” In the same breath, he draws truth in and then lets truth out and up as he turns it into prayer. And lest we think this was an easy task for him, consider the stanza he pens just before:

[God] has made my teeth grind on gravel,     and made me cower in ashes;my soul is bereft of peace;     I have forgotten what happiness is;so I say, “My endurance has perished;     so has my hope from the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:16–18)

No, he feels pain’s pull away from God and toward hopelessness just as we do. For despair often prefers to talk about God than to God, a habit suffering Christians must learn to resist. If we are not careful, wondering about God without talking to God can lead to wandering from God.

Scripture can return us to the tender speaking terms we once knew and now need, perhaps more than ever. Whether we turn a passage into prayer, as Lamentations’ author does, or pray a psalm word for word, or use one of the New Testament’s many petitions, God went to great lengths to ensure that grieving mothers could weep yet still speak to him. What love is this, that when we lack the words to say, he offers us his own.

Ever with Us

As we walk through the valley of miscarriage, our pain, when left to itself, will not be so kind as to reinforce a biblical view of God and suffering. Rather, sorrow will try to seize the upper hand on reality, bending our hearts into a posture of doubt, mistrust, or resentment.

But praise God, we need not feel, think, or even reason our own way back into his grip. His word open before us, we can read and pray a path across the valley. Though our stomachs will stop growing, and we’ll schedule no more ultrasounds for now, there is a way for us not only to withstand the loss, but to grow because of it: “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

The valley we walk is not so low that God cannot get to us. Indeed, if we are in Christ, we need only open his word, and we will find that he is with us already: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Together, mothers, we can push past what our anguish might want to what we know our anguish needs: communion with God through his word.

The Wonderful, Dangerous World of Sports

I grew up on grass and turf. What did kindergarten-me want to be? A professional soccer player. Where did I spend most evenings as a teen? My club’s soccer complex. How did I choose a college? Division I soccer or bust.

Eventually, my left knee would be the one to bust (twice), but not until I’d devoted nearly twenty years to the game. Looking back on the cotton-tee rec leagues, the pricey club seasons, the long-awaited college career, the coveted national team camps — I see, sharp as a whistle, how God used soccer to increase my wonder of him. But what I also recognize (more painfully than two ACL tears) is how little I guarded myself against sins common to sport.

For every chance to worship God through exercise and competition, there is just as great a risk that we will “love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). Surely, sports can inspire worship. But often even more so, they can divert our hearts from heaven, casting them instead onto the fleeting rewards of fitness or fame.

Whether you’re young and yet to blow out a knee, a backward-looking athlete like me, or the person who simply loves sports, let’s wonder together at the God enthroned above every beautiful game. And let’s beware together the dangers lurking behind all the practices and tournaments, the social media feeds and TV screens.

Embracing Frailty

We live in an era of “easy everywhere,” as Andy Crouch puts it in The Tech-Wise Family. At the flex of a foot, we can travel from Connecticut to California by car. Our thumbs wiggle, and a friend in the Netherlands instantly knows how we are. Press a button, turn a knob, and lights flicker, water spouts, food warms, pictures snap, books play, music stops, presidents speak, gifts and ambulances and flowers and repairmen arrive. Everywhere we look, life is easy.

Because we can accomplish much while moving little, we tend to see ourselves as masters over matter, rather than creatures under a Creator. The ease with which so many exist can obscure our need to receive “life and breath and everything” from the God who first made and now upholds us (Acts 17:25).

But there is something about dripping sweat and feeling faint, leg muscles refusing to move much faster than a brisk jog, that pushes us to acknowledge our dependence on something outside ourselves. Whether it’s water or electrolytes, a quick banana or half a pizza, fifteen minutes of ice or ten hours of sleep, a teammate or a surgeon, sports make us feel the kind of needy we always are.

Mindful Christians can turn the likes of wind sprints and long recoveries into opportunities for spiritual humility, as we remember that we are weak because we are creaturely — and created to submit our bodies, hearts, and lives to our Creator.

Searching for Fool’s Gold

Unfortunately, sports often rush us headlong in the opposite direction, tempting us to worship “the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). When we watch LeBron James dunk, we may be more likely to exclaim, “He’s a basketball god!” than “How awesome is the God who made such an athlete!”

“Christian athletes fight an uphill battle to satisfy themselves in God alone, to pursue his glory alone.”

And that’s just the way the sports world would have it. College programs, ESPN, betting apps — what is “the glory of the immortal God” to them (Romans 1:23)? Usually, nothing more than a detour from the track on which they run: the worship of “mortal man.” As we engage with sports, we would be naive to think that they won’t make unending grabs for our gaze, our hearts, even our very persons, as “followers of [select one of a million players, teams, or leagues].”

The danger isn’t confined to leagues we stream on TV. Sports tempt us to worship ourselves alongside the games and elite athletes who play them. Because of the fall, anywhere we set foot, our sinful flesh starts digging for the fool’s gold of human glory. The rec center’s basketball court is no exception. Sports, whatever the scale, can stoke our millennia-old longing to sparkle in others’ eyes.

In my experience, athletes crave all kinds of self-exalting glitter. There’s physical dominance, which men tend toward, and then there’s physical perfection, more of a female problem. As we mold our bodies into one ideal appearance or another, we simultaneously wield them for other worldly ends, like winning for winning’s sake and success for man’s approval.

Immersed in an arena that not only values but requires physical fitness, Christians can be tempted to care more for the body than the heart — a mistake so common that God would issue a warning as early as three thousand years ago (1 Samuel 16:7). Centuries later, he would remind us again through Paul, “While bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

Along with the body, sports culture obsesses over here-and-now victory and applause. Christian athletes fight an uphill battle to satisfy themselves in God alone, to pursue his glory alone, to seek his kingdom alone, and to believe his word above every other: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26–27).

Grasping the Unseen

While sports can distract us from spiritual realities, they can also expose them. Throughout his letters, Paul uses athletic imagery to illuminate unseen, eternal truths (2 Corinthians 4:18).

For example, in 1 Corinthians 9:24 Paul asks, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it [that is, eternal life].” When I read passages like this, I thank God for athletic competition. In the golden age of participation certificates and star-shaped stickers, we hear time and again that there’s no such thing as not reaching our potential. There are no losers, only people doing their best to be themselves (which, of course, they’ll succeed at being, what with no external standard to reach).

But as Paul reminds us, the Christian life is not the free 5k we like to know about but never run. No, the Christian life is the Pikes Peak Ascent, the Boston Marathon, the Summer Olympics. Meaning: to finish, we must run. And not only run but train, disciplining ourselves “that by any means possible [we] may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:11). As J.C. Ryle puts it,

It would not be difficult to point out at least twenty-five or thirty distinct passages in the epistles where believers are plainly taught to use active personal exertion, and are addressed as responsible for doing energetically what Christ would have them do, and are not told to “yield themselves” up as passive agents and sit still, but to arise and work. A holy violence, a conflict, a warfare, a fight, a soldier’s life, a wrestling, are spoken of as characteristic of the true Christian. (Holiness, xxiii–xxiv)

To say with Paul, “I press on to make [eternal life] my own” (Philippians 3:12) doesn’t mean that eternal life is earned. This life is graciously given. Even still, that does not make it a given. Like the most serious of runners, Christians race heavenward — Bibles in our hands, prayer on our lips, church by our side — because we know that fervent, frequent Godward movement confirms that he has already obtained us: “I press on to make [eternal life] my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

How remarkable that we might perceive grace and faith more clearly, simply because Paul reminds us “that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Some unseen things shimmer better when we sweat.

Competing Ends

Yes, we do well to look and move heavenward through our beloved tracks and fields. But as we do, we should again remember that athletics may actively hinder our ability to live like Christians. The players we watch aren’t pastors. Many coaches we play for don’t pray. By and large, sports culture is thoroughly, proudly, and profitably secular.

Which means it operates under its own moral code: win, usually at any cost. As believers who play or follow sports, we can struggle to resist the pressure to prioritize first place above honoring God and his word.

Imagine it’s the last five minutes of a tie game. Whether playing or watching, most unbelieving coaches, teammates, and fans want you to do or say whatever you can to get the win — even if it means disobeying God. We know he not only commands slowness to anger and self-control, but he also commends them as more rewarding than strength and success (Proverbs 16:32). Still, there’s a game on the line. So, from overly aggressive fouls to jeering at refs, as long as the behavior helps to take the win by might, your team and fans will likely applaud. After all, you’re just being competitive.

Oh, what Christians might communicate instead. What if we walked away without retaliating, faced defeat with calm and even contentment, and experienced sports as a gift meant to reveal the Giver? In doing so, we would express how incomparably pleasing it is to belong to God, not the game.

At their best, sports are an exercise in worship and witness. We have only to believe that Jesus is worthy in every loss and worth more than every victory (Philippians 3:8), and then train and play and watch and cheer like it.

Love Despite Difference: The Real Call of One-Anothering

“Oh, my. You have to pull over!” the woman pleaded from the passenger seat. “My head hurts.”

Her head hurt because my son was screaming his head off.

Rewind five minutes to when I first pulled up to her apartment building, towing a fussing baby. My one-year-old hates the car, but the ride to church is short (usually). This morning we took a detour, and he knew it. Complaints mounted to cries as we waited for the woman and her son to come outside.

She’s a single mom, and he’s a high school boy. They’re refugees, new to our country, culture, language, and (as I later realized) traffic laws. Neither of them has an American driver’s license, but what they do have is a church — our church. Just a few months back, when they took vows before the congregation and became members, others started coordinating rides for them each Sunday.

So there they were, in my car. And there we all were, listening to a baby wail at soaring decibels. His cries had become fever-pitch screams when two relative strangers, with skin far darker than mom’s or dad’s, opened the doors. I flung crackers and toys into the backseat, but there was only so much I could do while driving.

Then she had an idea: “Put him on your lap! Put him on —”

Before she could finish, her son began to protest, explaining how “they don’t do that here.” I nodded vigorously, even gratefully, as he spoke, my own voice wobbling between saying sorry and making shushing sounds. “Well, in our country,” she replied, “the police would pull you over. They would think you stole this child.”

Lost in One-Anothers

It’s far easier only to drive people you (and your shrieking baby) already know well to church. Just like it’s far easier only to invite like-minded people into your home, only to comfort or encourage those you understand, only to forgive the friends you want to keep around. It’s far easier — and far less like the “one-anothers” of Scripture.

Upwards of fifty times in the New Testament, we read of particular ways we are to treat “one another.” As our eyes speed over these commands — all the so-called “one-anothers” — our mind is quick to acknowledge two things. We understand what is commanded (verb), and we understand that it’s commanded of us (subject). We know we should

“love one another” (Romans 12:10),
“welcome one another” (Romans 15:7),
“[forgive] one another” (Ephesians 4:32),
“comfort one another” (2 Corinthians 13:11),
“serve one another” (Galatians 5:13),
“build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Without realizing it, though, have we missed the who at the end of each of these commands? Have we neglected to even ask who it is that God commands us to encourage, love, welcome, forgive, comfort, serve, build up? When we do not ask God to define “one another” for us, we slip into choosing those people for ourselves. And the people we choose tend to be the people we like. And the people we like tend to be the people like us.

But have we really obeyed the one-anothers when we apply them only to those we handpick? If we never stumble our way through the one-anothers, have we been obeying them, or have we simply been spending all our love on all our favorite people? Apart from that chaotic car ride, I can’t think of a time when it was truly difficult to press into the one-anothers. Never had my efforts to care for someone been met with so much misunderstanding, not to mention screaming. I began to wonder: Who are the one-anothers really — not as we make them out to be, but as God’s word presents them to us?

1. They are part of the (global) church.

The New Testament Epistles contain most of the one-another commands. In them, “one another” refers to fellow believers. Consider Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, where the phrase appears five times. Long before he says, “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Corinthians 16:20) — that is, with certain affection — he tells us he’s talking to

those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2)

The command is not given to Christians, “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus,” to apply to whomever they wish. Instead, Paul calls Christians to heed his words as “saints together.” And he doesn’t just mean the saints who live on nearby streets. He means “all those who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Which means he’s talking to me, and you, and the Christian in Kolkata, India. Were we ever to meet, the three of us are to greet one another as saints together, as those who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ side by side, though several seas apart. Our mutual favor stems not from personal preference, but from our standing before God in Christ. One day he will greet us with pleasure, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21). Warm welcome on earth anticipates the open arms of heaven.

Of course, we also should strive to apply many of the same commands to unbelievers far and wide. “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil,” says 1 Thessalonians 5:15, “but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” At the same time, we do love the watching world when we love one another especially. When we visibly care for those within, we offer a glimpse of God to those without. The one-anothers extend a compelling vision of what it means to be “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19).

2. They are a part of our (local) church.

“One another” ties all believers together, and then it anchors us in the local church. Look with me at a second one-another passage in 1 Corinthians: “When you come together to eat [the Lord’s Supper], wait for one another” (11:33). I imagine you and I (and especially our sister in Kolkata) do not stand in the same line for communion. How do we respond?

We aim this command — indeed, every one-another! — toward our local church in particular, the fellow believers in our weekly (even daily) midst. That’s why Paul begins his letter by addressing

the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours. (1 Corinthians 1:2)

Though we are “saints together” with Christians across all seven continents, we belong uniquely to “the church of God that is [insert the name of your church].” It’s here, among our local body of believers, that we park beside one another on Sunday, talk with one another as we walk inside, stand next to one another while we sing, bow by one another in prayer, and listen alongside one another to the word preached. Then we “wait for one another,” bread and wine in quiet hand.

And that’s just the Lord’s Day. God filled the church’s week with opportunities to devote regular time to one another. And these opportunities aren’t limited to a church building, but God plants individual members in particular neighborhoods, that we might open our doors to one another. We often talk about a local church’s “worship style.” Oh, that onlookers would say of our lifestyle, “One thing is sure: they never neglect to gather” (Hebrews 10:25).

3. They are every part of our church.

Even after we understand “one another” as fellow believers, and especially as those in our local church, we still often err while living out the commands. Whom do we gravitate toward, Sunday upon Sunday, after service? And whom do we seek out, almost exclusively, during the rest of the week? If the answer is only our dearest church friends, we have yet to hear the distinguishing mark of the one-anothers: love despite difference.

The words Scripture commands reflect the one Word pulsing behind its pages: Jesus. Apart from this Person, the one-anothers lack purpose and power. Upon whom does he lavish the one-anothers? Upon those like him, those he finds comfortable? Wonder of wonders, the answer is me. It’s you. In a word, it’s sinners. It’s rebellious, undeserving men and women. It’s fallen humans with whom the exalted Son of God had near nothing in common — that is, until he chose to humble himself, becoming one of us:

Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6–7)

Who is “one another” to this Man? Not people like him already, but people he chose to become like. Not people he likes already, but people he committed to love “to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Now he bids us, “Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34).

It’s no small task, going out of our way to love brothers and sisters unlike us, saints we may struggle to understand, sometimes even to like. But this is the love Christ has shown us, and his love empowers us to do the same for others. So may that love wash over any selfishness or natural inclination in us, and may we plunge our preferences into what brings him pleasure: showing his steadfast, widespread love to one another.

Pregnancy Can Be Scary: Finding Peace While Expecting

There was a bucket of electric bouncy balls, not a baby, in my stomach. He just never stopped moving. Usually the jabs and kicks gave me comfort — “Call the doctor if you haven’t felt the baby move in a while,” they say. I had no reason to pick up the phone, so instead I came up with one that would keep me up all night.

“I wonder why he moves so much,” I said to my husband before bed. As he reached for the lights, I grabbed my phone. What does it mean if your baby moves a lot? I typed into Google. My stomach dropped as I read the first result: “High Fetal Movement Associated with Stillbirth.”

Like I said, I didn’t sleep that night.

Psalms and Search Engines

I wonder how many twenty-first-century tech-saturated Christian mothers, like myself, abide by their own translation of Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything let your requests be made known to Google.” When we remove prayer, supplication, thanksgiving, and — above all — God from the equation, we forfeit all chance of experiencing any lasting end to our motherly anxiety. We cannot type, scroll, click, and read our way to peace. There is no “peace of Google,” only the peace of God (Philippians 4:7). And for that, we must pray.

Which can be quite difficult for expectant mothers to do. Burdened for the children we cannot hold but deeply love, our minds tend to tumble down hypothetical rabbit holes: “How long has it been since the baby kicked? Shouldn’t the kicks be harder? Is the baby really growing? Am I eating enough? How much should I be eating?” Pounding heart, tight lips, it seems far easier to search, our fingers frantic, than to seek God in prayer.

That’s where the book of Psalms comes in. For millennia, restless saints have fled to its pages. When we lack our own words, enough calm, or even the desire to pray, the Psalms hand us hundreds of ways to talk to God. Consider, for example, how an anxious expectant mother might use Psalm 139 to pray for herself and her unborn child.

‘You See’

Because of the sheer fact that we cannot see our unborn babies, we often imagine what could be wrong. With the help of Psalm 139, we can turn from anxiety to adoration. King David’s words call us to wonder, rather than worry, over what man cannot see, as we praise God that his eyes keep watch over the children in our womb.

In the spirit of the psalm, we can begin by focusing on God’s omniscience over our blindness. “O Lord,” we might pray, “you have searched and known not only me, but also my child. You know when I sit; you know when my child stirs. You are acquainted with all our ways, from the words I will say soon, to the organ that will form next. In a word, your hand is upon us” (verses 1–5). What is dark to mothers — the womb, our unborn children, what lies ahead — is light to him (verse 12). Anxious about what we cannot see, we can adore the God who never stops seeing.

Nor has he ever not seen. His knowledge of our unborn children never began; it has always been: “Your eyes saw this child’s unformed substance an eternity before the pregnancy test came back positive. No part of this process has ever been hidden from your sight” (verses 15–16). As we say these words to our all-seeing God, we send them coursing through our unseeing selves. Wonder is a great antidote to worry.

‘You Are Sovereign’

Not only does God see what goes on within our stomachs and lives; he sovereignly oversees it all. We know we cannot watch our unborn babies grow, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking we can control our pregnancy, at least in some measure. That’s why we often flit from one search to the next — for control. We can praise God for so much access to life-sustaining information (it’s probably wise not to eat raw fish if every health institute says so), but we must not deceive ourselves. While we carry our children, God is in control of them.

Psalm 139 offers a fitting reminder, as David attributes action upon action, outcome upon outcome, to God alone. With David we declare, “You form this child’s inward parts; you knit this baby together in my womb. I praise you for the fearful and wonderful works of pregnancy. You are making and weaving this little person together” (verses 13–15). A pregnant mother can attend to the atoms in her unborn baby’s body no more than she can touch the moon — thankfully. We have not the power to form, to knit, to make, to weave. But our God does, and we have his ear.

What’s more, David affirms how God forms both bodies and days. Before the foundation of the world, God not only chose to create our children, but he determined the length of their lives. Through prayer we say to God and ourselves, “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for this baby” (verse 16).

God didn’t pen our children’s stories into a dusty three-ring notebook, the kind that are always lying around, and then slam it shut. David says, “In your book were written.” Expectant mothers, our Father has a book! He is ever aware of its tales, of the lives of our unborn children (and everyone else). For what he has written, he will bring to pass. Whatever this trimester may hold, may our prayers lean into the sovereign God who holds it.

‘You Are There’

By this point, it’s easy to agree with David about the extent of God’s knowledge and power. His attributes are “too wonderful for [us],” too “high” to grasp and grip (verse 6). At the same time, Psalm 139 encourages mothers to rest assured that he is with us, in all his great and mysterious perfections.

David teaches us this lesson by taking us on a trip around the universe. He imagines himself up in heaven and down in Sheol (verse 8), east as the sunrise and west as the seas (verse 9). In each place, he finds God there. Amazingly, the Lord does not arrive after David, but leads David there himself (verse 10).

After David’s example, we can imagine ourselves walking through a hundred different high and low points of pregnancy (an exercise that may run our emotions through a pinball machine). Picture a doctor gesturing at a dot of flashing white, tears of joy springing to our eyes. There’s a heartbeat. A month later, that heartbeat seems too low, even inconsistent. We cry again, this time for fear.

Step back from each hypothetical. Turn to God and say, “During ultrasounds, you are there! Through worry-ridden nights, you are there! In the hospital room, you are there! Come what may, you are with me wherever I go, leading me, guiding me, holding me” (verse 8). As we praise his presence, his presence comforts us.

‘Protect This Child’

Toward the end of the psalm, after David has adored the all-seeing, sovereign God who is in his midst, he turns to petition, earnestly pleading for God to act (verses 19–22). Confident that God is over his life, he asks God to intervene in his life. In the same way, the more a mother recalls the power of God both to take and to give life, the more she will ask God to protect the child in her womb.

We pray confidently for God to protect our unborn children because we are confident that he can protect them. We ask him to decrease blood pressure, to increase growth, to remove hemorrhages, to induce labor — all because he can. And so we pray, with every mother’s blood-earnestness and a Christian mother’s confidence, “Oh that you would protect this child, O God!”

He delights in a mother’s pleas for her unborn child, which are themselves expressions of worship. We petition him because we know he is with us, listening to our cries. We petition him because we know that only an all-knowing, all-powerful God is able to sustain the babies in our bellies. We petition him because we know he loves those babies, more than we could understand.

Ought God’s thoughts about this pregnancy, then, be more precious to us than Google’s (verse 17)? A single search may produce 239,000,000 results (I just checked), but even that number has an end, a limit, a boundary. God’s knowledge is infinite, vaster than the sands on every shore (verse 18). His power, presence, and ability to protect likewise know no end. And — can you believe it? — this God is with us.

No Little Moms, No Little Homes

We must remember throughout our lives that in God’s sight there are no little people and no little places. (The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way & No Little People, 90)

So counseled Francis Schaeffer, twentieth-century American pastor and theologian. Perhaps no one needs the reminder more than moms, whose lives center, most literally, on little people in little places.

Of course, Schaeffer is not encouraging us to deny what our eyes obviously see. An unborn child begins no bigger than the smallest of seeds — months pass before our stomachs grow enough to show. Newborns are hardly any more noticeable, as we tiptoe them back and forth between crib and nursing chair.

Eventually our babies do turn into toddlers, and our toddlers become “big kids.” Yet mothers seem to spend more and more time in small places: pantries, laundry rooms, carpools. So as we care for little people in little places, we tend to feel quite little ourselves.

“As we care for little people in little places, we tend to feel quite little ourselves.”

But Schaeffer reminds us to see as God sees. All our little people, all our little places — surely they are little, but God made them. God governs them. God gave them to us. And so it is God, not the world, who determines the value and use of our children, our homes, and motherhood itself.

Worldy Lens

We tend to see littleness as insignificance. Schaeffer articulates the inner conflict well: “It is wonderful to be a Christian, but I am such a small person, so limited in talents — or energy or psychological strength or knowledge — that what I do is not very important” (63). Surely, mothers resonate. We want to matter, but we are “just moms.” It’s our unpaid job to be publicly defied by toddlers at the grocery store. We feel small, and so our lives seem unimportant.

But we would do well to ask ourselves, Through whose lens are we looking at motherhood? It is the world, not God’s word, that sees littleness as insignificance. Today’s society shouts, “The bigger, the better,” but for thousands of years God has said, “The Lord sees not as man sees” (1 Samuel 16:7). As Schaeffer puts it,

We all tend to emphasize big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh. To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centered Me. This attitude, taken from the world, is more dangerous to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice. It is the flesh. (74)

Schaeffer shows us that our problem isn’t littleness and lack of recognition, but sin and temptation. The world’s self-exalting, child-belittling ways entice our flesh to despise self-sacrifice, which is inherent in caring for children (especially little ones).

Whenever we long for something more than what motherhood seems to afford, we must remember: sight that sees bigger as better “is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:16). God has a different, far grander vision of motherhood for us. He loves to comfort little moms of little children in a child-belittling world — not by puffing us up, but by satisfying us with his glory and drawing us into his ways.

His Is the Greatness

Counter to the way of the world, God is not in the business of making moms feel bigger so that they can feel better. He is in the business of revealing his own bigness and better-ness to us — because he made us, because he loves us, and because he knows what is best for us. And what is best for little mothers is that they find all their satisfaction in a good, great, and glorious God.

By his grace, we will lament our littleness less and less. Louder and louder, we will declare with David, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours” (1 Chronicles 29:11). We are indeed little, but God is great.

And we belong to him. He delights to use seemingly insignificant people for his glorious ends. His greatness can transform our humbles lives, if we will let it. “That which is me,” says Schaeffer, “must become the me of God. Then I can become useful in God’s hands. The Scripture emphasizes that much can come from little if the little is truly consecrated to God” (72). In other words, how we feel about our usefulness means little; what God says about how he intends to use us is everything.

Little yet Useful

Take Mary. We know her as the mother of Jesus, but before the angel Gabriel appeared to her, she was a poor woman betrothed to a poor man, living in a small town. In other words, she was little — but she trusted God. Though a virgin, she believed she would bear the Son whom God had promised. Before she became the most famous mother, she had hung a banner over her little life: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Little mothers, do we see ourselves, first and foremost, as servants of the Lord? Do we long for his word and his will to govern our lives? When we do, however inconspicuous our lives may be, God uses us. As Schaeffer says (and the life of Mary well illustrates),

The people who receive praise from the Lord Jesus will not in every case be the people who hold leadership in this life. There will be many persons who were sticks of wood that stayed close to God and were quiet before him, and were used in power by him in a place that looks small to men. (90)

We are not the mothers of Jesus, but we are the mothers of children whom he has made and given to us, children with minds and hearts capable of knowing and loving him forever.

One End for All Our Littleness

Are we satisfied in our great God? When we are satisfied in him, we will be used by him — in our homes, neighborhoods, and beyond. As Schaeffer puts it,

Only one thing is important — to be consecrated persons in God’s place for us, at each moment. Those who think of themselves as little people in little places, if committed to Christ and living under his lordship in the whole of life, may, by God’s grace, change the flow of our generation. (90)

This is the heart of why, for Schaeffer, there are no little people and no little places. In God’s sight, there are “no little people and no big people in the true spiritual sense, but only consecrated and unconsecrated people” (72–73). Either Christ’s blood covers us, or it does not. His Spirit works in us, or it does not. His glory delights us, or it does not.

“Nothing everlasting ever amounts to little, but sometimes we forget.”

And anytime the redeemed enter a room, whether it be the Oval Office or a newborn’s nursery, God intends to work in that place through them. God delights to use littleness for his glorious end — that is, making himself look good, great, and glorious in us. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36).

God’s grand purposes for our littleness can drown out any seeming insignificance. Wonder of wonders, much good can come from little mothers who are truly satisfied in, their lives wholly consecrated to, our wondrous God. Ultimately, our day job is infinitely more than changing diapers, wrangling toddlers, and running late to carpool. We labor to enjoy and exalt God alongside family, friend, and neighbor, now and forevermore.

Nothing everlasting ever amounts to little, but sometimes we forget.

Is Motherhood Real Work?

“When are you going back to work?”

Before our son came, people asked. After he arrived, they asked even more. It didn’t matter to whom I spoke: friend, stranger, student, retiree, believer, nonbeliever. No one wondered, “Will you go back to work?” People assumed I would. No need to ask about if, just when. A cultural assumption emerged: new moms keep old, pre-baby careers.

Why do we expect women to take maternity leave rather than stay home when their first child is born? Maybe cost of living is to blame. Maybe it’s the belief that two incomes are always better than one. Maybe only a closed-minded thinker would dare to ask, “Will you stay home now?” Whatever the reason, we tend to assume new moms will return to old jobs.

But I was a new mom who left an old job. When am I going back to work? How could I answer that question? I felt awkward, even embarrassed, as I responded, “Oh, I’m not going back to work.” Both in what I said and in how I felt as I said it, another underlying belief bubbled up. This time, it was personal: stay-at-home moms don’t have real, meaningful jobs.

Other stay-at-home moms in my church say they often feel the same. One told me that when people ask “what she does,” she starts by saying, “Well I would work, but . . .” Another, who works part-time from home while caring for two kids, said, “I find myself thinking that the only ‘productive’ parts of my day are the ones I spend engaging with my paid work.” Rather than “missus” teacher or “doctor” so and so, we have all chosen to be “mom” from nine to five (and 24/7). Even so, it’s hard for us to see the payoff. Do we really work? Is our work meaningful?

The God who spoke both women and work into existence answers with a resounding yes. He wrote Genesis 1–3 into the Bibles of new moms like me, in part, to convince us not only that we do work, but that it’s rich, rich work. Not salaried work, but valuable, vital work. I have only just begun this work, but already I have realized that there is no stay-at-home mom. There are only work-at-home moms.

Entrusted with His Image

After all, God gave the very first woman he created the job of being a mother. When God made Eve from Adam, he made her a woman (Genesis 2:21–23). He did not make her a mother. Rather, he entrusted her with the task of becoming a mother.

As soon as God finishes fashioning Adam and Eve “in his own image” (Genesis 1:27), he commands them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). With what job would the Creator of every subatomic particle in a gargantuan universe employ the first creature in his image he ever made? Making more humans: “Adam and Eve, work together to fill the earth with my glorious likeness. I could form a hundred children for you with a single puff of my breath, but instead I want you to labor to become ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ to the glory of my name.”

God employs all creation to display his glory, but the first project he charged to the first people was to become the first parents of the first babies — babies whose makeup would showcase God. Sure, they would look like Adam and Eve, but oh, how they would they image God!

“The first project God charged to the first people was to become the first parents of the first babies.”

So through the lens of Genesis, “my” childbearing becomes God’s image-furthering. When we embrace God’s call to love and care for even one child, we are saying to the Holy One, “I love and care for your matchless likeness. I want to see your goodness, beauty, and worth spread to the ends of the earth, and in some mysterious way, you showcase your glory in the five-inch face of this newborn baby. So I will tend to the needs of this little image you have entrusted to me, to the glory of your name.”

Labor Pains

Seen in this way, we can’t but conclude that motherhood is worthwhile work. Even so, if we read further in Genesis, we can better understand why moms, especially young ones, struggle to value motherhood as its Creator and Giver does.

When our first parents sinned, God justly cursed the good work he had given humanity to do. God said to Eve (and as a result to all women), “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children” (Genesis 3:16). From infertility to miscarriage, from nauseating pregnancies to difficult deliveries, we feel the fall’s physical effects on motherhood. Many never become biological mothers. Some lose children. Where God does grant a child, knees tweak and backs strain under years of constant care for another’s well-being.

But sin ushered in an emotional struggle as well. Becoming a mother is painful; staying a mother is too. Raising children exhausts, frustrates, scares, and sometimes bores us. What we were made to embrace and enjoy — the God-given, precious responsibility to nurture life and so further his image — causes us to worry and sigh. We lose God’s grand vision for motherhood in the pile of dirty diapers we need to toss or (later on) the curfews keeping us awake until they’re home.

Mothers of the Living

We can find it again in the creation story. By God’s grace, we can be mothers who gladly continue the work of creation despite the fall’s effects. But at this point, we would do well to ask, “To what end? Why would God give me the job of nurturing humans made in his image first to biological life and then to physical, mental, and emotional well-being if ultimately the curse ensures everyone will die?”

God settles our angst in an unlikely place: Eve’s name. In Genesis 3:19, God delivers the final words of the curse: to dust you shall return. The first humans God created to enjoy eternal life in his presence — they will die. Any future humans entrusted to them — they will die too. With this news we would expect the garden to fall shamefully, despairingly silent. But it was not so. In the very next verse, we read, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20).

The mother of all living? Why would Adam give Eve this name? Didn’t God just say that Eve’s body, and all the bodies that come from hers, and all the bodies that come from theirs, would dissolve into dust?

He did, but he also said something else. While cursing the serpent, God declared that one of Eve’s offspring would stamp out this patron saint of sin and death (Genesis 3:15). God would permit Satan to sow evil on earth — but the clock is ticking. The enemy’s time short. For one day, through Adam and Eve’s childbearing, Satan would be overthrown, sin conquered, death vanquished. God promised it, and there and then, Adam believed God’s promise. He believed God enough to name his wife “the mother of all living” in the face of pain and death.

“This side of a tiny manger, a bloody cross, and an empty tomb, no childbearing is an exercise in futility.”

Mothers, do we believe God’s promise? This side of a tiny manger, a bloody cross, and an empty tomb, no childbearing is an exercise in futility. Motherhood is not meaningless, but a mission from God. Jesus Christ, the promised seed, has overthrown Satan, conquered sin, and vanquished death. Because of him, we are not just nurturing little bodies that take in first and last breaths. We are caring for hearts and minds and souls capable of enjoying this Jesus forever — in real, perfect, resurrected bodies, with chests rising and falling in eternal praise.

Job as Old as Eve

When does a new mom go back to work? She never stopped. People will still ask, but by God’s grace she will see motherhood as a job as old as work itself. What is more, she will believe that a mother’s labor matters, eternally so. We are not just nurturing image-bearers who reflect a glorious God. We are nurturing potential Christ-enjoyers and Christ-exalters. We stay home, and we work to this end with all our motherly might.

When rightly captivated by the God-given task of motherhood, then, we will not dread a change in or the loss of career, hobbies, or leisure upon a baby’s birth. Rather, we accept the task as both gift and opportunity to shape life to the glory of God.

‘How You Look Is Who You Are’: The Lie Mirrors Often Tell

Nine-year-olds tell it straight. A boy in my morning class once asked me, “Miss, why do you look like you just woke up?” Another day he walked in sighing and clutching his chest. “I’m just so glad you aren’t wearing a wig again today!” The wig? My new bangs, hidden behind a headband.

Unlike adults, most kids don’t have a category for off-limit topics regarding appearance. While most adults would cry conversational foul play, bad haircuts, weight gain, and receding hairlines are all fair game for fourth graders. Why do kids feel free to describe beauty in both its presence and its absence?

At least in part, kids talk about appearance because, in their eyes, it’s just that. When students tell me how I look, that’s exactly what they’re doing — telling me how I look. They make no claims about who I am. If my ponytail looks “super weird today,” they say so — because my hairstyle does not undermine my identity as their beloved teacher.

Too often, however, we invest physical beauty with far more significance. We treat beauty as a means to self-worth: how we look is who we are. But if we would only gaze upon God’s word with the eyes of a child, we might unlatch beauty from its worldly contortions and fasten it instead to the God who is Beauty himself.

Beauty by the World

Left to our own devices, we define beauty a lot like the Evil Queen. We stand enraptured before the mirror, waiting for it to tell us how our appearance measures up to others across the land. In sin-twisted kingdoms, to be beautiful is to be attractive to as many human eyes as possible.

“We age, and lose it. Generations pass, and alter it. Staying beautiful is flat-out exhausting (and expensive).”

But beneath those eyes lie hearts whose visual appetite is insatiable. They flit from post to post, screen to screen, trend to trend — idol to idol — waiting to be satisfied. Nothing will do. That’s why an attractive-and-therefore-beautiful appearance, both as a personal possession and cultural definition, expires. We age, and lose it. Generations pass, and alter it. Staying beautiful is flat-out exhausting (and expensive).

While describing my teenage years to a group of girls, I mentioned how “thin and lanky” I was. They looked at me in horror. Cutting me off, one student exclaimed, “Miss, you are not thin! You’re perfect.” The other girls agreed. “Yeah, miss! Don’t say that. You are not thin. You’re beautiful.” Their words struck me silent. The teenage me had lived in a world where beauty required thinness; in their world, beauty required not thinness. I heard in their words not a compliment, but a truth claim: worldly beauty is fickle.

God warned us. Thousands of years ago, he said, “Beauty is vain” (Proverbs 31:30) — or according to some translations, “fleeting” (NIV). The adjective’s literal meaning packs the greatest punch, as the Hebrew word heḇel denotes “breath.” From the perspective of an eternal God, beauty vanishes with the rise and fall of a chest. If we put our hope in beauty, it will betray us — and quickly.

Does that mean God wants Christian women to toss out the mascara and throw in the washcloth? No makeup, no dyed hair, no new clothes, no gym membership — nothing? Shall we consign ourselves to a life of bedhead, wigs, and super weird ponytails? These aren’t bad questions, but they are the wrong ones. Instead we should ask, How does God’s definition of beauty change our pursuit of beauty?

Beauty from God

In God’s economy, beauty does not fret over itself, or talk about itself, or make purchases for itself, or dawdle over pictures of itself. For God-defined beauty cannot be seen in a mirror. Rather, it pulses: “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Beauty flows from a heart that beats with moral goodness — love for, delight in, and submission to God (Acts 13:22).

Unlike our pursuit of physical beauty, we cannot fret, talk, purchase, or edit our way to heart-level beauty. The Beauty — with a capital B — for which we ought to exert the most energy, the Beauty on which we ought to spend the most time and resources, is one we cannot powder onto our faces. It is a Person we must pursue.

This Person is Jesus, the only man whose heart sought God perfectly for a lifetime. In him we find, and from him we receive, true Beauty. And it is not the beauty of appearance:

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,     and no beauty that we should desire him.He was despised and rejected by men,     a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;and as one from whom men hide their faces     he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:2–3)

Rather, it is the Beauty that loves and sacrifices itself for others, in which God delights:

He was pierced for our transgressions;     he was crushed for our iniquities;upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,     and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

This is the Beauty that does not perish upon makeup removal or spoil from one trend to the next. It is the Beauty that endures with laughter the aging process and the innocent comments of children (Proverbs 31:25). For regardless of appearance, its identity is secure: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Beauty as Possession and Pursuit

Dear women: If we call the beloved Son “Savior” and “Lord” (Romans 10:9), we possess this Beauty forevermore. For in God’s sight we have been clothed for all time with Christ’s sacrificial love (Galatians 2:20). There is no need to fuss over becoming and staying beautiful on this earth. Christ is eternal Beauty Himself — and our lives are hidden in him (Colossians 3:3).

We still labor for beauty — but not now for the beauty of appearance. If we possess Beauty in Christ, we will pursue the Beauty of Christ. We will strive, as those who are free from the world’s fickle fashions, to emulate an everlasting Beauty — to live as if God’s glory is real, precious, and worth pursuing, now and always.

Becoming more like-hearted to God’s beloved Son will never go out of vogue. We can exhaust ourselves in the pursuit of Christ’s Beauty, sure that “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). When the day ends, we will not crawl into bed with less money and more products. We will drift off radiating God’s Beauty in Christ, satisfied.

Beauty as a Means

As Beauty becomes ours ever more in Christ, beauty — with a lowercase b — will take its rightful place as a God-given, God-exalting gift. God cares about visual beauty because, well, he makes and sustains its every expression. He made us in his image, to image him. For our part, we humbly, happily use what he has made to exalt him who made it (Colossians 1:16).

“If we don’t watch ourselves, we will end up only watching ourselves.”

As with any morally neutral hobby, we seek to use earthly beauty to illumine heavenly realities. As we dab at our faces in the morning hours, we can wonder at the way God paints the sky (Psalm 19:1). We can adopt new styles with hearts enthralled by the God who has provided us with an imperishable garment — the righteousness of Christ (Isaiah 61:10). We can enjoy beauty without self-obsession when we seek to enjoy its Fount.

I’m not saying we have to pair Scripture and meditation to all our beautifying. Many activities whirl past us unexamined. But we all can agree that beauty — like many other endeavors, such as athletics or a career — has great capacity to be self-centered. If we don’t watch ourselves, we will end up only watching ourselves.

As my students discover lip gloss and T-shirt dresses, I pray they learn to use beauty as a means to enjoy and exalt God rather than self. I hope they know the beauty with which God already has created them and the Beauty to which he beckons them. Even so, they cannot learn what Christian women neither understand for themselves nor model for others. Let’s see beauty for what it is, as we lay hold of Beauty for who he is.

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