The Happy, Humble Work of a Mother

February 27, 2013 · 16 comments

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by Melissa McDonald

I just had a serious talk with my two-year-old as she bounced on a red rubber donkey wearing an inflatable crown. We talked about all the reasons you shouldn’t play with the potty seat. Then she bounced around in circles until she fell off of the donkey. She giggled the way only two-year-olds giggle and I went back to reading my Bible.

When I received my college degree, I never envisioned the good use I would put it to this morning: explaining to a toddler why you can’t play with the potty seat.

Isn’t that the way we think about mothering little ones sometimes? We stack up all our worldly credentials against motherhood and conclude that the work is beneath us. Aren’t we capable of so much more than scrubbing dried oatmeal out of the creases in the highchair?

I know what it’s like to go about my humble tasks with a heart full of pride. I wear a long face and use a solemn voice to talk about my dreadfully sacred calling. I’m still not over myself. It’s hard to be humble when I feel over-qualified for the tasks that greet me each morning.

Sure, putting socks on a toddler doesn’t require a formal education. But while we’re all caught up in ourselves, we miss that we are failing this test of faithfulness. Can you be joyful when you’ve put her socks on five times today already? Can you suffer long and be kind when she kicks them back off? The sock test is not as easy at it first appears.

The words of the ancient hymn are familiar, but this lesson is hard to learn.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4).

Pride rages in our hearts when we demand our own way. When we crave a certain kind of stimulation, like a cup of hot coffee and an uninterrupted conversation with a good friend. When we demand that we have two minutes to ourselves to browse our favorite social media site.

Humility is when you stop half way through the orange you’re peeling because someone needs to be disciplined. It’s when you decide that dinner will be late because someone needs encouragement. It’s when you don’t get to drink your coffee while it was still hot because someone needs tickled.

The question our hearts face each day is: “Who is more significant?” Pride screams: “I need this! I have to finish this! I can’t be late!” And humility answers: “Others.”

Taking a posture of humility when faced with the demands of other people requires that we look to Jesus Christ on the cross. There we see our Savior who suffered for the sake of others with his eye set on the joy before him. Jesus was the only one who didn’t demand, “Me first!” Jesus never pouted and sulked about how humble his work was. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was for joy that Jesus endured the cross.

Our work is a gift. God prepared the play-doh for you to scrape out of the carpet. It is a good work for you to walk in for your children’s sake. The reward for working heartily unto the Lord is not just a clean carpet—it’s an eternal inheritance.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Col. 3:23-24).

The humble work of mothering young children is not one of gloom. We are on the path to joy in Christ forever! When we finally got the kids in bed and one of them calls out, we see the joy set before us, and we humbly sacrifice our time and energy again. Joyfully we reflect our Savior. And look forward to our eternal inheritance—God himself.

For more on the subject of joy and humility in homemaking, check out these links:

Melissa McDonald (@melissabmcd) and her husband Eric serve and disciple international students at The University of Iowa with their two daughters, Miriam and Annette. Melissa blogs at The Cross and the Kitchen Sink and has written the Bible study guide: To Live Valiantly: A study on the Proverbs 31 Woman.


{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tim February 27, 2013 at 9:58 pm

“The sock test is not as easy at it first appears.” Nicely put, Melissa. It characterizes parenting in a nutshell. I tell folks that parenting is an adventure, but we should keep in mind that adventures are not all laughs and smooth sailing!



2 Melissa McDonald February 27, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Thanks, Time! An adventure is sure a great metaphor for parenting!


3 CP February 28, 2013 at 2:02 am

Thanks for this. It applies to me as well, as a working mom, who wishes I could be home all day with my daughter. Even the seemingly unimportant things I do at work (which seem less important than the ability to be home) are for a greater purpose – not just to support my family but as an opportunity to be excellent for Christ.


4 Melissa McDonald February 28, 2013 at 5:27 pm

This absolutely applies to you too! Thanks for pointing that out and extending the application. Blessings!


5 Becky February 28, 2013 at 7:21 pm

Again, another timely word for me. I am a new mom of a beautiful 11-week-old baby boy. I am also 38 years old, I have a Master’s degree in Education, and I am taking a leave of absence from my 16-year successful teaching career to care for my son. The past two weeks have been very wearisome for me as I’m dealing with a little postpartum depression. But I know God has me here right now, a mother to my baby boy. I always prided myself in being able to manage a class of 30 third graders and get high test scores, and now I have the responsibility of caring for and loving my son, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is a much higher calling, I know. I must decrease and He must increase.


6 Becky February 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm

On a side note, there are not many Christian resources dealing with postpartum depression. It seems to be a topic not many people talk about.


7 Melissa McDonald March 1, 2013 at 7:13 am

Congratulations on your baby boy! You might want to look at for resources on postpartum depression. I really appreciate the way they handle complex issues like that through the lens of the gospel. Here is a video they put together on loving a friend well who has postpartum depression: I also know the girltalk blog (Carolyn Mahaney and her daughters) did a series on it a few years back. You can see their posts here: May His grace pour down on you as you mother your little one through this time of struggle.


8 Melissa McDonald March 2, 2013 at 2:01 am

One more resource I forgot to mention: On WOG Magazine, Trillia Newbell interviewed Erin Davis on her book “Beyond Bath Time.” Both in the interview and the book Postpartum Depression is looked at from a Christian perspective. You can see the interview here:


9 Laura February 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Good post, Melissa. Of all the Howard Hendricks quotes flying around this week, one has stuck with me: “You are all able to do many things. Find the one thing that you must do and do it.” As a stay-at-home-mom with two kids in school, I am now finding the tug of things I could work on: learn a language, get back up to speed on piano, build into the lives of young women around me, volunteer teach at the kids’ school, etc. But I can’t do it all. Really, right now, I can’t do much of it at all, even though those are all such good things, because there’s still laundry and cooking and cleaning and child training that no one else can do. So those are still the things I MUST do. Not always the things I want to do, but the things that I need to do for my family at this stage. Just having someone acknowledge that I am “able to do many things” has helped me realize that this life is a choice, and chafing under the choice is never the right thing.


10 Tim February 28, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Great quote, Laura.


11 Melissa McDonald March 1, 2013 at 2:11 am

I love the way you apply that quote, Laura! That’s great perspective.


12 Lydia February 28, 2013 at 10:52 pm

To Becky, Just thought I would suggest finding a local MOPS group in your city. You are NOT alone. :) Here is a link to plug into a MOPS group near you:


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