The Sacred Life of a Mother’s Mind
From Gospel Translations
Much ink has been spilled over the mundane days of motherhood — days, many seem to assume, full of mindless tasks and repetitive duties.
While the job of mothering certainly requires us to do many jobs on repeat, I wonder if the “mindless” and “mundane” descriptors are more a reflection of our lack of imagination. God has given us countless ways we might fruitfully engage our minds as we mother. Far from mundane or mindless, motherhood can provide fertile soil for thinking, problem-solving, expanding interests, growing in competencies, and learning our Father’s world.
The life of a mother’s mind is sacred. Those who live according to the Spirit of God have minds set on the Spirit — minds full of life and peace (Romans 8:5–6). When a mother’s mind is fixed on the Spirit, it becomes a wellspring of blessing — physically and spiritually — to those around her.
With many of life’s jobs (not just tasks related to motherhood), we can operate on autopilot. That is, we often perform tasks that we have done before — tasks that we can do without having to think about them.
For instance, when we first learn to drive, all our senses are on high alert for intense learning. But after years of driving, we rarely think about using our turn signal or pulling into a parking spot, because our subconscious brain and body know what to do. That means that while we drive, we’re able to have a conversation with someone, or sing along to music, or listen to a podcast. Our minds can do something else while we drive.
This same concept holds true for parts of motherhood. When we’re doing the dishes, or folding the clothes, or cleaning the bathroom, our minds have already learned the job, so our hands can go on autopilot to get them done while we engage our minds elsewhere. In some ways, this is like having a homeroom class in school where we get to choose what to do. We get to choose how to engage our minds while we work on autopilot.
Your Autopilot Moments
How will we engage our minds during those moments? We could engage them in all sorts of unhelpful ways — anxiously worrying about the state of the world, counting wrongs others have done to us, complaining internally about all we have to do, replaying difficult circumstances and wishing about different responses. We could also squander that “homeroom” time for the mind by turning on frivolity and foolishness via a show or ungodly music.
Or, we can set our minds on things that enrich and deepen us as women of God. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Listening to the Bible on an audio app is not the only way to obey this command, but it is the surest way to have our minds shaped properly.
Tuning into godly, wisdom-filled podcasts could be another way to engage our minds fruitfully while we work to serve our families. From getting tips on practical Christian living, to deepening our understanding of good theology, to increasing our awareness of church history, podcasts can help us grow in our love for God and his people. Listening to audiobooks that either explicitly (Christian non-fiction) or implicitly (great stories) inspire us toward virtue can also help us keep our minds on things above.
Some days, when we’re tired or spent, cultivating our minds may mean setting aside watching or listening and simply keeping our minds more aware of God — his goodness, his love, his holiness — not necessarily trying to learn anything new, but resting our minds, savoring what we know of him, and receiving his care for us.
Lastly, prayer is one of the best ways to use our minds (and spare moments). As our arms scrub the floor or change the diaper or hold the baby, hopefully our minds are regularly lifted up in prayer to our Lord who is always with us. We can pray through singing, or we can pray silently, but a mind that is fixed on Jesus in prayer, making our requests known to God with thanksgiving, is a mind bearing good fruit (Philippians 4:6).
What Needs Are Around Me?
Our thought life need not be explicitly spiritual or theological to be empowered by the Spirit to meet the needs of those in our care. The same Spirit who reveals the glories of God in Christ also created the earth and everything in it.
A mind set on the Spirit will delight to learn the patterns and intricacies of the Spirit’s creation. There may be hundreds of practical topics you wish to give your mind to as a way of enjoying God’s world and blessing others — from bread-making, to gardening, to furniture-building, to home repair, to computer programming, to learning a foreign language, to animal husbandry, to canning. There is so much knowledge available to us, it often feels daunting to know where to begin!
We can start by asking, “What are the needs around me? What might best serve my husband and children and church family? In what areas am I lacking?” Those questions can at least give us a starting point for what areas might be helpful to pursue. Perhaps we need to brush up on our cooking skills. Maybe we never learned how to maintain a home. As we grow in competence, we inevitably grow in enjoyment of our duties. No one enjoys doing a job poorly, but when we take the time to be interested in our work and learn to do it well, we take greater delight in it.
Beyond these ideas, our own God-given interests are a good place to explore as we seek to fruitfully engage our minds. We never know how the meeting of practical needs and our own areas of interest may coalesce in surprising ways. The fruitfulness of our minds is meant to spill over into fruitful, productive lives and homes.
Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn
A mother’s duties are not all repetition and autopilot; our duties change and expand. The skills required in one season are different from those required in a later season. Much of a mother’s time is spent engaging with her rapidly growing and changing children. It seems the minute we learn how to parent one child at a particular age and stage of life, the child grows and changes, and we must adapt and expand our mothering to new scenarios.
Perhaps one of the most important tasks of a mother is drawing out the life of her children’s minds and sharing hers in order to help shape and form them. There are many words for this task: education, discipleship, formation, parenting. A mother must learn to teach, but she will also be taught as she teaches. Paul goes on to say to the Philippians, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). We mothers have “learned and received and heard and seen” from the very word of God. We want our children to learn and receive and hear and see the same wonders we have, so we teach.
We teach them all that is in our sanctified minds — all the knowledge and insight and wisdom, all the Bible stories and proverbial principles and prophecies from of old. We grow them up from words to sentences to ideas to arguments. We help them crawl and stand and walk and run. We teach them the gospel. But we also practice these things. The fruitful life of our minds must be put on display and practiced. And as we practice, our weaknesses will be exposed, and we will have more opportunities to continue learning — to continue being conformed to Christ ourselves.
In the end, the life of the Christian mother’s mind is sacred, but it is not solitary. It is a place where Christ’s Spirit is present with her. It is a place where family, friends, and children are welcomed — to share in the insights, the competencies, the knowledge, the Spirit-given life and peace that are hers in Christ.