Motherhood and the Life of the Mind

Early yesterday morning, I met up with a friend at my neighborhood coffee shop. A morning outing without my kids, on a weekday, is a rarity during this season of my life, so it was a treat to have uninterrupted adult conversation for a whole 90 minutes. 🙂

I had forgotten about the hustle and bustle of early weekday mornings in a suburban cafe. Experiencing it again made me reflect on days gone by. Before my older son was born, I worked as a research associate for a biotechnology company just a couple blocks down from this particular coffee shop, so up until about 11 years ago (Eeeeek! That long?) I was one of the career women standing in line for an overpriced coffee, checking my watch, hoping not to be late for work. I loved my job; I loved having my mind challenged on a daily basis and honing my skills on cutting-edge biochemistry equipment while perched at my bench wearing my white lab coat. It felt like my “place” in the world.

My last day on the job was five days before I became a mother. BAM! The world shifted under my feet.

For the first 18 months of my new life, I was surrounded by several close friends with new babies. I had an active mommy-social-life in addition to the demands of caring for an infant and a husband. My life was rather full. But one by one, those friends moved away, my son grew and became a bit lower-maintenance, and I found myself experiencing increasing restlessness. I knew I was called to be a stay-at-home mom, but I was becoming desperate for intellectual stimulation. For about five years, I tried to develop passions for things I saw other moms doing, but to little avail. I joined Bible study groups made up of young moms, but never quite fit in and often found the material shallow; I tried my hand at various visual arts but found out pretty quickly that I didn’t have much natural talent; I started writing a novel that never went beyond chapter 1. I felt discouraged, like a piece of me was missing, and my spiritual life was a bit crippled by that deficiency.

Then, through a series of very painful circumstances, God showed me, in no uncertain terms, that my intellectual fulfillment was inextricably linked to Him and to my ministry calling–a calling that He had been leading me towards since college, though I didn’t recognize it until that much later date. So, exactly 10 years after finishing my bachelor’s degree, I applied to graduate school and began working towards a master’s in science and religion (that science background had a much higher purpose than I ever expected!). Five years after that momentous event, here I am, about to begin doctoral work. I am overwhelmed just thinking about where I was spiritually and intellectually (stagnant) and where God has brought me–while I’ve remained a stay-at-home mother and the primary educator of my children. Sometimes my heart feels like it’s going to burst with the gratitude I feel for this transformative, enlightening,  joyful, no-turning-back journey I’ve been granted. The most wonderful thing about it, though, is not how my inner life has changed for the better; rather, it’s how much better equipped I have become to be the mother I should be.

What am I getting at? Am I saying that every mother should follow the same path that I have? Do you need a PhD to be a great mom? No, of course not! We are each uniquely fashioned and purposed. But, we are all commanded to love God with our minds and we are urged to train up our children in a way that honors and glorifies Him. We must  maximize our potential in this regard.

Here’s what I want you to know. As mothers, our spiritual maturity depends in a major way on our intellectual development. We have to get beyond knowing WHAT we believe to be true about God and the world and be able to say WHY we believe it to be so. When one of our children approaches us with questions such as “Mom, how do you know God’s real, and not just made up?” or “How do you know the Bible is true?” we’d better have something more substantial than, “Oh honey, we just have faith!” if we want to train up warriors in this decaying, increasingly hostile culture. What’s more, we cannot underestimate the value of modelling for our children the value of lifelong learning.

Moms, if you haven’t already, then I implore you to begin today. You may be thinking, “I don’t even know where to start! The very idea of sweeping the cobwebs out of that corner of my brain is so daunting!” Allow me to give you a quick-start list that you could easily cover by the end of this calendar year by simply replacing a chunk of your entertainment time with study.

1. First, you need to understand why the life of the mind is essential to the Christian. I recommend Dr. J.P. Moreland’s book, Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul.

2. Get a handle on worldview and how to discern truth from the subtle falsehoods we’re bombarded with. I suggest Kenneth Sample’s book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

3. Spend some time studying the essential doctrines of Christianity. Tragically, many Christians don’t even understand the faith they claim to profess! There are many great books out there, but I would start with C.S. Lewis’s famous book, Mere Christianity. It’s not a systematic theology text. Lewis’s purpose in writing it was to communicate the minimum set of core doctrines that must be held. After this, I would suggest something that delves into theology in a non-intimidating way, such as Dr. Alister McGrath’s Theology: The Basics.

4. Develop your ability to defend Christianity against common objections. I particularly like the format and readability of Dr. Douglas Groothuis’s book, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Don’t be intimidated by the page count! This book is extremely readable and digestible. You could take it a section at the time, with breaks in between.

5. Learn about the history of ideas and their impact on human culture. This is a MAJOR area of weakness for secularists, and has a nearly untapped potential for apologetics and evangelism. It’s the area I’ve chosen for my PhD research, actually. Study some of the great works of philosophy and literature from the past two thousand years. You can wade in easily with Mortimer Adler’s book, How to Think About the Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization.

6. Sharpen your ability to think clearly and reason well by learning to avoid common fallacies. I recommend The Fallacy Detective: Thirty-Eight Lessons on How to Recognize Bad Reasoning.

Partner up with another mom so that you can encourage and sharpen one another in your quest to become better thinkers, better Christ-followers, and better educators of your children.

The saying is so true: All Christians are theologians, philosophers, and apologists, the question is simply how competent we are. Competence takes work, but oh, what rewarding work it is! Few investments bring such certain and abundant return.

Let us raise up the next generation to highly value Christian scholarship, to have solid reasons for their hope, and to carry on this legacy for the glory of God.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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