One of my favorite quotes is by Goethe, and it reads, "Cease endlessly striving for what you want to do and learn to love what must be done." It sits on my windowsill by my kitchen sink–I can conveniently read it while doing the dishes. It's in a strategic location–I find myself standing in front of that particular window quite often as a mom of three little ones who seem to need at least three meals a day along with countless snacks. It reminds me to find joy in the glorious mundane of motherhood. It beckons my heart to delight in this particular calling, and it reminds me to serve my family as if I were serving the Lord.
But over the years, I've realized a tendency in my heart to swing to the opposite side of the pendulum. Somehow, servanthood becomes equivalent to martyrdom, and I give myself the title of a "mama martyr." This phrase has floated around Instagram at one point in time, which makes me think that I'm not alone in wrestling with it. So many of us are in the season of motherhood that includes wiping way too many bottoms. Cutting fingernails and toenails is a production–grab a ticket and get in line, child. And before we know it, we puff up our chests in pride at how well we're serving while we simultaneously nurture a sense of self-pity inside. The root of pride burrows deep in our hearts and argues that we deserve recognition and a vacation. Our service to our family feeds a sense of self-righteousness. We may be putting ourselves last and serving until we're bone-tired, but what's the condition of our hearts? Jesus is always more concerned with our hearts than our actions.
As far as I could tell, the suggested remedy on Instagram for this mindset was, "Your kids don't need a mama martyr; make sure you take care of yourself!" It complements the self-care anthem that has been on blast for a while now. But can I offer another solution? Bend lower, serve better. And pray earnestly for the Lord to help guard your heart against any pride.
Friends, the majority of us will never know what it's like to humbly serve onto death. Many of us will never be in a situation where our faith in Christ will require our very lives, which is the cost of the title "martyr." However, we are called to walk the narrow way, which is described as "hard" in Matthew 7:14 (ESV). It reads, "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (emphasis mine). Why is it hard? Because carrying a cross is not easy. In Luke 9:23, Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily with and follow me." Our literal lives may never be taken from us for being a follower of Christ, but we are called to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and walk this narrow way daily.
This is particularly difficult in the Western world because we miss the true essence of what it means to be a follower of Christ. John Macarthur writes, "Being a slave of Christ may be the best way to define a Christian" (John Macarthur, Slaves for Christ). He also notes that the majority of the Bibles translated in English have opted to use the word "servant" rather than "slave," even though the English word "slave" is a better translation of the original Greek. This particular Greek word, "doulos," is used 130 times in the original text in the New Testament, but in the majority of our Bibles, it is seen as the word "servant" or "bondservant." You know the famous phrase, "Well done, good and faithful servant" found in Matthew 25:21? The Greek word there is "doulos," but the ESV and many other translations have used the word "servant" rather than slave. (The NASB uses the better translation with "Well done, good and faithful slave" in Matthew 25:21.) In a time when the horrors of slavery were a reality, the Apostle Paul referred to himself as a "doulos" (slave) of Christ Jesus (Romans 1:1). And friends, we are called to be slaves of Christ today.
Do you remember Stephen in the Bible? He is mentioned in Acts 6-7 and is famously known as the first martyr. Do you know what his job was? He, along with a few other men, were assigned to meet needs, which included duties like distributing food and serving tables. Sounds a lot like the unseen responsibilities of mamas across the world, right? However, Stephen rightly received the title as a martyr because he was stoned to death for his faith. So mamas, may we not casually refer to ourselves as "mama martyrs." But like Stephen, may we gladly meet others' needs. Like Stephen, may we strive to be women "full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" and "full of grace and power" (Acts 6:5, 8). Like Stephen, may we be able to recount the Lord's faithfulness seen in the Word of God (read Acts 7:2-50) and in our very lives.
We are called to be slaves of Christ–denying ourselves daily, taking up our crosses daily, following Him daily. The answer isn't self-care; it's total surrender and submission to our Lord. And by His grace, we are motivated by our love for Christ, and we take no pride in our accomplishments because we know we are imputed the righteousness of Christ and not our own. Let's bend lower and serve better daily – for His glory.