Forgive me if you liked and shared this on Facebook when it was making the rounds. I don’t mean to be argumentative. I’m for you and for your kids. And that’s why I have to disagree with this popular quote.
“Your greatest contribution to the kingdom of God may not be something you do, but someone you raise.” -Andy Stanley
First let me start off with what I agree with. I’m a stay at home mom, and have been for all of my 15 years of motherhood. Being a mom is the only thing I always knew I wanted to be. All that to say, I wholeheartedly agree that people come before things, especially when those people are the children God has entrusted to you. I appreciate the desire to honor motherhood as the high calling it is. I don’t doubt Andy Stanley’s motives for a moment, or the hearts of any of the people who have enthusiastically quoted him.
But these words and similar sentiments have had a corrosive effect on us and on our kids for too long. We as the church really need to face it if we want to mature and make room for our kids to do the same. The idea that your greatest contribution is someone you raise hints at several damaging assumptions:
- your contribution hinges on someone else
- your value is based what’s visible
- you’re one-dimensional
- you aren’t responsible for your own contribution
- it’s ultimately about people
Your greatest contribution, by definition, can never be another person. Your kids owe so much of who they are to your love and nurturing, but they’re responsible for their own contribution, just as you’re responsible for yours.
When you stand before God, you will stand alone. You won’t be judged based on anyone else’s failures or rewarded based on anyone else’s success. All we can take credit for is being the type of person we’re trying to raise. We can choose to obey, but we can’t necessarily choose the impact of our obedience.We all know kids (and adults) who’ve been micro-managed into lives of accomplishment. Many of them were raised by parents who never learned to process their own feelings of unworthiness. So these kids are on the hook for the reputation of their parents.
I admit I’ve fallen prey to this. I used to catch myself thinking, “If all I have to show for my life is these five people, they had better be exceptional”. But when I tried to grit my teeth and white knuckle my way through parenting tomorrow’s exceptional human beings, I lost myself and my kids. We missed opportunities to fail and learn from failure. We missed chances to have compassion when people (including ourselves) don’t meet our standards. We lost sight of playfulness and laughter.
So when we did something “for the kids” we started asking ourselves who it was really serving. Taking responsibility for my own sense of worthiness and value gave our kids room to breathe and freedom to stand or fall as themselves.
When I think of this quote, I often imagine the mother of a famous evangelist like Billy Graham or a statesman like Abraham Lincoln. It’s easy to gloss over the lives of those women, and assume that mothering a great man was the most significant thing they ever did. But that’s mostly because we didn’t know them. It may be true that their most visible contribution was parenting a world-changer. But this statement confuses visibility with value. Your life is of infinite value, even if your contribution is hidden.
No matter who else you are and what else you do, your greatest contribution will always be the way you reflect God’s image in the world. There’s a facet of who He is that you display like no one else. Mothering may be part of how you do that, but it can never be more than a part. Motherhood is just one of the many facets of who you are.
You can never be “just a mom” anymore than God is “just a father”.
God often uses our kids and the process of parenting to expose lies we believed about God as our Father, or ourselves as his kids. But they aren’t the point, any more than we are. He’s the point.
In the end, our kids are people. They screw up. They disappoint and are disappointed. Making them the focus of our lives set them up as idols. It’s not fair to them or to us, and ultimately it’s not fair to God. We’re responsible for displaying His image as clearly as we can. Our kids and our contributions to the kingdom are in His hands.