Tending Your Garden

One of the challenges of being a mom is that most days are spent doing things that don’t feel important. The tasks you accomplish are quickly undone—laundry, dishes, picking up toys. Whether your days are spent primarily in an office or at home (or in an office at home), every mom understands that motherhood can seem a bit like shoveling snow off your driveway during a snowstorm, and it often doesn’t feel like ministry. 

I remember one particular morning when my sons were little. My husband was a pastor, so it was up to me to get the boys ready for church and out the door by 8:00 a.m. Suffice it to say that on that particular morning, it had not gone smoothly. After church services were over, the boys were tired and fussy, and I was tired and fussy, yet as a pastor’s wife, there was an expectation for me to stay and visit as people left the building. I found myself in a conversation with a very professional-looking woman who was visiting our church. It was not helpful that she looked like a movie star. She had a designer bag on her shoulder; I had fresh spit-up on mine. Her accessories were the latest fashion. My accessories were a baby on my hip and a squirming toddler at my side. After describing the successful business she had started, she asked, “What is it that you do?”. And the only answer that came to my mind was, “I’m a professional wiper. I wipe counters, mouths, hands, and bottoms. All day.”

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I actually admire women who start successful businesses. It was just a hard day. I felt unimportant. The endless dishes and changing of diapers did not feel noteworthy, nor did it feel like ministry. It felt like a lot of wiping. Yet it was ministry, and it was important.

So what is ministry, exactly? The dictionary defines it simply: a person or agency through which something is accomplished. The Bible defines ministry also. At the end of Genesis chapter 1, we read that God created man and woman in his image. Then God gave the first man and woman purpose – to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. In Genesis chapter 2, we read that God planted a garden called Eden, and he placed Adam in the garden to work it and keep it. Adam and Eve were not commanded to work and keep the whole world; they were to work and keep the garden in which God had placed them. We see a three-part ministry for mankind unfold in the first few pages of the Bible:

  1. Bear God’s image. Give others a taste of what he is like.[1]

  2. Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth with more people who bear his image. Have families and make disciples.[2]

  3. Tend your garden. Promote life and do the good work in the space God ordained for you.[3]

If we overlay what we read in Genesis onto the dictionary definition, then one way to think about ministry is a person or agency through which image-bearing and disciple-making are accomplished within particular spaces. 

If I could go back and give myself a pep talk while in the midst of raising babies, I would clap my hands and say with great enthusiasm, “You are doing real ministry right now! Real ministry is not only ahead of you when you do a podcast or complete an in-depth line-by-line Bible study on the Minor Prophets. I know it feels like a lot of wiping, but you are bearing God’s image and raising children to bear his image. You are promoting life and doing good work in the space God ordained for you. And it matters.”

 

Practically speaking, how does a mom bear God’s image in the midst of the mundane?

●          When she scrambles eggs in the morning and makes sandwiches for lunch, she is imaging her Heavenly Father who lovingly provides for his children daily. (I count picking up Chick-Fil-A for dinner as imaging God too. All good gifts come down from the Father of Lights. That’s in the Bible.)

●          When she comforts her child with a familiar song or reads the same book for the hundredth time, she is imaging her Heavenly Father who does not tire of comforting His children.

 

How does a mom of young children make disciples and multiply in the midst of changing diapers and wiping crusty noses?

●          When she is purposeful to talk about God while in the car, or when she makes much of his creation while on a walk, she is teaching her little ones—her primary disciples—about God and what he is like.

●          When she leads her children in prayer for unreached people groups and she gives so that the gospel is spread, she is modeling a heart for the nations.

●          When she views T-ball practices and doctor’s appointments as potential opportunities to visit with others about God’s goodness and grace, she is being fruitful and multiplying.

 

How does a mom of young children promote life and do good work in the space God has ordained for her? 

●          She sees her neighborhood, her work place, her home, or the classes she attends as opportunities to speak light into dark places like God did in the beginning. 

●          She can choose to not miss ministry opportunities right in front of her by longing for the next season. We all have a tendency to do this! And we miss the beauty and the sweetness of the ministry right in front of us because we believe that the next season will bring the satisfaction we crave.

 

Over the years, I have spoken with many women in different seasons of life.  All of us have the tendency to sort of white-knuckle our current season, hanging on until something new comes along. 

We all have to push back thoughts that we will be happier when

…we get married.

…we have children.

…our children are older and more independent.

…we can go back to work fulltime.

…we can quit work full-time.

This reminds me of when my oldest son, Sam, was a child. Sam often said, “I cannot wait to be an adult.” What he meant was, he could not wait to enjoy the privileges that accompany adulthood. Sam was not welcoming, or even thinking about, the challenges that come along with being an adult. Sam wanted a car so he could drive to Sonic whenever he wanted, but he was not anticipating car payments and oil changes. Yet I can identify with young Sam’s thoughts. I too often long for the next thing, the next season, longing for the privileges of what is coming and lamenting the challenges of today. The problem is, when this line of thinking becomes a habit, we miss the joy of right now while pining for what we hope is coming. Every season of life includes gifts to enjoy and limitations that are not desirable. My single friends have shared the unwanted limitations that accompany their singleness, yet they also enjoy the sweet gifts of independence and focus. I’m a mom of teenagers, and I’m enjoying the gift of seeing my sons become responsible and talented adults, yet I keenly feel the unwanted limitation of less time with them, preparing my heart for a quieter dinner table in a few short years. My older friends enjoy the gifts of life experience and freedom, yet they feel the unwanted limitations of their bodies growing older and feeling less needed. They are quick to remind me to enjoy now.

So embrace the wiping. Embrace the chaos and the endless laundry. Don’t just embrace it, enjoy it. Instead of lamenting the unwanted limitations that accompany being a mom of young children, focus on the hugs and the way their eyes light up when you pick them up from school. Sing the song for them again today, and read the same book tonight.  You have been given meaningful work to do. The God of creation has given you the ministry of bearing his image, making disciples, and tending your garden. The boundaries of your garden will shift through the years, so don’t miss the gifts to be embraced and enjoyed today.

[1] Gen. 1:27

[2] Gen. 1:28, Matt. 28:19

[3] Gen. 2:8 and 2:15


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In the early years of ministry, God kindled within Colleen a deep affection for studying and teaching the scriptures.  She deeply desires to see women anchor their hope in the God of the Bible as they get to know him through the study of his word.  Colleen has been teaching Bible studies in the Dallas area for several years and she speaks at women’s retreats and conferences throughout the year. She serves as Minister to Women at Church at the Cross in Grapevine, Texas. Her husband Wes is president of NEXT Worldwide, a mission organization that mobilizes high school and college students to plant churches around the world. She loves being the mom of her two teenage boys, Sam and Tate.