“What do I really need?” my friend asked as she created her first baby registry.
As the mother of five, she assumed I could point her toward the essentials. I skimmed over her Amazon registry and offered feedback where she may have overlooked a necessity here or there. Diapers, onesies, car seat, bottles, and blankets were all there. She’d even listed my favorite children’s Bible. She’d also included a sippy cup from her alma mater, classic board books, nursery décor, and a few other items that, while not necessary to raise a tiny human, are still fun to have.
Then we turned our attention to the extras that never seemed to add much value to my life. When I was a first-time mom, I admittedly registered for plenty of baby items that weren’t necessary or fun, but instead proved to be both unhelpful and a waste of money. Wipe warmers. Pee-pee Teepees. Newborn shoes with laces. (Hey, they’re cute!) Rubber baby food dispensing spoons. I was happy to help her narrow down her list to items of actual benefit.
The question — “What do we really need?”— is one Christian moms could benefit from asking throughout the parenting process. As we raise our children in the admonition of the Lord, which pursuits are good and necessary? And which are simply unhelpful?
What We Don’t Need
We don’t need to compare or compete with every mother in our neighborhood and social media network in how to raise or disciple our children. God knows our frame. We are free to consider our own strengths, weaknesses, and circumstances and shape parenting and discipleship accordingly. We need not compare, exalt, or heap guilt on ourselves.
We don’t need to gain the approval of every one of our mom friends. We can live as people who are free. Our peers are likely struggling to figure parenting out too – attempting to conform to every opinion will quickly become confusing. We can pursue quiet faithfulness: seek God in prayer, search his Word for wisdom, trust the counsel of the Holy Spirit, learn from our pastors and elders, seek unity with our husband, glean from the wisdom of trusted friends, and walk by faith.
We don’t need fear to hijack our parenting decisions. When we notice worrying creeping in, we must quickly take our thoughts captive in obedience to Christ. Rather than allowing anxiety about what could or might happen tomorrow or the next season of parenting, we must recognize this as spiritual weakness and plead for God’s help; confessing and repenting of our need for control as we take active steps to place our trust in God.
What You Absolutely Need
What do we really need to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord? What is essential for moms who are attempting to teach their tiny image-bearers to love their Creator?
A Crystal-Clear Understanding of the Gospel
The gospel frees us from the fear of failure and places the burden of perfection on Christ’s capable shoulders. We will not find approval by way of perfect mothering, because in every stage of parenting, we will sin and fall short of the glory of God. Our need keeps us near the cross of Christ. The more clearly we see the good news of the gospel, the more radically it will transform our parenting.
Our children are unique image bearers created to reflect God’s glory in ways God sees fit. Before our baby showed up on a sonogram or took her first breath, God knew her name, the hairs on her head, the plans and purposes he has for her, and the number of her days. She is God’s child first. Her personality, strengths and weaknesses, and experiences are all opportunities used by God to reveal himself to her for his eternal purposes. Keeping an eternal perspective helps us avoid the urge to wrestle control away from God and instead trust his work on our children’s behalf.
A Balanced Sense of Responsibility
We are often tempted to lack confidence in discipling our children. We must recognize we share the responsibility with God. While we obediently teach and train our child for godliness, God is the one who calls, saves, and sanctifies. The daily investments are ours, but the miraculous heart transformation is God’s. We can trust God is willing and working for his good pleasure. We can labor joyfully, knowing our work is not in vain.
A Commitment to Patience
When we grow restless waiting to see new life or fruit in our child’s life, we can remember 2 Peter 3:9: “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward [us], not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Motherhood is a long-term commitment to patience; both with our children and in the Lord’s timing. We must commit for the long-haul.
A Growing Personal Love for the Savior
As mothers, it’s easy to overlook our needs in favor of providing for our children. But if we spend all our energy fueling our children’s’ love for God, at the expense of our own, then our affections for Christ will run on fumes. The result? Mamas who are crankier, stingier, and less likely to point to Jesus. At every age and stage, we thrive most in making disciples when we’re actively cultivating our own love and admiration for the Savior.
Parenting at every stage is challenging. It requires an ongoing pursuit of discernment. We must polish the clarity of our gospel lens early and often. We must trust that the same God who loves us, loves our children too. He who led us each to repentance and faith, knows how to lead our tiny sinners-in-need-of-grace to the cross of Christ. We can invest purposefully and wisely in discipling our children as we patiently wait for God’s plan to unfold. And as we raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, pray that motherhood would lead you to a greater love for your Heavenly Father.
When we ask the question — “What do we really need?”— past the stage of pacifiers and pull-ups, we will learn to invest in the spiritually good, necessary, and worthy essentials for a lifetime of faithfulness.
Lindsey Carlson is a pastor's wife and the mother of five children. She serves in ministry alongside her husband in Baltimore, Maryland, where they planted Imprint Community Church in 2017. She enjoys teaching and discipling women in her local church and through writing and public speaking. She is the author of Growing in Godliness: A Teen Girl's Guide to Maturing in Christ (Crossway 2019). You can find more of her writing at www.lindseycarlson.net.