Over coffee and blossoming friendship, Anna and I shared our stories, our fears, and the victories we’ve experienced in Christ. Toward the end of our conversation, I remembered that a specific decision had been weighing on her and asked about it: “Have you made a final decision about how you’ll educate your kids next year?”
She nodded, indicating that they had decided to make a change. I could tell she felt a little uncomfortable, nervous even, and I knew why. Our kids go to school together. We were alike, and her decision was about to make us different. Would I receive that as an indictment about my own choice for my children?
Anna is a woman of deep faith, and I knew that she had sought the Lord’s direction through prayer for many months. “That’s wonderful,” I said, “I am so happy for you that God has made it clear!”
There was a time, however, when I struggled when other moms in our church made choices for their children different than my own. I worried that I was not spiritual enough, or that others were judging me, or that perhaps I was actually missing how God was leading me. I wrestled in prayer, rehashing over and over with God what he had already laid out so clearly. My struggle wasn’t with God’s will but rather with my own insecurity.
I’ve found that my discomfort with differences is not unusual among women in the church, particularly among young mothers who are navigating many important decisions for the first time. Our greatest struggles and misunderstandings leading to disunity are typically about secondary, non-gospel issues, such as education, working versus non-working, financial choices, and parenting practices. Instead of secondary, we often make these choices primary identity markers for who we are and how we’re doing as mothers and disciples of Jesus. As a result, we self-divide within the church, huddling into groups that share our convictions and can best relate to us. We create further division when we evaluate and judge others based upon these convictions, even if some options aren’t open to all due to life circumstances.
A drive toward uniformity in secondary issues is dangerous for the church, because it pulls apart those who are called to be unified around Jesus. In order to experience unity as mothers, we must intentionally reject uniformity and instead celebrate the unique gifts, skills, life circumstances, and choices others may use to adorn the gospel.
In order to do this myself, I return again and again to Romans 14, because it helps me know God’s grace for myself, think in gracious ways toward other moms regarding secondary issues, and extend that grace to them:
For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. . . . For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. . . . So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Rom. 14:2–4, 7–10, 12)
Paul tells us that a grace-filled response will allow for differences on secondary issues. We don’t all have to do everything the same way, and in fact we can’t all do everything the same way. Each of us lives by faith as unto the Lord, and we will account only to God for how we lived in response to him. Because of this, we aren’t to judge others who think or act differently on these issues. Just as we trust God to lead and care for us, we must trust God to lead and care for others.
Grace and the freedom it offers us in Christ should always benefit others; it is not for our benefit and our freedom alone. Paul writes, “For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” In other words, we must live in responsible freedom, not taking advantage of God’s grace by living for ourselves, not mocking grace through blatant sin and taking opportunities for our flesh, and not taking lightly the impact we have on others around us. It also means that we don’t hold up our personal convictions and choices on secondary issues as the only right way.
Instead, we have the opportunity and responsibility to use our Christ-given freedom to impact the kingdom of God. When we are set free from slavery to our sin, invited to the banqueting table as a child of God, and have experienced the love of God, we cannot help responding in kind to him and to others, seeking to share his powerful love and grace. We also are eager and willing to set aside some of our Christ-given freedoms in order that we might reach others with the truth of God’s grace. This attitude is a clear sign of a grace-minded child of God, knowing that we retain no ownership over ourselves and that the freedom we’ve received through God’s grace is not just for us.
If our convictions cause grief or cause another to stumble, which can easily happen when we campaign for our secondary choices to become primary, we aren’t walking in love or grace. In other words, our freedom isn’t the highest priority in the kingdom of God. We aren’t to put our convictions above love. If my friend Anna had suddenly distanced herself from me when our education paths deviated, or if she'd attempted in our conversation to convince me that her conviction should be mine as well, her convictions would've overshadowed love. Instead, she trusted God's leading, both for herself and for me, evidenced by her encouragement and celebration of my differing choices.
As mothers, Paul tells us that we must think about how grace applies to others, not just how it applies to ourselves. Just as we are approved by God through our faith in Jesus Christ, others are as well. Just as we enjoy God's love and favor by faith and not by our behaviors or performance, others do as well. Just as the gifted Holy Spirit patiently teaches, leads, and convicts us, he does the same for them. When we think about grace for other women as well as ourselves, we see more quickly what unifies us rather than what makes us different, we focus on what is truly at the heart of the kingdom of God, and—this is where it gets really exciting—we’re able to speak grace into the lives of others who are weary, dry, and desperate for it. And isn’t that every mother within the church?
 Gal. 5:13
Christine Hoover is a pastor’s wife, mom of three boys, Bible teacher, and the author of several books, including Messy Beautiful Friendship and the recently released Searching for Spring: How God Makes All Things Beautiful in Time. Through her blog, Grace Covers Me, she loves encouraging women with the grace of Jesus. Christine and her family live in Charlottesville, Virginia. Find her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.