Ep. 118 || Gray Areas: Personal Conscience in Motherhood Transcript

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood—the very first of 2019. I’m Emily, and I’m here with my sister-in-law, Laura.

Laura: Hello everyone!

Emily: And we’re really excited to be continuing our theme of “Unity in the Gospel.” We’ll be kicking off a new theme in September. We have a great spring line-up—even though it’s not spring yet. Let’s be honest, it’s freezing cold.

Laura: We’re pretending. [Laughter]

Emily: We’re pretending like spring is coming. We have a lot of great shows lined up for you about things like vacation, ministry, church, expectations, work and motherhood, dreams, and all kinds of things.

Laura: Yeah, topics that we’re both really excited to talk about, because Emily and I’ve had interest in. We’ve wanted to share them by going back to our roots of airing our conversations on the podcast.

Emily: We also have an exciting announcement to start the year! We’re officially a nonprofit, which is something we’ve been working towards since last summer. That’s definitely a huge behind-the-scenes task we’ve been pressing towards, and we’re so thankful those pieces came together. So now we have even more people on our team: our Board of Directors.

Laura: Yes! We have a phenomenal group of people God really pulled together. Emily and I were floored when all of them said, “Yes.” We’re going to list them here for you, and we hope you recognize some of the names and head to our site to check out the others. We have links to their ministries so you can get to know them more.

Karen Hodge serves as our Board Chair, and then we have Melissa Kruger, Abigail Dodds, Eric Schumacher, Ruth Simons, and Quina Aragon all serving as Board Members.

This is really exciting to us to have wise people over us shepherding R|M into the future. It’s going to be really great.

With becoming a nonprofit, usually your donations become tax-deductible. Many of you probably already know this. Because of that, we’re going to be moving our hosting platform for donations onto our own site (from Patreon), but we’re still offering perks! Let’s talk about that for a sec, because that’s fun.

Emily: Yes! So, at the $5 level, you’ll receive a new newsletter called, “The R|M Report.” It’s like a ministry report you’d get from a missionary you support. We’re going to show you behind-the-scenes things, ways God is working, updates about what’s going on at R|M. At the $30 level and above, you’ll receive an exclusive R|M donor thank-you mug. It’s all really exciting. And if you switch over from Patreon to our new platform, there will be an exclusive perk for you at the beginning of your switch!

Laura: Yeah, you should’ve gotten an email about that! We’re really grateful for your contributions. We definitely could not do it without your help. Head over to risenmotherhood.com/give to learn more, check out the platform, and learn about the Board of Directors!

Emily: So, we’re excited to kick off the year with a topic we can’t believe we haven’t talked about yet.

Laura: Oh my word, yes. Well, it’s sort of how R|M was born—we’re talking about personal conscience—but we didn’t know it yet. We didn’t necessarily have the label to explain what we were already talking about every week.

Emily: Right. You’ve probably heard us say things like, Oh that’s a gray area, or, That’s something the Bible doesn’t prescribe exactly, or, We have freedom in Christ here, or, This is a matter of conscience. I think we say something like that every show [laugher], because that’s what most of our shows deal in—the thousand daily choices we make that aren’t clear [in the Bible] about what we should do.

Laura: What kind of food am I going to feed my family? How much screen time should I show my kids? How am I going to educate my kids? How do I train, equip, disciple your kids practically? What is my work life/home life balance look like? What’s my childcare situation? We could go on and on; basically you can look at any show in our archive and see there’s personal conscience at play.

Emily: I think in our modern culture—specifically in motherhood—we have so many choices. If you’re somebody who hopes in Christ and you generally understand the commands of God, you know things like you’re not supposed to steal. But with all the other choices, it’s quite a bit more complicated. So Laura and I’ve been surprised at how little this topic is tackled by mainstream Christian resources out there.

Laura: There’s not enough.

Emily: This is something we deeply deal in every single day and has a huge impact on the choices we make, and yet, it’s something we don’t think very deeply about.

Laura: And I think it’s something if you really understood what a personal conscience is and how it’s different than the Holy Spirit—which we’re going to get into—it would change how you view things in motherhood. I know for me personally, I’ve seen a major change in my conscience in my time as a mom. I think when I was a first-time mom, I saw things more as black-and-white or as right-and-wrong. Now, as I’ve matured as a mom, had more experience, and seen more things—I’ve realized my conscience has changed. It’s not the right and wrong has changed, because those things hold fast to the Word of God. What I view as right and wrong has changed in motherhood. I think a lot of you can identify; prior to being a mom, you thought, When I’m mom, I’ll never let my kids do that, but that you’re a mom, you let your kids do that. That’s called personal conscience! [Laughter]

Emily: Yeah [laughter]. This past fall, I was going through some open submissions articles and ran across one that gave some good cultural examples that impacted me. I think when I’ve encountered these conscience topics in the context of cultural differences it makes more sense to me in the context of my local community. It helps me understand the mom at church who does something different than me. So, this lady’s story was she was living as a missionary with her husband. What do we do in America if your kid’s Cheez-It falls on the floor? You pick it back up!

Laura: It’s fine! Three second rule! [Laughter]

Emily: Or five or 10 second rule!

Laura: 20 minutes? Whatevs! [Laughter]

Emily: Most of us don’t think too hard about something that falls on your kitchen floors. You just quickly hand it back to your child. Well, in this country they lived in, that was considered something wrong and dangerous to do for children; it wasn’t okay to do. They had a babysitter who would throw food away every time it fell on the floor and stare at them like they were crazy for handing food back to their child. I thought it was a really interesting picture of two things. Both sides would probably say either, This is totally fine, or, This is totally wrong. It’s not prescribed by the Word of God, but their consciences were telling them how to respond in that situation. So, there are a lot of things like that in motherhood, especially when you look internationally.

Laura: Yeah, so today we want to tackle the question, If my conscience isn’t always right or wrong, and God’s word is never wrong but doesn’t speak to every situation, how do I know what to do in motherhood? Like we said, there aren’t a lot of great resources on personal conscience, but there is one we really like. A lot of what we’re talking about on this show stems from Emily and I reading this book and having discussions about how it applied to our own lives: Conscience: What it is, How to Train it, and Loving Those Who are Different. We’re going to link it in our show notes, and we hope you read it. It’d be a great book to read with your small group, a group of moms, or something like that. It helped us understand a lot, and we hope it will be even better at explaining this topic than we’ll be able to do in a 20 minute show.

Emily: And it has great graphs in it too! Things that make you think, Oh, that makes such sense when you draw it as a picture! I hope you guys are very curious about what we’re talking about.

Laura: Go read it!

Emily: We’re going to give a general picture of what personal conscience is and talk about its application in the life of a mom. First off, what is our personal conscience, Laura?

Laura: Oh, you’re going to ask me this?

Emily: Yeah, you’re on the spot. Answer it! [Laughter]

Laura: Okay, so this was a really good thing for me to draw a distinction in. Our personal conscience is your personal sense of right and wrong. It’s the moral compass we refer to in certain situations. God gives every human being a conscience; it’s that weird feeling you get when your kid watches too much tv, and you feel a little guilty; or maybe that feeling you wrestle with when you walk out the door to go to work, or if you’re not working but feel like you should be. It’s the pit in your stomach after you’ve gossiped about a friend at the playdate. It’s the moral compass inside of us, not the Holy Spirit. It’s your own personal law book.

Emily: One thing to note is God gave these to us to listen to and follow. We’re using the phrase “moral compass” because it’s a commonly understood phrase in culture, but it’s not the way the Bible talks about it. God provided the Bible as the universal truth for all people for all of time; it’s not relative, and it applies to everyone. But then there are gray areas for you personally that don’t apply to your friend, or mother-in-law, or anyone else; that personal conscience is meant for you individually.

Laura: Right. And everyone’s conscience is different—as Emily said—within these gray areas, because they’re not always calibrated to God’s word, which means they’re not always right. We have to remember we’re all sinful humans living in a broken world, and we have consciences that deviate from God’s word and his ways. We’re probably getting some things right, but we’re also probably getting some things wrong. Our consciences are really influenced by our upbringings, the culture we’re in, our personality, our parents, our fears; so they constantly need to be examined and submitted to God’s word.

Emily: Mhmm. Another thing about personal conscience is they can be further damaged or dulled. As Laura said, we’re all sinful, so all of our consciences are getting things wrong. But when we ignore our conscience without seeking to understand what’s going on or why we feel wrong about something—and don’t realign it with God’s word—we actually desensitize ourselves to it. One common example of desensitizing would be something like watching a tv show with a little more violence or intensity. We’ll get used to it, and then suddenly, we’re able to watch more of it, and over time, without even realizing it, we’ve been sliding away from what’s okay for us to be doing.

So that’s why we’ve said on so many shows that whenever we have that feeling of guilt, don’t stuff it down and run away. That desensitizes or dulls your conscience; examine it and realign your conscience with God’s word and possibly even repent if needed. So, they definitely can be shaped.

Laura: Yes, and with that shaping, they can slide away from God, his word, and what he deems is right. But they can also become more in line. I really liked the word they used in the book, which is, You can recalibrate your conscience. When dealing with the big, hot topics in mommy world, many of us have overactive consciences. Like we mentioned, our consciences are influenced by a lot of different things, but when we’re believers, the only thing that should inform them is our belief in God’s word. As we grow in our knowledge of him and grow in maturity through confession and prayer, I think we’ll find what we need to hold fast to in motherhood and life. We’ll figure out where our consciences are correct. We’ll figure out the things we can let go of and not judge one another or feel guilt over, because we’ll know there’s freedom to do them in different ways since the Bible doesn’t speak specifically to how it should play out.

Emily: Right, hence why at R|M we harp over and over again about why we need to continually study God’s word and live in community with other believers, because that’s how we recalibrate over time. Everybody has something a little wonky about how they think! [Laughter]

Laura: You’re not perfect! We’re not perfect! [Laughter]

Emily: And we need other strong believers help us suss out what’s true and what we’re holding too tightly to.

Laura: So we want to cover a couple more principles from scripture before we go into a scenario for you guys. First, remember God wants us to listen and act according to our conscience where it aligns with his word. Again, this is to the best we can determine it in our spiritual growth in that moment. If your conscience is pricked and you want to stuff it down, ignore it, and continue on without stopping to evaluate, that’s sin. God uses our personal conscience and some of the emotions it stirs up in us to help us see red flags. It may be something we can let go, but it may be something we need to confess, deal with, and change moving forward. We see a lot of this in Romans 14, which is the famous passage everyone pulls from on this. Go and read that passage. We referenced it on several shows in the past, if you want to learn more.

Emily: It’s the, For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin, bit. God wants us to do everything in faith for what we think is obedience towards him. Second, God doesn’t want us to be another person in a position where they violate their conscience. Again, Romans 14 goes into some interesting situations where Paul helps believers live together in unity by showing how they have freedom and can live things out differently, but they shouldn’t put their neighbor in the position to do something they feel is really wrong. It’s not very loving.

Laura: And God doesn’t want us to use our freedom in Christ to be unloving to other people. Christ laid down his rights for us. Just because our conscience is clear in doing something, we don’t have to keep doing it in a way that causes someone else to stumble. Paul conformed to what helped his fellow believers who were weaker in the faith; he didn’t hold us his flag to show he could do things without it bothering him. He changed according to what helped another believer not stumble. We never want to wear a big badge of pride, acting like it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Emily: Laura and I had so many good conversations on this, because this is something our generation needs to be careful of. We can be more focused on, We’re believing the gospel, we’re free in Christ, and we can all make our own decisions, but we’re also called to love our neighbor and be holy. We don’t get to wear “freedom in Christ” as a means to hurt someone else. Jesus was the perfect example of laying down all of his rights and “freedom,” so we could be loved and have a relationship with God. It’s really important we’re not using it as an opportunity for sin or righteousness.

Laura: We want to talk quickly through a very high-level example, so don’t read too much into this. It’s something we think a lot of moms deal with, so we can show how personal conscience plays out differently for these two women.

First, we have Lucy, and she has a couple of kiddos. One of her children gets sick with a nasty cold virus, and she gives her some over-the-counter infant medication for the pain she seems to be in. She takes her to the doctor the next day just to make sure everything is okay. She has an ear infection; she puts her on prescription meds. Lucy gives it to her daughter, thanking God for the ability to have medicine. Her daughter seems back to normal in 24 hours.

Emily: All right, and then we have Sarah, another mom. She and her husband have twins, and they both get a nasty cold virus. They’re waking up in the night, they’re spiking fevers, and they seem to be in pain. But instead of going to the doctor, Sarah wants to try some at-home techniques first. So she thanks the Lord for the essential oils she has in the cabinet and the remedies she learned from her grandma and friends. She monitors and comforts her sons over the course of several days. Eventually, they start feeling better, and she’s really glad she didn’t take them to the doctor or use special medications. She feels totally at peace in the way she handled the situation.

Laura: There are a few base level assumptions here. There could be some heart issues going on, but we’re assuming we’re not dealing with a ton of pride or idolatry in their hearts. They’re just two moms acting according to their personal consciences doing what they thought would best honor God and love their children well.

Emily: The first thing to keep in mind—and we haven’t quite mentioned this yet—is there are a lot of strong feelings that accompany personal conscience. You may be feeling them just listening to that example! You’ve drawn battle lines! [Laughter]

Laura: You know who was right and who was wrong! [Laughter]

Emily: You’re team Lucy or team Sarah! [Laughter] Now you guys know how these mommy wars now happen. There are people who believe this is the most holy or godly way. We’re not saying you shouldn’t have an opinion or strong feelings about this, but this is an area of conscience. We need to put that aside to examine the situation.

Laura: We’re assuming this is a gray area, even if you have strong opinions about it. We see Lucy and Sarah both had a general freedom in Christ to use either type of medicinal treatment for their children, but they’re both bound to their consciences. This is where it gets fun and interesting to have these discussions and it’s why we wanted to talk about it today. We see Lucy’s conscience has no problem giving Tylenol or over-the-counter pain medications, and she also felt she was trusting God, in faith, to take action. It would’ve violated her own conscience if she chose to stay home and tried something different. She wouldn’t have felt comfortable; she probably would’ve felt immense guilt doing something like that, because her conscience wasn’t calibrated in a way that believed it was fine to keep her child at home and do what Sarah’s conscience said.

Emily: Sarah’s conscience, on the other hand, would’ve been violated if she ignored her strong conviction to use homeopathic remedies and grabbed the Tylenol right away. Her conscience might’ve told her it wasn’t right or the way to love her children. For her, acting in faith meant she used the tools at home, trusting God to act in that situation, as her first step.

Laura: One thing to keep in mind, conscience can be recalibrated. Neither of these women are doing something in direct violation to God’s word nor does God say we can’t use prescription meds or homeopathic meds; that isn’t found in the Bible. These women can recalibrate, change their ways later in life, so keep that in mind. Second, our hope and prayer for every mom listening and feeling differently on topics like this is to remember Lucy and Sarah can go to church, be great friends, and minister the gospel to one another in peace. They probably have a lot of other things in common besides this one issue they take different stances on.

Emily: This is where our unity in the gospel theme really comes into play. There are things we all hold to as Christian believers, things we hold to as individual, local believers; but then there are other things we spend each week saying, We need to apply the gospel here. It’s a slippery slope to think since it’s not in the Bible, we can just do it, but we take the biblical principles and in every situation ask, How can I best live, in faith and obedience, according to these in the circumstances God has given me with all the things he’s given me? That’s what applying personal conscience it.

Laura: I want to make a quick note, because maybe you’re wondering what the biblical principles are. If you’re new to R|M, we talk about it every week on the show. We’re to grow in holiness, live out the Great Commission, do the greatest commandments. Know there are true principles we hold to that we won’t compromise on, and no believer should. While we’re not talking about all the principles specifically on today’s show, our hope is you take the R|M ministry as a whole and see there are principles we would never compromise on. Today, we’re talking about these matters of third, fourth, seventh importance. [Laughter]

Remember what this means for Sarah and Lucy’s relationships. They’re not judging each other for what the other one did in the situation—going to the doctor or not. Sarah’s not passing oils to Lucy saying, You should’ve done this first.

Emily: And we don’t want to close the door for conversation. You can talk, but there’s a big difference between, Hey, why do you do it that way? Can you explain that to me? versus a judgment call saying, That’s sin. We’re all doing that everyday in our relationships—having conversations to understand why people do what they do. But we don’t need to judge and condemn it as sin. As we’re closing up this show, we have a couple of questions to leave you with:

What are some areas of motherhood where you’re continually feeling guilty? Have you pressed into that to see if you’re sinning against your conscience? Try to figure out how you can realign your conscience with God’s word in this area.

Laura: What gray areas of motherhood are you trying to make others conform to? This is a great spot to see if you’re really holding fast to God’s word and his principles, or if you’re trying to impose your own principles on other people. We know this is a big topic, and we barely even scratched the surface of it.

Emily: Barely.

Laura: So go read that book, have some conversations. And if you read it, share it on social media and tag us! We’d love to see it. This is an issue that’s really near and dear to our hearts; we’re excited to be able to at least introduce it to you guys in a way that brings it up to the surface.

Emily: So true. Laura and I have both seen huge areas of growth as we’ve recalibrated our consciences during our time of doing R|M. Every time we tackle a topic, we both realize—

Laura: I’m a sinner. [Laughter]

Emily: Yes, I’m a sinner, and I was a little off. [Laughter] It’s really cool to see how God grows you in that over time. Head over to risenmotherhood.com and follow us on social media—Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter—@risenmotherhood. Thanks, guys!