This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Emily: Welcome back to another episode of Risen Motherhood. We are so excited to be sharing this with you today. We got to sit down and chat with Jen Wilkin who is a wife, mom, author, speaker, and Bible teacher, at the Village Church in Texas. If you have listened to this show for any length of time, you know how much we appreciate her ministry. We love her book, Women of the Word. We’ve both done Bible studies from Jen, and she has so much wisdom and insight. It speaks to the biblical literacy issues that are going on in our culture and in our churches.
Today she took time out of her day to talk to talk to us about what this looks like, and more specifically in the season of young children. She talks about everything from what does “quiet time” look like? What does it look like to be involved in ministry in a meaningful way? It’s a wonderful conversation and we know you guys will be so encouraged.
If you want to find more about Jen, you can head over to our website, risenmotherhood.com. In the show notes, we will link to her books, and many resources from her that Laura and I have personally benefited from.
Laura: Hey Jen, thank you so much for joining us on Risen Motherhood today.
Jen: I am so glad to be on. Thanks for having me.
Laura: Let’s get started with having you tell us a little bit about yourself. We know you’re an author, a writer, a speaker, a mom and a wife too. We also know that you, at one time, had four under four. Those kids are now grown, but for all the moms out there, Jen has been through the season of littles that’s been a little bit crazy. [laughter] Tell us about your family, and about what your day looks like at this point.
Jen: Yes, my kids are all grown, it’s terrible and wonderful at the same time. My oldest, Matt, just turned 21, and then Mary Kate is 20, Claire is 19, and Calvin is 17. Calvin is a junior, and I was calculating yesterday, I have him for another 15 months before I get my heart ripped out for the final and fourth time. The three oldest are actually all at school together, which is nice. They see each other on a weekly basis, and they hang out, and probably it’s the easiest version of empty nesting that anybody can have. I am married to Jeff – we’ve been married for almost 24 years, and he’s great. We’re re-discovering each other. [laughter]
Laura: I feel like I say that about my husband all the time! [laughter]
Okay, let’s jump in with some of those heavy questions that we have for you. Let’s start off with that broad overview - can you just explain why is biblical literacy is so important in motherhood? What does it have to do with changing the diapers, choosing pre-schools, choosing if you’re going to vaccinate, all those things. Why does it matter?
Jen: First of all, I would say it’s a general problem in the church and Bible literacy is heightened by a general literacy issue that exists in our culture. Not only are most believers uncertain how to read the Bible, many people in general are uncertain how to read, period. Bible literacy, in particular, matters because we are going to be encountering increasingly from outside challenges to what we believe, and a second-hand knowledge of your sacred text is not going to get you through. Not only are there challenges to our faith from outside, but even within the church, there are those who are teaching error. We will not be able to identify the truth from the lie if we’re not familiar with what the truth looks like.
A pretty common illustration I use for this would be a counterfeit bill. You can’t understand what a counterfeit 20 looks like unless you study what a real $20 bill looks like. That’s how they train people to detect counterfeits, by telling them not to study counterfeits, but to study the original. You can draw a parallel to knowing your Bible then as it relates to motherhood, specifically. A pretty common experience for young moms is that, when that first baby comes, they have a renewed understanding of their lack, with regard to matters of faith. We’re responsible for passing down this faith heritage to our children. We can’t pass down something that we don’t have direct knowledge of.
When I talk about this, the heart cannot love what the mind does not know, and biblical literacy is an act of loving God with your mind, which translates to greater affection in your heart because by its own report, the Bible is living and active. For the believer, we cannot encounter the scriptures and come away unchanged. For young moms in particular, you’re at a place where you know your vulnerability like you perhaps didn’t before you had children, and that provides a unique opportunity for you to begin investing in some good tools for literacy now.
Emily: That’s something Laura and I try and talk a lot about – discerning if we’ve just seen the counterfeit. I do it, Laura does it; we’re on Instagram, we’re on Facebook, we’re consuming all these articles, the latest book comes out and we want to snatch it up and read it. There is time and space to do some of those things, but for some reason, we have this hard time going, “Oh, there is also time to be sitting down and investing deeply in and consuming God’s Word, and really knowing what that says, [laughs] so that we can determine how to evaluate all these other things.” Then there is that weakness part we can all relate to. [laughter]
Jen: Well, I do always like for young moms to consider that, at that particular stage of life where you may have pockets of discretionary time, but you never can predict really when they’re going to be, or how long they’re going to be. Perhaps more than at any other time in your adult life, when it comes to learning the Bible, you really need an outside structure, and some accountability. It’s a really great time if you have a local church that is providing some structure and some predictability around Bible study. That’s a great time to get involved because sometimes you need someone who can take your kids for a little bit, while you sit down and do this, and often local churches provide that. If you’re just trying to gut it out on your own, it’s going to be really hard during this season of life. You really need the help of the local church, perhaps more than you might at any other stage.
Laura: I agree. A lot of times, too, as young moms, the message we can hear from people is, “Oh, these little years, you don’t have time to read your Bible. It’s very difficult to find that time.” I think there’s an element of truth to that, but there’s also an element of an excuse to that, and we can sort of say, “The little years are the lost years. We’ll do that when they’re older.” [laughter] So is there, from your perspective, something special about being a mom of little kids that does make theological growth challenging, or is that just a myth?
Jen: It can be an excuse, but it is not always an excuse. Women have different capacities, and it’s important to know yourself pretty well, and know, am I the kind of person who’s looking for an excuse not to do this, or am I drowning right now? One of the things I don’t love about mommy blogging is there’s a lot of validation, of failure for one thing, like, “Y’all, you guys, y’all, it’s so messy.” [laughter] Life is messy and it’s all messy y’all.” I am like, “Okay, I hear ya.” I definitely lived in the messy house and some things were messy, and I was wiping faces and all that stuff. But we all find time for the things that matter to us. I also know that often, though the kids are consuming all of our time, they do go to bed eventually.
I remember one of the things that was really important to me was to have that regular bedtime. Jeff didn’t travel or anything, so this was an easy thing for me. That’s another thing that you have to take into consideration, is how much support you have from a spouse, or from someone who’s helping you with caregiving. The more that that responsibility falls on just you, the more valid it is that you may not have time for this in this season. But many of us have some good support there that we may not be utilizing like we could. Or, when we do have free time, it’s just easier to pick up the phone and scroll, or binge on Netflix. I am all for a good binge on Netflix, [laughter] just not if it’s a replacement for something that’s transcending.
Emily: Sure. I would like to say it’s like a workout, but I don’t work out that often. [laughs] But it’s one of those things that always feels like, once you do it and you sit down, and maybe my kids are playing after breakfast, and it’s been crazy and I just sit down at the breakfast table, and get out my Bible study and work on it. It’s amazing how faithful God is to use that time to re-orient my perspective. Like, remind me, “Oh yes, there’s eternity.” There’s just so much more than the Word, and it’s just so much bigger than what I am doing and focusing on in this tiny, little, minute moment. Like, what’s my true purpose? What’s my true identity? What’s my true calling? That’s something I always have to remember, it’s like a workout; if I did it more often, it feels good.
Jen: Working out feels great. I’ve talked about this in other places; our children are our neighbors, which means that if we’re going to treat them as the people that they are, we’re going to need to have a solid grasp of the “one anothers” in the scripture. We’re going to need to know what it means to be patient and bear with one another. That those one anothers include not just my adult friends or my co-workers, but also these tiny people who I hang out with a lot in my own home. We tend to forget that.
Motherhood, particularly young motherhood, was such a time of selfishness and selflessness intertwined for me. I told myself that it was “beating the selfishness out of me” because you have to give up all your personal freedoms, etcetera. But then it turned out that as soon as the kids got older and were able to do things on their own, I just took all the selfishness right back. Nothing is going to get to that underlying issue of self-centeredness, like spending time in the scriptures will. And then on top of that, like you just said Emily, when you’re sitting at the breakfast table doing that, there’s another really important thing happening. You’re modeling that for your kiddos. One of the most frequent questions that I get from parents is, how did you get your kids to read the Bible?
As though you can have some program in place where you put gold stars on a chart for them doing a quiet time. We never did that. We never had a structured approach where we said, “Now you need to sit down and read your Bible.” I am not actually against that; I think a lot of times the way we address these things has a lot to do with our own personalities, and the way that our marriages and our homes function. But in our case, we didn’t want to require that, or structure it. We just modeled it. So the kids understand that that’s what you do when you are an adult. Then they started wanting to do it on their own because children want to be grown up; they want to take on the next thing.
Laura: Going back to how do we make time for growing spiritually, a lot of it is actually changing those expectations of when we didn’t have kids – and hopefully some day in the future, we look forward to – not necessarily having to sit with our mug of coffee and have the quiet, comfy chair and have everything set up. But like Emily said, being willing to say that, “There’s chaos around me, but I am still going to get in God’s Word.” Then, also as you said, with modeling that allows our children to see it, because I want the 5 a.m. wake up when I am able, with the quiet house. But my kids then never see it. That was something that I was like, “Oh, how do I balance my desires for this alone time with the Lord, versus also really wanting to have my kids see me live my faith authentically?”
Emily: Then if they watch you do it and if you have a little pharisee in your house, and you don’t do your Bible study that day, they will ask you later, “Mommy, when are you going to sit down and do your Bible study? I didn’t see you do it earlier.” [laughs]
Jen: Thank you, little child, small person in my home. An accountability partner who’s three feet tall.
Laura: “I didn’t ask you for it, but thank you.” [laughter]
Okay, let’s say we have a mom who really does want to get into the Word more, and she’s just starting to learn to study God’s Word. You have a book that we talk a lot about on Risen Motherhood - Women of the Word – we’ve both found immense value in it. What are some things that you would say for how to be consistent? Or just where to start?
Jen: The most basic thing to start doing is to read repetitively. I know that doesn’t sound not exciting, and maybe even boring, but it actually is the piece that most of us run right past. We want to read a passage and we want to understand it immediately and know what to do with it. That’s just not the way that learning works, and it’s not the way that good reading skills happen. If you’re a young mom, and you have a limited time, you are far better served by picking a book of the Bible, starting at the beginning and read to the end. Don’t ask a lot of yourself as you’re reading through it the first time. Just read it, like you would read a book for a book club, or you would read a magazine article. Just read it.
My favorite thing to do because I learn by marking things, is I print out a copy of the text double spaced, and I write my notes on it, I ask questions, I mark words that I see repeated, all those kinds of things. But before I do that, I just read, and I might mark something the first time through. I am probably going to mark things more on the second and third time through. Maybe for you, this is easier to do by listening instead of by reading. You can have e-version on your phone, or if you’re a person who works out, you can listen to it while you’re walking or running. If you’re in the car with your kids - if it’s the book of Ephesians - put on the Book of Ephesians and listen to it, every time you’re in the car. Those are ways to start getting the text inside of you.
One of the things that I like to debunk, as often as I can especially with young moms, is the glorification of the idea of quiet time. We are going to face challenges in growing in literacy if we carve out 10 minutes a day, versus if we had one or two times a week where we spend 30-minute blocks or 45-minute blocks. Sometimes for a young mom, that can work out better than trying to each day get, “Well, if I am not in it daily …” You can have some moment of reflection or whatever if you wanted daily contact with the scriptures that’s getting you set for the day, or if it’s the end of the day, winding you down. But in terms of learning your sacred text, you probably need a longer stretch of time than that. Doing that one or two times a week can make a big dent in your ability to start taking in the scriptures.
Emily: Yes, I appreciate you bringing that up because I feel like that’s realistically how my Bible study works out. Even though I think, “Okay, I am going to sit down after breakfast everyday and I am going to have this 30 minutes of time.” There’s three days a week where I get interrupted right away, whatever happens, and it ends up being two or three really big blocks of this really deep digging. Also it’s hard if you sit down for ten minutes and then you walk away and come back and I am like, “Wait, where was I? I’ve no idea what my thought was.” I think that’s really encouraging to hear - a lot of different ways - and that if you’re able to make that block of time where you can really sit and think and process, every day, that’s awesome. If not, then there’s other ways we can remain, just meditating on God’s Word and connecting with God and praying. But there may also be benefit in protecting some bigger chunks here and there, throughout the week, to really dig.
Jen: In the book, I give a lot of tools that you can use. I know that can feel overwhelming to a young mom who’s like, “Are you kidding me!” If during the young mom years, all you did was read for comprehension, when you come out of the young mom years, and you have more time and you’re ready to pick up more of those tools, you will hit the ground running. The reality is, most of us are like, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, I know the Bible,” and then once you start reading it, you’re like, “Well I did not remember that.” So just the whole getting familiar, because really again, when you’re trying to decide between the counterfeit and the real thing, it’s not about interpretation and application, as much as it’s about comprehension. “Whoa, it doesn’t even say that, so how can he even give that application when he’s pulled that verse out of context!” If you spend the young years just learning contextual comprehension pieces of the Bible, then when you get your brain back a little bit, and you’re ready to start addressing interpretation and application beyond what might just fall into your lap as you’re reading, you’re going to be way more ready to do that.
Laura: I love that you’re saying this, Jen. I feel like I tend to be pretty legalistic, or really want to do things “by the book” and do things the way they’re supposed to be done, and this daily thing is what I was taught. This gives enormous freedom to a young mom, especially what you’re saying about, “Hey, try to preserve some larger chunks of time.” It doesn’t have to be this daily, big hunk of steak every single day.
Allowing some freedom and trusting that God’s Word will work in your life, even if you’re not doing it the major inductive Bible study. But just saturating your heart and mind in God’s Word and trusting that that will give you the ability to discern truth. Like you said, of just being able to see that counterfeit. That, hopefully, should give a lot of freedom to moms, especially in different seasons.
We’re always joke, Emily and I, that our routines as moms last about three months and then we have to find a new routine. Maybe that’s a good fit too, for certain three-month stretches, and then you can switch too. Maybe you’ll have time for something a little bit deeper, or more consistent, or longer. But knowing that we can take God’s Word, and how it can come to us, and we just need to access it as much as we can, when we can.
Jen: Another thing that is important too, for young moms to take into account, is to discern how much of the time I am spending in contact with the scriptures is devotional reading, and how much is literacy building. We lose track of it, and before you know it, all we’re doing is reading devotionally or topically. Devotional reading is great, and it’s probably particularly useful for the young mom who wants to have some daily contact with the scriptures. But devotional reading gives us something in the moment. It’s like, “Oh, I got a take-away from that I can hang on to.”
The literacy building elements don’t necessarily do that for you; we may not gravitate towards them as naturally as we should. The thing with devotional reading is, while it does one thing, while it might give you an emotional boost for the day, it is not giving you comprehensive knowledge of the text. When we become overly dependent on it, we can actually decrease in our ability to read scripture in context and in long stretches. It’s almost like sort of the short attention span thing that you see, with all those smartphone use; where you’re used to things in little bites, and you’re no longer able to eat the meal. I tend to look at devotional content more like dessert, on the menu of content of the Bible, so-to-speak. Devotional reading will be way more impactful if you have a foundational knowledge of the entire book that that passage is being pulled out of for you to digest. You’ll also be able to tell if it’s a decent devotional or not – because a lot of them are kind of dumb.
Emily: I know, I’ve heard you say it before...[laughter]
Jen: Too honest? Is that too honest?
Laura: We love honesty here on Risen Motherhood. [laughter] That’s such a good point; we are all looking for that emotional high, that quick pick-me-up. I look for it in a bag of candy! We’re constantly trying to say, “What is going to be the quick fix right now,” and not think about dealing with the sugar crush later. That’s such a good point because we actually get asked pretty frequently about, “What Bible study should I do?” There is a struggle where people consider devotionals or even books nowadays, as their Bible study. That’s a real gap in knowledge, of saying, “I want to hear what God has said,” versus saying, “What did somebody else say that God said.” We need to look at God’s Word, and get it from the source itself. Not trying to digest how someone has made it maybe a little bit easier and giving us that high high.
Jen: For sure. The biggest issue that I see is people consuming content about the Bible without having spent first-hand time in the Bible beforehand. It’s in everything; it’s from podcasts to sermons. My pastor’s preaching through Exodus right now, and we pushed out a reading plan to everyone, because we wanted them to read the passage before they heard the sermon. That just rarely happens anymore, so we’d sit and we hear a sermon or a passage in Exodus, and we’re like, “Oh, now I know that.” But what you did is take his word for it because you have no basis for disagreement, having only spent that moment in the text, while he’s talking about it. That’s the case with devotional books, it’s the case with books written on topics. Often it’s that because they’re not layered on top of the foundational first-hand knowledge of the text, we’re taking someone else’s word for it all the time.
Laura: That’s what we try and emphasize here too – don’t take Laura and Emily’s word for it. Don’t take Jen Wilkin’s word for it.
Jen: Yes, don’t take my word for it. Disagree with me. For goodness sake disagree with me.
Laura: Yes. Just get in the Word, and you tell us if you see something differently because we are imperfect. [laughter]
Jen: This raises another interesting point. Women are not good at disagreement with one another; we view that as rejection. We need to get better at being able to respectfully disagree with female teachers. Male teachers as well, but, we should be able to say, “I like these six things this person said, but these two things I absolutely do not agree with, and I could show you in scripture why.” It doesn’t mean that I reject this person, or that I think this person is a terrible person, or that I think this person is a false teacher. The definition of a false teacher in scripture is an unbeliever who is trying to drag people away from the faith. So you’ve got to be really careful with that.
Increasingly, as we get closer to the text, we will become more discerning about some of the voices that we have listened to. There needs to be room for others to discern whether what has been taught that we disagree with, is a first-order doctrine, something that is essential to orthodoxy, or whether it’s lower down the chain, and we’re allowed to disagree about it, without walking away from someone.
Emily: That’s really good, deep stuff.
Laura: I feel like I have about 50 other questions on that exact topic, [laughter] but we have to move forward, and stay focused here. As we wrap up here, how should moms of young children think about ministry in their season of life? I know a lot of times we can go back to saying, “I don’t have time for ministry, I don’t have time for pouring out.” What would you say, are some of the best ways to invest and grow and serve the church?
Jen: Again, you need to know your own capacity, and you need to know what support you have as you’re taking on these conversations. People always ask me what I did, and I am kind of hesitant to say that because I had fantastic support from Jeff. I had a sense of calling regarding a lot of what I was involved in when the kids were small. People will say, “Getting involved in ministry has a cost.” Yes, absolutely, it will always have a cost. The question is whether the cost is worth it or not, and that’s where you have to weigh for yourself. In my case, teaching regularly, using my discretionally times such as it was, to write curriculum and then eventually take on a leadership position in women’s ministry in my last church when the kids were little, those were all decisions that Jeff and I made together, weighed the cost, and agreed that the cost was worth it.
That’s what you have to get to, and know your capacity; it may be that it’s a six-month period where you need to pull completely out of everything you’re doing and focus on what’s going on at home. You can usually tell; like when your kids start to unravel, and you’re like, “What’s the matter with that kid?” Then you’re like, “Oh, because I’ve basically ignored him for three days straight.” [laugher] You have to keep a tab on it. Jeff and I have always sat down and evaluated things like on a three to six months basis. Is this getting better, is this getting worse? In terms of our stress level or our commitment level. That’s it too; it’s not a one time decision and then you just stick with it forever.
For me personally, being involved in ministry, in addition to the ministry of motherhood, has always been life-giving. For women who recognize that they have the capacity to do that, you should do it because you’ll be a better mom. It’s a part of who you are as the mom. That’s another thing I try to tell moms all the time. That when I would leave to go do ministry, I didn’t stop being the mom. I was being the mom that was given to my kids; a mom who is involved in this ministry element. As the kids got older, we told them, “Hey, when you guys manage your business while mom is teaching on Tuesday night, and when she gets home, you’ve done your homework and your laundry’s folded and you did the dishes, or whatever, you’ve actually partnered with her in doing women’s ministry. You are my ministry partners.” It wasn’t just a con game, it was absolutely true.
Emily: I love that. I am going to use that when this interview is over and I go out; “You guys partnered with me in ministry. You stayed so quiet.” [laughter]
Laura: Jen, as we wrap up, do you have any final exhortation or encouragement that you would like to give to young mothers today?
Jen: Yes. You can do this, you can be in the scriptures in ways that are drawing you closer to what they say, what they mean, how it should change you. You need to have a transcending vision of God, high and lifted up, to get through this season of life. It has been given to us, it’s in scripture.
Find the time to just get yourself into it, reading and taking it in, and as you’re able. Your love for it will grow the more you do it. I would compare it to the exercise thing – this is not first-hand knowledge by the way [laughter] – that it’s something that you learn to love, the more you do it. I guess it’s true of any area that we invest in. It’s true of this as well, but it’s true in a deeper and more personal way because what you’re growing in love for is not the scriptures, but the God of the scriptures.
Laura: Amen. That’s a good note to end on. Thank you so much for being on the show today Jen.
Jen: Thanks for having me.