Christ in the Chaos: How the Gospel Changes Motherhood
Christ in the Chaos: How the Gospel Changes Motherhood
Kimm Crandall
Cruciform Press, 2013
128 pp., $9.99

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Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe
Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe
Sarah Mae
Thomas Nelson, 2013
240 pp., $16.99

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Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning
Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning
Rebekah Lyons
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2013
224 pp., $19.99

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Leslie Leyland Fields

Are Christian Mothers Human?

Three reports from the battlefield.

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We have to lay down our pride and give up ourselves for our children. Play the game with them they want to play. Put away our books or computers, serve them, train them, encourage them, fill their souls with life. Play ponies with them on the floor. Choose to enter into the mundane with our children: playing ponies, doing crafts, getting wet socks in the snow … do these things so you can say "I was intentional. I was faithful; I chose my children."

All this is to be done "for the glory of God," but you may experience a further reward for investing your every moment into your children, Clarkson writes. You will not only experience "joy and fulfillment" but you will also "eventually find that you have developed your own best friends out of your own children, who have learned to love what you love." I am wondering if the artistic mother whose child grows up to be a mechanic or an accountant who is ambivalent about art will feel like a failure. This kind of "shaping," "subduing," and "ruling" requires women to be with their children 24/7.

Kimm Crandall in Christ in the Chaos writes from a parallel milieu. Early in the book she recalls confiding to a friend her fears and despair in mothering her young children. What Crandall got was parenting tips based on her friend's experience and a few Bible verses to motivate her to do better. Crandall writes, "So while honestly trying to help, she had only given this overwhelmed, guilt-stricken mom even more to do—a heavier burden when I could not even bear the first one." Crandall identifies the root issue as simply this: neither one of them understood the gospel. "We were two theologically clueless Christian women trying our best to earn favor in the eyes of God and man by living up to a standard that we were quite sure was the only true definition of an excellent godly mother."

Crandall recognized that in her particular evangelical subculture, the root of the crisis in motherhood was not inattention or selfishness but poor theology. Like Clarkson and Mae, once she had children, she dropped everything else and built her identity upon her mothering. Jesus was still her "ticket in," yet she was ruled by stronger forces: her "incessant need" for approval from others, her own performance-driven efforts to be judged a godly mother.

But a serious study of the gospel and the grace of Christ eventually freed her from her good-mother-works addiction. Christ has already done it all, she reminds her readers. It's not her performance as a mother or a churchgoer that earns her Father's affections; "Christ has already performed perfectly on my behalf." She challenges her readers: "Does your ultimate worth depend on how you enact your motherhood?" Such a value system, defining worth simply in "the fact that I bore children," led to her own depression and, she suggests, to others' as well.

Crandall extrapolates from the gospel helpful prescriptions to heal the crippling culture of Christian mothering: that we lay down our masks, that we boast about our weaknesses to one another instead of our successes, that we quit the "try harder" and "do better" pep talks we give to one another. She sums up her advice this way: "Acknowledge your weakness, abide in Christ and start breaking down the culture of self-righteousness." While she stops short of suggesting that women develop other callings, gifts, or interests to enrich the experience of motherhood or to diffuse its pressures, she goes a long way toward unseating motherhood from its narrow, impossible throne.

Lyons' book, Freefall to Fly, takes us in a different direction. With her husband, Gabe, Lyons is co-founder of Q Ideas, a nonprofit organization that "helps Christian leaders winsomely engage culture. "The "found" to her "lost" is her discovery of calling and purpose in addition to her home. As a thirtysomething woman raised in the church, she questions the always-at-home model of Christian motherhood that she unquestioningly absorbed as she was growing up:

I'd never felt encouraged to pursue anything else besides becoming a loving wife and caring mother. Like many other women, I had a predetermined life path. After walking the aisle, I should take the short road to motherhood. After that, my journey would be a cul-de-sac of caregiving in the home. To pursue any other path was second class, less than ideal. And as I've learned through talking with Christian women of different ages across the country, I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Her story is intensely personal—at times uncomfortably so—but like the other two books, hers is intended as a call to action, which we begin to discern when she moves from her own experience to the statistics on women and depression. One in four women takes antidepressants, she tells us, twice as many as men. Can it be because many women are living frustrated, child-cloistered lives? The turning point for Lyons comes at a weekend seminar on calling, when her own simmering desire to minister to women in need is identified and finally articulated.

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