Elrena Evans

Highest Calling

Raising children is the most important work we do for the Kingdom of God. Isn't it?

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Take, as an example, the first myth she tackles: "Having Children Makes You Happy and Fulfilled." This myth, she argues, is particularly pervasive among North American Christians. Women especially are taught to believe that motherhood will bring them fulfillment. "Early in my parenting," she writes, "I expected children to feel like a reward—like a hot fudge sundae after running a race, like a prize after finishing a difficult test. Instead, raising children feels much more like a marathon, like the difficult race itself!" Christian parents, Leyland Fields argues, tend to look to verses talking about children as a reward (Psalm 127:3-5) or a blessing (Psalm 113:9) and assume that the timbre of these verses is indicative of what the Scripture says about parenting as a whole. And that's not necessarily true. "As I have undertaken word searches and studies," Leyland Fields writes, "it now appears to me that little more in God's Word promises happiness along with children. The Bible does not exhort us toward children for the sake of our own fulfillment. In fact, we are given several stories of women whose hopes for happiness through their children led them astray."

She cites Sarah, mother of Isaac, who was not content to wait on God's timing for her promised child, so enraptured with the thought of a son that she ordered her servant Hagar to sleep with her husband Abraham. She cites Rachel, mother of Jacob and Benjamin, who was so desperate to be validated by bearing children that she called out to her husband Jacob, "Give me children, or I'll die!" (Genesis 30:1). And she devotes extensive space to the story of Manoah and his wife, Sampson's parents, who watched their promised child grow into a man who defied the Lord and ultimately died an early death. Through examination of stories like these, Leyland Fields comes to the conclusion that scripturally, the purpose of children is not to provide fulfillment for their parents. In fact, judging our "success" as parents based on our "wildly fluctuating" levels of fulfillment is wrong. Instead, we should be asking ourselves such question as "Am I parenting faithfully? Am I parenting consistently? Am I honoring God as I raise my children?"

Leyland Fields applies a similar test to the other myths she tackles in her book, finally crafting an ethos that is much less parent- and feeling-centered but more deeply rooted in the Scriptures, in the nature of God himself. The book is structured with Scripture readings at the end of each chapter, followed by a series of questions for reflection and discussion.

When asked what she hopes readers will take away from her book, Leyland Fields says, "I hope they first thing readers say is—what an awesome God we serve! Because that's really what this is about—seeing deeper into the heart of God and what he intends for us through parenting. There's an incredible sense of release and freedom … . [W]e can never achieve all that we want for our children, we can never fulfill all our children's needs, and the truth is, we were never meant to."

"In a culture than increasingly devalues children," Leyland Fields writes, "Christians fight to preserve biblical values of devotion to God and family … [but] ironically, pretending that parenting is easy diminishes the value of family. As truth seekers and truth speakers, we need to be honest about the cost of parenting." Honest about the costs, and honest about the calling itself—in Parenting Is Your Highest Calling, Leyland Fields is honest about both.

Elrena Evans is co-editor of Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life, published earlier this year by Rutgers University Press.

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