Mothering Like Jesus: How Childbirth Illustrates the Life-giving Sacrifice of Body, Mind, and Soul That Applies to Us All

Mother kissing and hugging baby
Mother kissing and hugging baby

The call to service and sacrifice can be difficult enough without bringing our bodies into it. And yet, there it is in Scripture, an invitation to “to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” (Rom. 12:1, ESV). Paul describes physical sacrifice as our “spiritual act of worship.” He unifies our spiritual with our physical selves, grounding the spirit in real life and making sacred the body.

Many of us have an ambivalent relationship with our physical forms. Glamour mags infamously deepen the wedge between beauty and beholder. The post-fall body itself betrays us with aches, scars, sicknesses, and disease. I think of my sweet friend, whose womb denies her the children she longs for, and of my ever-strong grandfather’s astonishment when his legs at last refused to bear him.

It’s easier for us to push our bodies to the wayside. It’s easier to capitulate to the lingering Gnosticism that divides what God has joined—the spiritual from the physical—and falsely elevates the former. The Age of the Enlightenment is centuries behind us, but our worship of reason continues; I know of no seminary courses covering the theology of bunions and orgasm.

Yet our bodies, no less than our minds and spirits, are the instruments God uses to bring life to the world. Last month, I knelt on the cold tile of a bathroom floor, lowing and rocking, my cervix burning fiercely as I worked to deliver the tiny stranger who turned out to be my son. My whole mental, emotional, and particularly physical self labored to give life to another.

I believe every man and woman of us is called to a similar labor. While childbirth provides a visceral image of the demands of giving life, partnering with God to nurture others extends beyond biological parenting. If mothering means bringing life to others through acts of love that involve our whole person, then God charges each believer with mothering. It is our honor and our responsibility to love, as mothers do, with all we have: minds, hearts, and bodies.

“Being a body is intimately bound up with being a follower of God,” Lauren Winner says in Mudhouse Sabbath. “The New Testament makes clear that God cares about bodies very much.” Our bodies are as crucial to God’s plan as Mary’s was. Like Mary, whether single, married, parents, or otherwise, we are called to bear Christ’s life into the world.

Christ himself is the ultimate example of a whole self sacrificed for the lives of others. As Winner points out, Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection set the pattern for our own embodied loving. In bearing life we emulate the Author of our faith. Jesus gave life with his body, with his obedience to God, with his suffering. He gave life when he fed, healed, encouraged people, and told them the truth. If we would be like him, we will nurture as he did on earth.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today, Jeannie Whitlock

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