Article Apr 28, 2015

Motherhood or singleness: Which is more sanctifying?

It’s a strange thing, marrying and bearing a child in your mid-thirties. I’m every inch a wife and mother, but the single girl I used to be is never far out of reach.

I remember being large with child when I heard the all-too-familiar cliché declared in a group setting: “Parenting is the most sanctifying thing in the world.” I knew their words were well intentioned, but my heart sank as I looked around at dear friends who were single, widowed, and barren. Did this stir up grief in them as it once did in me?

To a single girl, the idea that you’ve supposedly fallen behind in the natural progression of life and that you’re also lacking in maturity and sanctification—is painful at best.

On the other hand, as a young mom I now understand why this idea came about. When you’ve gone without sleep, showers, and social interaction for too long, you grope for ways to make sense of your new reality. Everything about you has been surrendered for the sake of another, so this must be the pinnacle of sanctification, right?

My single friends will quickly agree that they can’t relate to my day full of sacrificial love for my family. I no longer have time to linger at a coffee shop with my Bible and journal, buy a cute new outfit at-will, make fun travel plans, complete any one task from beginning to end, or set a predictable agenda for my day.

But I no longer have to sacrifice in the way my single friends do either: I won't go to bed alone tonight, cry over my unfulfilled passions, work a demanding full-time job to support myself, solitarily juggle all the details and demands of daily life, or feel like an anomaly at a table of all couples.

While his methods vary, God is always committed to maturing and sanctifying his children. But his primary instrument is not our age or stage-of-life—it’s his Spirit and Word at work within us.

Scripture is rich with examples of this. Here are just three:

1. Loving and serving others matures us.

Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us that when we give our lives to serve the Body of Christ, seek unity with one another, and speak truth in love, we mature into adulthood and “grow up in every way” into the fullness of Christ. Then we are no longer children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.

Am I serving in community? Am I forgiving those who wrong me? Am I speaking the truth in love to those around me? These actions that spring from a heart full of the Spirit are what grow us up in God—whether you are a mom of four, a wife with no children, or a single woman.

2. Pressing on to know Christ matures us.

Philippians 3 says that those who are mature should think this way: We put no confidence in the flesh; we don’t have a righteousness of our own that comes from the law. We count all our gain as loss compared to knowing Christ. We want to know him and the power of his resurrection and share in his sufferings and death and resurrection. We haven’t attained to all of this, but we press on to do so.

Am I trusting in my looks, talents, or life experiences? Am I boasting in what I have and what I do? Am I trying to avoid suffering and chase after creature comforts instead? If so, then I may have a maturity problem—regardless of my marital or maternal status.

3. Meditating on the Word matures us.

Psalm 119:99 says, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditations.” (See also John 17:17.)

Are my thoughts marinating in Scripture? On a moment-to-moment basis, do I think more about me or more about God? You can be a single woman who is so ingrained in the Word that your life oozes selfless love. And you can be a mom who treats your children as hindrances to your own pursuits. It’s easy for me to point the finger at other moms, but I am guilty of this on a daily basis. There are moments every day when, more than anything else, I want my son to serve my needs so that I can accomplish my cleaning, writing, cooking, correspondence, or “ministry” goals.

Has motherhood turned my world upside-down? Oh, yes. Has it brought me more joy and fulfillment than I could possibly have imagined? Absolutely, yes. Am I more mature and sanctified now that I’m a mom? Only inasmuch as I’ve lived and loved out of an overflow of God’s Word at work in me. Where I’ve lived for myself, there’s plenty of maturing left to do.

And where there is desperate need for maturing (as there is in all of us), there is a faithful God who is working in love to complete the good work He began in the first place—and that’s true for every season of life we find ourselves in.

How are you pursuing maturity in Christ in this particular season of your life?