Many women dream of being mothers. And if God grants that gift, whether biologically or through adoption, they quickly discover that while it is full of joy, it is also full of hardship. It’s a call to lay down your life over and over again. That’s why only the Lord can fuel and sustain moms as they care for little lives and cultivate little hearts. Kristen Wetherell knows this truth and encourages weary moms in her new book, Humble Moms: How the Work of Christ Sustains the Work of Motherhood. Below, she answers questions about burnout, mom guilt, and the satisfaction of Christ.
Elizabeth Bristow: You recently wrote a book on motherhood called Humble Moms. With Mother’s Day approaching, give our readers a brief synopsis of the book and the message you hope to convey.
Kristen Wetherell: Humble Moms is a journey through John’s Gospel, looking at the humble heart and work of Jesus, and how he lives to serve his people (moms included). It is not a parenting book or a list of to-dos, but biblical meditations on God’s Son, who humbly serves us moms not only in hand, but in heart. My hope is to give hard-working and weary moms a deep breath and a chance to rest as they gaze at Christ and his sustaining work on their behalf.
EB: According to a 2020 survey of 3,169 respondents, 41% of moms are feeling burnout frequently and 51% of working moms said they feel burnout frequently or always. Why do you think this is, and what can we do to reverse this statistic?
KW: Three factors come to mind: the heart, the work, and the culture. First, by nature, our hearts want to be like God: without limits and everywhere, always. As moms, this desire can tend to burn us out as we seek to be everything to everyone, which is impossible for us. Second, the work of motherhood is hard. Period. It is a sacrificial job that often requires us to lay down our desires, plans, and preferences for our kids. Every type of work has been affected by the fall into sin, and that includes motherhood (so you’re not crazy, mom, for thinking it is hard!). Thirdly, I think moms are burnt out because our lives and faithfulness is no longer private, but on display for the world to see and critique through social media and the internet. We’re so busy looking side-to-side, comparing ourselves with others, that the possibilities feel overwhelming and the sense of failure, crushing. We need our eyes fixed on Someone better.
EB: What advice would you give to the mom who feels exhausted from taking care of her family?
KW: Ask for help. You are not God, and you were never meant to be. You have permission to be human (whew!): to need to stop and sleep, to need some helping hands, to need a Savior and Lord who is perfectly able to do everything you can’t. So, ask for help: first, from the Lord. He loves it when you come to him; that is why he came to you in the first place, to rescue you and carry you. He delights to serve you.
Then, if you are married, ask for help from your husband. Most of us don’t receive help from our hubbies because we don’t ask for it, and they can’t read our minds! Ask for help from friends, especially sisters in Christ from your local church, both peers and older women. God’s church is his body, his hands and feet doing his work in the world, so let others be his presence to you. They will be blessed in return.
You weren’t meant to do this motherhood thing alone; let God and his people serve you. As my senior pastor has said, “Jesus has more to give you than you have yet to receive” (John 10:10).
EB: We live in a culture that rewards us to hustle, be more, and achieve more. In your book, you write that “hustle doesn’t necessarily equal faithfulness.” How do you challenge moms to allow themselves permission to rest?
KW: We need to know that hustle doesn’t necessarily equal faithfulness, that at the end of the day, what matters is that we are faithful to Christ. Jesus said to his disciples in John 12:26, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” The culture bids us to hustle — to accomplish more and become more and earn more — in order to be great moms; but Christ bids us to become less, to become servants, and rest in him.
And how do we do that? By trusting that he is enough on our behalf, that he accomplished all we never could through his perfect obedience to the Father, and that our calling as moms is to follow him out of gratitude and love for him, by the power he supplies. I love what Pastor Bryan Chappell says: “We strive best when we are most rested.”
Think about how Jesus rested in his Father. Even when he was hours away from an excruciating death, he was at rest because he knew who he belonged to and where he was headed (John 13:3). Similarly, when we moms know we belong to Christ, that he is with us, and that we are headed into a glorious future with him (and all because of his grace), we are compelled to work for him from a heart of humility and gratitude. Our rest in Christ motivates and empowers our work for Christ.
It is this humble posture of service that made (and makes) Jesus great. And so, it is a humble posture of service before Jesus that makes a mom great. This is our great challenge: to rest ourselves on him.
EB: In our culture, social media often inflicts “mom guilt” and self comparison. What advice do you give to the mom who might be struggling with inadequacy?
KW: Three pieces of advice: One, your intention to serve your kids well and do right by them means that you love them. And that is a very good, God-given calling. You can praise him for that, and keep loving your kids.
Two, you need to know that you are inadequate, and that acknowledgment brings freedom, if we let it. You were never meant to be God! Only he is and has everything your kids need. So when you mess up and sin against your kids (and the Lord), let your guilt drive you to the throne of grace. When you can’t discern between true guilt and false guilt, ask God to search and know your heart, and know he is greater; he has covered and overcome your guilt at the cross. When you are reminded you are limited and inadequate, let that lead you to worship the One who isn’t and let it rest you in Christ’s perfectly adequate, righteous record, which has become yours by faith.
Third, take a break from social media. Clear your mind, and release your heart from it. This has been one of the most helpful things for me.
EB: Talk about your own experience as a mother of two kids. How do you ground yourself in truth when you feel weary from motherhood? How has Christ sustained you on the hard days?
KW: Jesus says that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). So when I am weary and discouraged, I need my faith in Christ strengthened; I need sustenance for my soul. So I turn to my Bible where Jesus reminds me of who he is and what he’s accomplished on my behalf. That’s the first thing I do to survive, before the day even begins.
Once the day gets going and the needs start rolling in — once my lower back starts hurting and the kids start crying all at once and there isn’t enough of me to go around — I need to rely on God’s moment-by-moment grace to sustain me. I don’t look too far ahead (I can’t, or I’ll crumble), and I take a deep breath. Sometimes I cry, knowing Jesus cares for me and feels compassion for me, that he knows what it is to be weak. I pick up my phone and text some friends for prayer — and I am reminded that Jesus is also praying for me right now in heaven. That gives me strength.
And honestly, some days I collapse onto the couch at night not even sure how I got through, and feeling discouraged that I didn’t consciously think about God that day. But I know God thought about me, cared for me, and carried me. I know he is actively serving and loving me, remaining faithful, even when I am faithless. Humble and needy is the best place we can be as moms.
EB: What encouragement can you give to expectant moms who feel overwhelmed and unprepared to step into motherhood?
KW: I thought about that mom the whole time I was writing this book! I have been that mom, and whew!, how I needed a book that would give me permission to stop and rest. I have certainly been blessed and helped by motherhood books, but most of them made me feel more tired. They somehow added to my already-full plate and depleted body. I desperately wanted to write a book that would invite an expectant or new mom to rest in Christ, to enjoy him, to worship, and to wonder freshly at his heart and work on their behalf.
EB: Many women struggle with infertility and long to experience the gift of motherhood. What encouragement would you give to a woman who is longing and expectant?
KW: Oh, I have been there. I would say, let your longing drive you to two things: expectant prayer to the Lord, and submissive waiting on him. We can do both. We can lament and live in the tension between assurance of God’s goodness and the unknown future. Use the Psalms to help you pray and wait well. They have been wonderful friends to me in times of sadness and uncertainty.
EB: How can we have a healthy view of our identity as mothers? How can we avoid wrapping our whole identity in that role?
KW: We need our minds aligned with God’s and what he says about us, so I would encourage every mom to make it her holy habit to steep her mind and heart in Scripture, which is the very mind of God. Commit yourself to a local church, where you are able to serve in various ways and see yourself as a member of the body of Christ. Another reason we struggle with identity as moms is because the culture degrades and devalues that role, thinking it beneath other ambitions, so it feels natural to want to cast it off. But motherhood is a very Christlike calling. It is a privilege and a joy to be a mom, but our identity is ultimately in Christ.
EB: How can we show honor to moms as a church?
KW: Pray for us. Acknowledge our work. Come alongside us, building us up in the faith (through faithful preaching, small groups, Bible studies, and women’s and children’s ministries). Reach out to a mom you know personally, and offer to help her in a practical way (or take her kids!). Tell us we are doing a hard thing, and that we’re doing it well. All of these things are honoring both to us and to Jesus.