Who can forget the first time your baby looked you in the eye with a sense of knowing you’re the one who can be counted on? Or the first time the woman you’d been mentoring began writing down your words, storing them away for future reflection? Or the first time your child said “Mommy” with confidence?
It’s hard to forget these examples of mothering. They move us. They stay with us. They encourage us to press on. But know what else they often do? They make us feel like the center of the universe. Sure, maybe it’s a small universe, but we still feel like we’re the center. Our little children, both spiritual and physical, orbit around us—and on a good day, we feel pretty good about that attention. On a bad day, we’d rather just pack up and quit the whole thing.
It’s hard to ignore our tendency toward self-focus in this mothering task. We talk so much about the sacrifice mothers make, but even with all the dying to self that goes on, self still finds its way back into our minds. And it likes to camp out at the front.
Gloria Furman knows that tendency, so she’s written a book that intends to move self back to its rightful place in God’s big story. In Missional Motherhood: The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God, Furman takes us where few mothering books have gone before: through biblical history.
This book won’t tell you how to be a better mom to your kids, or a better mentor to your disciples, or a better teacher to your students, or anything else that comes to mind when you think about motherhood. But it will place you in the middle of redemptive history and give you a vision for God’s global purposes that spans far beyond your living room walls.
Grand Plan, Grand Mission
Missional Motherhood is divided into two sections: “Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God: Nurturing Life in the Face of Death” and “The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood: Go, Therefore, and Mother Disciples.” Furman starts first by saying that missional motherhood is for every woman—regardless of whether you have physical children (15). While most motherhood books speak only to mothers with children at their feet, Furman reminds us we’re all mothers to someone because, as she says, “mother is a verb, too” (15).
Section one takes us through God’s plan in salvation history. The reader is placed in God’s story, since that’s where we all must find ourselves, even if you’re not a believer in Christ. If you’ve never immersed yourself in biblical theology, this section is an excellent overview. To read it in a book on motherhood is a delight. We need to see God’s overarching purposes in the world in order to see where we fit into it. We need to be reminded regularly that God has a plan that goes beyond us, but also includes us. This section is a beautiful reminder of that plan.
Section two moves us to Christ and how his life, death, resurrection, and ascension transform our mothering. Furman says that our “sacrificial nurturing work would be radically reoriented if [we] understood that Christ is the creator of motherhood. Motherhood is for his purposes in the world” (107). She goes on to say that “God designed his creation to praise him, and his creation of motherhood is no exception” (107). This is the point of motherhood—to be part of his work of making disciples through us. And because motherhood is about disciplemaking, all women are included in this glorious work.
One thing that kept coming to mind as I read was, What about men? Don’t they nurture life as well? Furman anticipates this question. Drawing on the truth that men and women are created in the image of God, she notes they’re created differently to tell a story about him. And she highlights how the way men and women nurture life might differ in each culture (108). Furman provides two examples of nurturing life from her context (the Middle East) that will resonate with readers.
Biblically Rich, Vividly Compelling
There are many strengths in Missional Motherhood, most notably the depth of theological truths sprinkled on every page. Lest you think a book on motherhood need only be filled with practical examples and light Scripture (because moms are tired), think again. This book is deep—and that’s a good thing. Women need (and want) to know there’s meaning in the work they’re called to, whether it’s mentoring a young foster child, opening their home to strangers, teaching the Bible to women, or raising the next generation. Mothering is significant, and we need the truth of God’s Word to bear us up. If you’ve ever doubted that women can, and should, do theology, read Missional Motherhood.
Furman also has a knack for vivid imagery to drive home the point. Her way with words is beautiful and compelling. She’s a capable and smart writer, able to take deep truths and distill them into digestible nuggets for her readers, while remaining a delight to read.
As I mentioned, Furman introduces readers to biblical theology. I imagine not all would pick up Graeme Goldsworthy or Greg Beale, but many would pick up Gloria Furman. This is a gift to her readers. She’s exposing women to excellent teaching through a framework many desperately want help in—motherhood.
For all of the strengths of this book (and there are many more I don’t have time to mention), one thing I would’ve liked to see more concrete non-traditional mothering examples. It’s hard to hit everyone—and I’m a mother to young children, so I was served by Furman’s examples—but I think even more would have added to an already excellent book.
Overall, this book is a gift to women everywhere. Missional Motherhood is a breath of fresh air in a book market that tends to put women in different camps (married or single, mother or non-mother). Furman reminds us we’re all called to nurture life in the face of death—no matter our season, culture, or context.
Gloria Furman. Missional Motherhood: The Everyday Ministry of Motherhood in the Grand Plan of God. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016. 224 pp. $14.99.