A Mother's Example: Strive for Godliness, Not Perfection
- Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Don’t you ever do that again!” Janelle scolded Patty-Lynn in the severest tone her sweet, little voice could muster. Patty-Lynn (or Lynn-Patty as she was also known) was her Cabbage Patch doll. I listened from around the corner as the reprimand continued in an angry voice: “How many times do I have to tell you that it is not acceptable to disobey Mommy? I am very, very upset with you. That was your last warning, and now you will have to be punished. Do you hear me?”
I was poised to storm the room and nab her for unkind speech, but a single thought halted my well-timed raid: “She’s imitating me!” My daughter was only copying an earlier performance of mine when I’d angrily corrected her for emptying out the linen closet. If she was guilty, then I would first have to “arrest” myself.
Children are consummate mimics. They effortlessly take in our accents, mannerisms, and oft-used phrases, making them an indelible part of their personality. They copy the way we hold our purses, talk on the telephone, walk down the street, or put on our makeup. What mother hasn’t had the “I want to sink through the floor” experience of hearing her careless words repeated verbatim to an unintended audience?
But more than our traits and style, our daughters also absorb our character. From their earliest years, our behavior is their standard and guide. Our influence, for good or bad, will follow them into the teenage years and throughout their lives. So when they are in a conflict, do they lash out in anger, or do they seek to be peacemakers? When trials threaten to knock them down, who or what do they lean on? How earnestly do they seek the face of God? In all these things, our example will influence their conduct.
If truly understood, the impact of our example should bring us to our knees. Elisabeth Elliot soberly considers the fact that “the example of parents, for good or ill, is an influence far more profound than can be measured.”1
An authentic godly example is indispensable to the transfer of the language of biblical womanhood. Not only will our model of a godly woman provide a pattern for our daughters to copy, but every virtue we will teach stands or falls by our example. Our example must precede our instruction.
Appropriately did J. C. Ryle warn: “[Your children] will seldom learn habits which they see you despise, or walk in paths in which you do not walk yourself. [She] that preaches to [her] children what [she] does not practice, is working a work that never goes forward.”2
Paul Tripp points out that if we talk about Christ’s love and the Bible but live selfish, angry, materialistic lives, then we are saying with our example that God’s truth is only a facade. He writes: “Our teenagers will tend to dismiss or despise the very Gospel we say is of paramount importance. They will tend to reject the God we have so poorly represented, and they, too, will end up serving the idols of the surrounding culture.”3
While a poor example will dishonor the gospel, the godly example of a mother is among the most profound forces in human history. We read in the Bible of the mother-daughter pair, Lois and Eunice, who shaped the life of Timothy. In a survey of church history we are introduced to the influential mothers of great Christian leaders such as Augustine, Charles Spurgeon, and John and Charles Wesley—men whose love for the gospel resulted in thousands coming to know Christ.
Two hundred years ago John Angell James, in his book titled Female Piety, reported on the effect of a mother’s example in his day:
At a pastoral conference, held not long since, at which about one hundred and twenty American clergymen, united in the bonds of a common faith, were assembled, each was invited to state the human instrumentality to which, under the Divine blessing, he attributed a change of heart. How many of these, think you, gave the honour of it to their mother? Of one hundred and twenty, above one hundred! Here then are facts, which are only selected from myriads of others, to prove a mother’s power, and to demonstrate at the same time her responsibility.4
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