My husband and I worked in local church ministry for over ten years before moving abroad to serve for the last five and a half. There’s something I want you to know about this life: you’re going to need a lot of fortitude for the journey. Working with people, in any time and any place, is hard. It doesn’t matter if it’s in your home country or a host country. Working with people is heart-wrenching and soul-filling, and you need endurance.
This is something else I want you to know: in the years ahead, never hesitate to serve out of your feminine strength. A lot of teaching models are filled with masculine metaphors. There’s battle this, and army that. There’s fighting here and soldiering on there. The Bible itself is filled with battle-speak. We are to put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. But the same Paul who told us in Ephesians 6 that our battle is not against flesh and blood and that we were to arm ourselves and stay alert and be persistent and stand firm, that very same Paul was not ashamed in his first letter to the Thessalonians to compare himself to a woman.
In I Thessalonians 2:7, Paul, Silas and Timothy jointly describe their conduct among the believers there: “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (ESV). I was in a training session this summer when I first truly took hold of this verse. We had studied the great faith and love of the Thessalonian church in chapter 1, and now we were in chapter 2 studying the attributes of the men who’d told them the Good News. When we got to the verse about these three men acting like a mother, some of the men seemed to want to brush it off and focus instead on verse 11, where the letter writers compare themselves to good fathers.
But I couldn’t brush Paul’s words off. I remembered how physically demanding it was to be a nursing mother. I had to speak out: “We have this idea of a mother with her nursing baby that’s all sweetness and light. But it’s not. It’s really hard work. You have to feed yourself well, so you can feed your baby. You have to get up at all hours of the night to care for a crying child, and you have to try not to be cranky about all that lost sleep.”
As I spoke, women all around me nodded their heads in agreement, and several told me afterward how glad they were that I had said that. They had lived it, too, and they knew the challenges of mothering. You need a lot of stamina. You don’t sleep through the night for months on end. Sometimes you get painful mastitis or yeast infections. You have to keep up your water and calorie intake. To your embarrassment, you leak milk everywhere. Or you have to work hard to make enough milk. Sometimes you can’t figure out for the life of you how to make this child stop crying, but somehow you have to stay calm while you do it. On top of that, you’re basically tethered to your child because you don’t know when they’ll need to eat again. You sacrifice many things for this child, this child whom you love so tenderly and so fiercely.