When I considered what I wanted to say about “Being a Lutheran mother,” I immediately thought, “Lutheran mothers are good at living in limbo, at hanging in the balance, at dealing with dichotomies.” Lutheran mothers, like all Lutherans, have to live in the space between:
• The already and the not yet
• Law and gospel
• Freedom and servanthood
• Grace and works
• Saint and sinner
But Lutheran mothers also have to balance in that place between:
- Permissiveness and boundaries
- Love and discipline
- Gifting and spoiling
- Yes and no
- Rewards and consequences
Martin Luther had a lot to say about parenting. He wrote about the importance of education, about the spiritual and temporal authority of parents, and about the need to teach children the faith. He said that the role of schoolteacher (next to preacher) was the “most useful, greatest, and best” (1530 Sermon on the Duty of Sending Children to School).
Although Luther’s Small Catechism has been used in modern times as instruction of young people in the church during middle school confirmation classes, it was originally written so that parents could teach their children of all ages the basics of the faith.
This catechism (unlike the Large Catechism) includes morning and evening prayer, grace at table, and tables of household duties because he was instructing everyday parents to teach their children the faith, not instructing priests or monks.
Luther even suggests a blessing to be used before meals: “The eyes of all look to Thee, O Lord, and thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest thy hand; thou satisfies the desire of every living thing.” We might use more modern language in our own families.
Luther felt very strongly that the vocation (calling) to be parents was extremely important. In his 1519 Sermon on the Estate of Marriage, he said: “(Parents) can do no better work and do nothing more valuable either for God, for Christendom, for all the world, for themselves, and for their children than to bring up their children well.”
He also wrote that, “Most certainly father and mother are apostles, bishops, and priests to their children, for it is they who make them acquainted with the gospel.” According to Luther, we parents have a holy responsibility to raise our children in the faith and to bring up our children well.
And in spite of that holy responsibility and the general honor I feel for having the blessing of parenting my children, I feel my Lutheran “mom-ness” most when I experience life with my three little “blessings” in the place between:
- The already (yes, big boys get to sit in a regular chair instead of a high chair) and the not yet (no, you cannot sit in the front seat at age 5)
- Law (eat your vegetables) and gospel (OK, you only have to eat three more bites)
- Freedom (go outside and play) and servanthood (you can’t play until the dishes are done)
- Grace (let’s play a game together) and works (you may not play video games until your homework is complete)
- Saint (you’re such a helper) and sinner (what did you do now?)
- Permissiveness (yes, you may have six more jelly beans) and boundaries (no dessert before dinner)
- Love (I love you no matter what) and discipline (no, you cannot hit your sister)
- Gifting (Happy Birthday, here’s your present) and spoiling (here’s a present I bought you because I know you love American Girl)
- Yes (you may wear your winter boots even though it’s May) and no (you may not wear your swimsuit to the sledding hill)
- Rewards (yes, you can buy a new Matchbox car because you cleaned your room without being asked) and consequences (no, you may not go to the mall with your friends because you lied to me about where you were yesterday)
Each day as a Lutheran mother is an unending balance between these realities. It can cause theological whiplash, as we Lutheran moms try to figure out where we are at any given moment. But for those who can live with undeniable ambiguity (Lutherans are supposedly great at this), there is joy, blessing and treasure to be found in Lutheran “mom-ness.”
Perhaps we all can be reassured by another quote by Luther from “Defense of All the Articles”:
This life, therefore, is not righteousness,
but growth in righteousness;
Not health, but healing;
Not being, but becoming;
Not rest, but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be,
but we are growing toward it.
Carla Thompson Powell is an ordained pastor of the ELCA. Carla and her husband, Darryl, who is also a pastor, live in Chicago with their three children.