During my pregnancy with my first child, I belonged to an interdenominational Bible study that was filled mostly with medical students who planned on doing mission work. Waddling in to the room, I remember feeling like a spiritual slacker surrounded by all these selfless MDs-to-be, discussing their plans to spread the Good News while offering medical care to the poor. I wanted to make a difference, too, but my new life as a wife and mother certainly wasn’t going to be all that conducive to crossing borders to heal the physically, emotionally, and spiritually sick.
One night after we met, I returned home a weepy mess. Blame it on the pregnancy hormones or the talk ad nauseam about the importance of proclaiming the gospel from the rooftops (or Eiffel Tower, or Taj Mahal), but I started to wonder how I was going to measure up as a faithful Christian in the trenches of motherhood. My friends were going to be the heroes of Save the Children. As for me? I saw an image of me, pregnant (again), hidden and facing an endless future of wiping sticky counters, messy bottoms, and snotty noses.
How helpful was that to a world of need?
A big part of my anxiety over the way my life was panning out had to do with good old-fashioned pride: I wasn’t convinced I wanted to do so much serving without all the kudos. Being a missionary seemed glamorous, dangerous. Being a new mom? Not so much — unless your idea of glamour is wearing more baby drool than makeup.
I had wanted to do big things in my life, things that got people’s attention. At 13, long before I had ever considered the vocation of motherhood, my best friend and I made a pact that we would make the world a better place. We dreamed of changing the world — traveling to remote lands, getting dirt under our nails as we became the hands of Christ. Inspired by Mother Teresa, we hungered to “love until it hurts” and to serve the poorest of the poor.
Then we grew up.
Today, this same friend is completing her pediatric emergency fellowship. When she’s not fully immersed in her training, she’s jetting off to Africa or India on planned medical mission trips or solo jaunts where she finds a need and meets it. She sends my oldest child, her goddaughter, pictures from her do-good travels. We have a photo of her standing beside a sister from the Missionaries of Charity. There’s another snapshot of her hugging smiling children who are glowing, in spite of their physical disfigurements or the sharp angles of their faces, bony knees, and elbows.
These photos are evidence that my friend has kept her end of the bargain. Meanwhile, I’m searching for MIA sippy cups and submersed in Potty Training 101.
I’m honored to have someone like my friend to serve as my daughter’s godmother; she is living the gospel, healing the sick, and bringing God’s love to the far corners of the world. We pray for her and her work often. She is doing great things with her life.
But so am I. So are all mothers who abandon their “big plans” to raise children. A mother’s mission may be confined to the home, but it is a mission all the same. Moms are servants, extensions of Christ. Mothers and fathers are called to teach our children how to live Christ’s love — to be good, caring people. We’re helping to shape and educate souls for eternity. We are called to bring the spiritual and corporal works of mercy to life every day. We instruct the ignorant. We counsel the doubtful. We comfort the sorrowful. We bear wrongs patiently. We forgive injuries. We feed the hungry. We give drink to the thirsty. We clothe the naked.
Mother Teresa, who remains both my friend and my hero, suggested that “if you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” A mom’s work isn’t always as easy to recognize as mission work or the religious life, and the fruit of a mother’s work can take a long time to ripen. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less significant. God dispatches moms to their homes, and He gives them an important assignment; it just doesn’t require them to travel much beyond their doorsteps. A mother’s mission field is in her children’s souls and in the heart of her home. When mothers look at their life’s work in that light, they should see that they are missionaries in the truest form.
Posted on our fridge beside the pictures of my heroic, selfless doctor friend doing great things are my meal plans for the week, my five-year-old’s artwork, a copy of Pope XXIII’s Decalogue for Daily Living, and photos of me with my family. There’s one of my baby sleeping in my arms. There’s a snapshot of my girls and me, hair askew, our skin tanned and dusted with sand, laughing together on the beach. Then another of me with my arm around my husband. They’re the kinds of things you’re likely to find on a lot of fridges in America: glimpses into the ordinary life of an ordinary mom. But if you look closely, you’ll see evidence of someone who is doing small things with great love; and those small things will, with God’s grace, hopefully add up to make a world of difference.