I paused mid-scroll in my Facebook feed one afternoon when I saw it:
another very strong opinion voiced in a very strong way by a mama acquaintance. Just a couple of hours after being posted, there were already scores of comments. Some were in agreement with the stated opinion, others were not. It was quickly becoming an argument filled with emphatic remarks and conclusions being drawn about the “other side” that were getting more and more inflammatory and accusatory. There were some who were genuinely trying to keep the peace, but it wasn’t helping much.
There were two things that struck me as I read:
1) yet again it was a topic relating to motherhood.
And 2) it was a topic that – very legitimately – has two sides to it. Sadly, though, there were so many entering into an argument and causing hurt and polarization amongst mamas on an issue where neither sentiment was right or wrong, just different.
You’ve probably seen similar interactions on your social media feed. There are so many heightened topics right now that can quickly become divisive amongst moms: Vaccines vs. no vaccines. Homeschooling vs. public school. Home birth vs. hospital birth (or medicated vs. unmedicated). Sleep training vs. no sleep training. Organic diet vs. non-organic diet. Natural medicine vs. conventional medicine. Breastfeeding vs. formula. Screen time vs. no screen time. The list goes on.
But should we, as Christian moms, be so quick to make these topics black-and-white, causing tension between sisters in Christ? Does God actually make these things as starkly right and wrong as we often do?
There is a perspective that has come to be helpful and clarifying to Judah and I as we’ve talked and prayed about how to handle these kinds of issues in practical life that aren’t clearly outlined in Scripture. It’s called Principles vs. Methods.
Principles vs. Methods
The Bible is full of instructions for how we ought to live. These commands are clearly stated in Scripture as non-negotiable, and things that all Christians should be practicing: love others, walk in humility, preach the gospel, live in purity, practice hospitality, serve others, etc. These and more are foundational principles that are evidences of being followers of Jesus; principles every Christian should wholeheartedly and unwaveringly obey.
But the methods, or ways, these principles are to be obeyed aren’t always laid out in Scripture in a step-by-step manner, and may have multiple “right” answers. For instance, as moms we know we’re to love our children (Titus 2:4), which is a non-negotiable principle. But it doesn’t say exactly what that means in every situation (i.e. should I feed my child only organic food). It’s these things that we’re all responsible individually and as couples to seek the Lord for how He wants us to implement these in our lives. This is where wisdom and personal convictions come into play for our specific families, situations, or seasons.
But we can be so quick to make personal convictions about the methods into black-and-white rules; to call an open-handed approach a closed-handed command. When someone chooses a different way of functioning within their family, we can easily become critical and dogmatic about our way being the best. While we may think our method truly is the wisest or best, we definitely shouldn’t be calling these things sin in someone else. Why? Because God doesn’t say they are. And we may not go so far as to call them sinful, but sometimes we sure judge them like they are.
Called to Love
As believers – sisters in Christ – we’re called to love one another well. Jesus said,
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”John 13:35
The way we treat one another is supposed to represent to a lost and dying world just how incredible it is to be a part of the family of God. But all-too often we forget that this is the kind of love we’re called to. We become critical, we lose our patience, we major on the minors, and cause division because we’re not simply obeying Jesus. I’ve been guilty of it, and the Lord has convicted my heart time and again about the way I treat and think about my spiritual family.
Paul’s admonition to the Ephesian church is still just as needed in our day as it was then,
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”Ephesians 4:1-3
We should be eager to maintain unity amongst our fellow Christian mamas. We must walk in humility, willing to hear different perspectives and gently presenting our own. We need to patiently hear people out, not being quick to attack their methods even if we truly think our way is wiser. More than anything, in our interactions with one another we should be seeking to point each other to Jesus.
This doesn’t mean we can’t have strong convictions for why we do or don’t do something. I certainly have a few. However, I also need to remember that I am responsible before the Lord for my own decisions, not the decisions of my fellow mama friends. We can talk about differences of opinions in a gentle, patient, loving way that doesn’t cause division. We can offer suggestions when asked, and we can also humbly and graciously listen when others offer theirs. And this comes by each of us submitting ourselves to the Holy Spirit to help us live in a manner “worthy of the calling to which [we] have been called.”
These are a few practical things that have helped me in being able to brooch these subjects in a way that is edifying and loving.
Expect the Best
It’s so easy to jump to conclusions as to why other moms might be choosing to do things a certain way. But, it’s probably not true that they are vaccinating their children because “they’re just ignorant,” or that they’re not because “they want to get everyone sick.” Or, that someone who gives their child sugar is trying to poison them, or that someone who has home births doesn’t care about the safety of their baby. We need to be so watchful that we’re expecting the best of our sisters in Christ, speaking in such a way that isn’t going to cause hurt or make them look bad in others’ eyes. Even when we truly don’t think their decision is the best for what may be valid reasons, let’s approach it with grace, love, and humility, and practice self-control over our thoughts and words.
There were a few methods I said I would probably never practice before becoming a parent; and guess what I’ve done? At least one of those things (ok, maybe more). I had to be willing to humble myself to realize that I needed to change my opinion and embrace a different way of doing something because my original way wasn’t working or I saw the wisdom of trying another route.
We need to be willing to hear out those who have differences of opinion on the methods we use, because it just may be that our way isn’t the best (or only) way. Or what works for one child might not work for another, so changing things up a bit may be really good. All this needs to be done prayerfully and with godly counsel, being sure we’re not compromising on the closed-handed issues. But keeping a humble and teachable heart posture in regards to these methods is important, and could be very helpful to us in the long run.
One way I’ve been able to enter into conversations with other moms about these sometimes touchy topics is by asking questions; not interrogating them, but asking in a way that is humble and genuinely interested in their way of thinking. For example, saying, “I’d love to hear how you and your husband have thought through [blank]. Would you be willing to share?” Or, “What are your thoughts on [blank]? I’m still thinking and praying about it, and would love to hear your perspective.” This opens the way for loving and life-giving interactions on these methods. And often I’ve been surprised to find that I learned lots of helpful things and gained a more well-rounded perspective.
Lastly, I’ve discovered that the best context to talk about these potentially sensitive topics is privately. And ideally, in person. This keeps it from becoming a group discussion where there are greater variables of differing (unsolicited) opinions. In person there is less room for misunderstanding, more room for clarification, and much easier for conversations to be constructive rather than destructive.
Also, if we truly are concerned that the method another mom is using is unwise according to Scripture, it should most definitely be brought up in a way that’s not going to cause embarrassment in front of others. Even if we do it “passive aggressively” on social media without being specific, it doesn’t honor that person and is more likely to cause more discord than unity. it’s best to gently and humbly bring up our concerns where they can hear our voice, see our face, and know that we’re coming to them out of love, not criticism (and before we go to them, we should always ask the Lord to check our motives and show us if it’s the right time and way to bring it up).
We’ve been given such a precious gift in our fellow Christian mamas. These relationships have the potential to be a source of godly encouragement, help, and love as we all seek to mother our children to the glory of God. And because our deepest bond is in Jesus, we can still have beautiful fellowship with one another even when our methods on open-handed issues vary. Instead of majoring on the minors, let’s major on Jesus, always seeking to know Him more and point others to Him, too.