Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full (Review)

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No one could have fully prepared me for the great joys–and difficulties–of motherhood.

From that first joyful moment of the positive test… through the pregnancy and birth… to  now as we’ve watched our baby grow into a toddler, I have been simultaneously overcome with love for my son (like nothing I’d ever experienced!), and yet overwhelmed with the newfound challenges that arise from being a mom.

Sweet newborn smiles and snuggles… counterbalanced with painful breastfeeding and frequent sleep deprivation.

Wonder and joy (this is my baby? I get to raise this sweet little boy? Thank you, Lord!)… intermingled with depression and anxiety (is he okay? What if I’m a bad mom? Why am I so sad? I don’t feel like myself anymore).

As my sweet little baby has grown into a still-sweet, yet rambunctious (and sometimes rebellious) little boy, I’ve experienced growing confidence in God’s grace (“hitherto the Lord has helped me”), mixed with new doubts and fears: “Why doesn’t he speak more words? When should I wean him? How do I teach and discipline him the right way?”

I know I’m not alone in these experiences. In fact, I’m convinced it’s the norm, especially for new moms, to feel this way.

In the midst of these struggles, mothers like me (whether you have one child or 10) need to be reminded of God’s truth. We need heart-checks and advice from other moms who can point us to true wisdom, especially when we’re tempted to follow the ebb and flow of our feelings.

That’s why I’m grateful that godly women are writing about motherhood from a biblical perspective. Ultimately Scripture is our one perfect guide, but books like Gloria Furman’s Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full, while not infallible, yet can prove helpful to new moms and experienced pros alike.

THE BIG PICTURE

In Treasuring Christ, Gloria offers us a big, sweeping portrait of how motherhood fits into the beautiful tapestry of God’s eternal purpose.

It’s all about God and His glory–in creating man and woman, and, despite our first parents’ rebellion, granting them children and preserving the human race. It’s about how the Lord is working through us to raise up generations to praise and serve Him. It’s about how He is victorious over Satan, this world, and our sin–when He changes our hearts and makes us mothers who teach our children to love and fear the Lord.

You can see what I mean from just this short excerpt:

Motherhood is a piece of evidence of God’s triumphant agenda to give life despite the curse of death. It is a gift that points us to Jesus. As life marches on to the praise of God’s glory, we see a riveting display of the grace of our Father, who will fulfill his promise to give his Son an inheritance of nations to the praise of his glory. There’s no greater goal than that (144).

I appreciate the high and grand view she presents of motherhood. It can be hard at times to grasp how significant it truly is, when we are surrounded by a society that generally puts down motherhood as being stifling to a woman’s “dreams.”

Not to mention our own difficulty remembering the greatness of this calling, when we’re in the midst of changing dirty diapers, navigating how to get a baby to sleep, and wondering if the house will ever be clean with a toddler around.

It is also clear that Gloria has a biblical foundation of theology behind her writing. There’s no liberal poison here! On the contrary: she shares Scriptural truths about God and His Word, holiness, and grace in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike many authors today, she doesn’t shy away from calling sin “sin.” She demonstrates the realities of the Fall and our need for redemption which is found only in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.

HEART STRUGGLES

One of my favorite aspects of the book is Gloria’s openness about her sin and difficulties as a mother–paired with her reflections about the condition of our hearts and what we truly need.

Lots of books for women include sharing stories about one’s failings, but few are real about the spiritual consequences and weightiness of sin. It’s popular right now to tell funny stories about how you yelled at your kids, lost your temper toward your husband, lied, or did other “mistakes” (you can see that in this book, for instance). But the stories don’t end in repentance and acknowledgment of sin against God. Rather they end in patting yourself on the back–“Hey, we all make mistakes, it’s alright, God will bless this mess.” (Cringe.)

Barring one inconsistent example (which I will explain in the concerns below), Gloria upholds the practice of confessing sin to God and your whole family, including your children, and seeking change flowing from that repentance–both in the heart and in outward actions.

Here are a few encouraging and convicting reflections Gloria provided in the book that I remember vividly:

  • She describes various struggles that I also experience regularly. For instance, after her baby was born, she was often interrupted while trying to spend time alone with the Lord. She felt frustrated, like the whole day was a spiritual waste. I’ve often felt the same way. I was encouraged when she shared that “God wants to fellowship with us right where we are–even in the commotion of ordinary life” (74).
  • Here is another example: she laments her lack of love for others and the hostility that easily rises up. She shares how God showed her it was a craving to satisfy and control herself and her environment by willpower (not relying on the Lord) that led her to these outbursts. I myself am tempted to rely on my own “perfect chore charts” and forget the Lord (88). Her reminders of Christ’s humility and our calling to submit to Him, lay down our self-worship, and love one another really helped me.
  • Gentle but firm rebukes: “No child should have to shoulder the weight of her mother’s glory and reputation” (92). “We need to humbly rend our heart before we rend our Internet search engines searching for answers” (102). Wow.
  • Throughout the book, we are given heart-checks to remind us to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, His love for us that will satisfy us, and our glorious future with Him.

SOME CONCERNS

While I found much of Treasuring Christ helpful and encouraging, it was not exactly what I expected. I started it with the anticipation that the book would tackle head-on the issue of how to love Christ and honor Him, while raising littles (in the crazy chaos of life). Though it’s true Gloria does address this to a certain extent, the book is more of a theological meditation rather than a practical guide on how to do this.

In fact, Gloria seems to purposely steer away from functional advice in favor of providing more–somewhat repetitive–explanations of God’s grace, biblical history, and our justification. All of those are wonderful truths, of course, but Treasuring Christ sometimes lacks the application of this theology to sanctification that you would hope for in a book about motherhood.

A false dichotomy

Consider this statement Gloria makes in chapter 9, “The Fictitious Mother of the Year”:

Advice on things such as choosing a safe car seat or teaching a finicky preschooler to eat a well-balanced meal is easy to come by. Instructions on how to love your neighbor and nurture your children are also readily available. What we are less likely to come by is encouragement to consider how the gospel transforms our motherhood. (121)

Do you see a false dichotomy present in these sentences? Gloria claims that knowing how to love your neighbor and take care of your children is easily attainable information we can glean from pretty much anywhere–the parallel sentence structure implies that it’s as common as finding advice on how to choose a car seat. She then pits that practical knowledge against the consideration of how “the gospel transforms our motherhood.”

But what happens when the gospel actually does transform us as mothers? Doesn’t the gospel (and the whole counsel of God) teach us how to love our neighbor? How to nurture our children? Shouldn’t we get our wisdom on these things from God in Scripture, and not from the world?

Another passage from the book gave me pause for the same reason:

The tyranny of the urgent decisions is deluding. We often feel that the most important decision we need to make in a day is about our child’s extracurricular activity or whether to introduce the baby to a pacifier. Yet what impacts our daily lives much more is whether we are seeking the Lord in his Word and through prayer so that he might fill us with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding. More relevant than our mothering choices or strategies is whether we are walking in a manner worthy of him, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:9-10). (97-98)

Of course, I agree with Gloria to an extent here. Yes, we need to be seeking the Lord and His wisdom and Word, and yes, ultimately, the issue of “Pacifier or no?” is not all that significant.

Yet I can’t help but see a dichotomy present here too. Our “mothering choices and strategies” is somehow a separate entity from “walking in a manner worthy of him.” Isn’t that a major way we walk worthy of God–by seeking to please Him in how we choose to mother our children, and involving Him in our decisions (even the small, seemingly insignificant ones)?

Here is one more similar example:

The gospel should shape the way we shape our home through traditions. Does this mean we ought to do catechisms with our children? Does this mean that we need to be more intentional about how we celebrate religious holidays? Perhaps. These are matters of personal preference. The gospel, however, is not a matter of personal preference; it is news that is a matter of spiritual life and death. (64)

The questions of whether or not to catechize your children, or celebrate religious holidays, are of course not as significant as whether or not your children believe the gospel. But why are they tossed out as “personal preference” and not given consideration in a book about motherhood? Why not take a moment and share wisdom on the benefits of catechizing children and considering how to view religious holidays from a Biblical perspective? That would be a practical application of the spiritual truths Gloria is emphasizing. But sadly, she lays them aside to re-emphasize our need for grace. It seems imbalanced.

Of course some of our choices as parents are amoral–there is no black and white “right or wrong,” like whether or not to give baby a pacifier. Yet we need not look down upon these less important, more mundane parts of our motherhood as though they are not as “relevant” as our prayer time. Ironically, what I just said is a point Gloria emphasizes elsewhere; I think she contradicts herself here.

Some inconsistencies

Which leads me to my last criticism. I found that certain parts of Treasuring Christ were inconsistent and did not flow logically together.

I will share just one example. In the beginning of chapter 4, called “Family Tradition #1: We Always Need God’s Grace,” Gloria tells the story of a time when her daughter caught her breaking a promise. She had told her daughter that whenever they made cookies, she would always be allowed to lick the bowl.

But on one instance, she not only goes against her word by refusing to let her daughter do it–she also eats the cookie dough herself, right in front of her. She wraps up the story by reminding us that children love consistency, and by asking “So is the moral of the story to voice only the expectations that you are certain you will meet?” (62)

Unfortunately, Gloria does not bemoan her sin toward her daughter in not keeping her word. She doesn’t even mention it. The story is used as a springboard to talk about God’s grace toward us… but that’s out of order. What about conviction of sin first? We can’t expect to comfort ourselves with God’s grace before we feel the weightiness of our sin.

The inconsistency became apparent when just a few pages later, Gloria does explain our need to confess our sins to our children. But she doesn’t tie it back in with the first story, which seems to have been used merely to grab the reader’s attention. This sent a confusing message to me.

Combined with the false dichotomy also present at times, I think Treasuring Christ sends some mixed messages that ought to be improved for clarity. The emphasis on grace in the gospel should be paired with robust, consistent teachings on practical holiness in our Christian mothering life.

FINAL RATING: WHEAT

Despite my concerns, I do think Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full is a helpful and edifying read–particularly if you are looking for heart-checks and gospel reminders, rather than more practical advice on mothering (such as how to teach, discipline, and nurture your children). It encouraged me to remember the eternal significance of our calling, and to put all my hope in Christ alone as I seek to honor and serve him as a mother.

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