Motherhood & Sanctity

Motherhood, with its joy and toil, is a useful instrument in God's hand for our sanctification. And yet the Word of God remains the primary means of God's work in us (John 17:17).  

A Mother's Day Lesson from Monica, Mother of Augustine

If the Lord used Augustine in the theological awakening of Martin Luther, then God used Monica’s prayers in the conversion of Augustine, her son! Monica’s influential role in the life and conversion of her remarkable son has brought her name before many congregations, particularly on Mother’s Day. It’s my pleasure today to celebrate this mom and her commitment to relentless prayer. Below, please find a brief history on Monica. With it comes three lessons we can glean from her faithfulness. [1]

The Life of Monica: A Labor Greater Than Childbirth

Monica was born in 331 AD in Thagaste, originally a small Numidian village, inhabited by a Berber tribe of North Africa. By God's grace, she was born to parents who trained her in Christian orthodoxy. She married a man named Patricius and gave birth to Augustine in 354 AD at the age of 23. Augustine writes that from an early age, his mother “placed great hope in [God],” and she “was in greater labor to ensure [his] salvation than she had been at his birth.”  Her toil in childbirth could not match her travail in prayer for the spiritual rebirth of her son.

Augustine’s book, The Confessions, talks about his constant moving from place to place--a hint, perhaps, of his spiritual wandering. Determined to pursue her son for Christ, Monica always managed to track him down. In fact, at one point Augustine evades their city in the darkness of night. His mother learns of him in Milan and braves a risky journey over the Mediterranean sea to join him there.

In Milan, God’s hand awakens a dead Augustine to life and he turns from his sins to Christ. His mother was the first to learn of his conversion and she rejoiced to see the fruit of her tireless prayers! God, in His grace, had turned her concerns for her son into, what Augustine describes as a, “joy far fuller than her dearest wish.”

Monica reminds us of an incredible God who can use the prayers of an ordinary mother for His ultimate purposes. Below are three other reminders for our encouragement. 

Mothers are not Saviors

From his birth to her death, Monica prayed unceasingly for her son. Dr. Matthew Haste writes that many, particularly in the Catholic tradition, have regarded her faithfulness as divine. So “divine” in fact that in the 1800’s a man named Émile Bougaud writes a book praying to Monica to intercede for mothers. Haste writes that “Bougaud believed that a mother’s divine strength consists of her ability to bring about the salvation of her children through her own steadfast will.”

Now while he can admire Monica for her labor as a faithful mother, we go too far to esteem her as a savior. Parents cannot save their children by their own will but rather we look to the Lord and trust our children to His sovereign mercy. We obey God’s command to train them up in His Word and we pray that He might use our faithful evangelism and discipleship for their salvation, knowing that salvation belongs to Him alone (Revelation 7:10).

Pray, Pray, Pray!

Monica doesn’t teach us that mothers can save their children, rather, her example should encourage us in our fervent prayers for their salvation. Many of us pray for the health of our children. Perhaps we pray for their education and future successes. Maybe, we pray for and long to see their good behaviors. All this is well but how often do we plead to God with tears for their spiritual conversion?

Mothers, beseech God for the salvation of your children! Pray remembering that God is sovereign and does everything according to the counsel of His own will and yet He accomplishes those purposes through means--among which is prayer (Ephesians 1:11-16). Prayer is a gracious and glorious privilege for the believer. It makes us participants in God’s work of fulfilling His purposes on earth (Matthew 6:10). Philippians 4:6 tells us that in everything, we ought to pray. Certainly, this includes crying out to God for the salvation of our children and even the children in our congregations.

The Goal of Christian Parenting is Obedience--Not the Making of Christian Kids

As a mother, I earnestly desire the salvation of my two daughters. I want them to be godly women whose fear of God is evidenced through their love and obedience of His Word. I pray earnestly for this and would be overjoyed to behold God’s saving work in their hearts. I strive to commend Christ to them in both my teaching and my example. Yet when I stand before my Maker, His “well done” to me will not depend on their salvation (because that’s His job alone). Rather, His joy will be in the Spirit empowered obedience of my work (Matthew 25:23).

The goal then, of my Christian parenting, is not to make Christian kids, but to obey God. Monica prayed for her son; if God never chose to save Augustine by her prayers, we could still regard her today!

Happy Mother’s Day weekend Sisters! May God equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in you that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ our Lord (Hebrews 13:20-21).

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[1] My history of Monica is based on the work of Dr. Matthew Haste, whose writing on the subject appears on the site of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's Center for Christian Family Ministry.