Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman

I feel like I should have wildly excited things to say about Gloria Furman's newest title, Missional Motherhood. Certainly it was a great book, full of encouraging remarks about how we as mothers ought to think of ourselves. I have zero complaints about it and can do more than just recommend it -- I purchased copies to give to friends of mine that I thought would connect with it as well. When it comes to writing up a review of it though, all of my thoughts are falling flat. I've been debating why that is and one reason stands out above the rest and I'll get to that in a moment. First though, let me tell you about the book itself.

Missional Motherhood is a unique title in the world of books on motherhood in that it addresses all women everywhere as "nurturers" who are created to "mother" natural born/these-are-the-children-in-your-neighborhood kids. Furman doesn't limit the term "mother" to someone who bore a child in her womb, gave birth to it, and who now oversees that children's day-to-day living experiences. Rather, she calls on women to rise up and nurture all those around them in the love that Christ has given to us as sinners  whatever their standing or season or life.

Furman, I didn't realize, is a missionary, serving overseas with her husband and children. While the obvious audience for this book is the American woman, the reader is quick to see that Furman has a more global outlook on life. She sees women as being called to serve others in any variety of endeavors, situations and locations, and focuses in on the idea of loving your neighbor as you love yourself. For some people our "neighbors" are those aforementioned natural born children. Other neighbors might include girls in the church youth group in need of discipleship, fellow MOPS moms, babies in the nursery, children in an orphanage in another country, and/or virtually anyone that a woman has been placed in front of and asked to serve in some capacity. She wants her female readership to focus on their God-given role to nurture and build up and do those very things for the glory of the Lord. To make her argument, Mrs. Furman begins by spending the first half of the book taking her reader on an overview of the Old Testament and concludes with Christ's death on the cross. The idea is to cause her reader to see just how much they have been given so that they understand what all they have to give. It's a good message and Furman has a writing style I engaged with well. I had zero objections to what she had to say, liked her globally minded mission (my children weren't all born in the U.S. of A.!), and generally found this book appealing. As I say, I gifted it to others so clearly I don't have any major objections to it.

However, I have to say that while I was reading this title I thought a lot about why I was reading it. My chief reason was that I am a mother and I felt it was time to pick up a book on mothering to learn more about my role and how to improve in it. It's always great to be encouraged in my job by a book and so, of course, I was looking for a "pick me up" as well. I don't think there is anything necessarily wrong with that except that it just made the book feel sort of "forced" if you know what I mean. I wasn't able to value it as much as I could have because I felt almost guilted, thinking that's "what I ought to be reading." In certain ways this was a "want to" read but in other ways I felt like it was the thing I should be doing as a mature, responsible mother. It was like it seemed time to box myself about the ears, so to speak, and figure out how to do this job of mine better. The joy of the reading journey was sort of lost on me and I thought that was a pity even while I was engaged with Furman's book. I can in every way acknowledge Missional Motherhood to be a worthy read. At the same time, my heart wasn't in it and I had the sobering realization that to be a good mom I didn't need to be spending my immediate time reading a book to tell me how to do better. What I really needed to be ok doing was relaxing with a book that  I found purely enjoying and entertaining for enjoyment sake. If a work of fiction fit that bill, I didn't need to bemoan my immature tastes, but just relax and enjoy a good story for the sake of story alone.

I realized something that I think is important: while picking up instructional books which explain life and roles and duties is an important thing to do from time to time, sometimes the best thing one can do is to mentally relax with a fun story. No guilt. No strings attached. Just enjoyment. Sometimes the best thing that I can do to be a better mom is to have fun in my "downtime" so that I'm more relaxed and at peace when I need to be "on."

My personality is pretty intense (as I've said before) and relaxing is not something that comes very naturally to me. Even my "relaxed" reading tends to have a purpose around it which is fine. I can't very well turn my brain off and I wouldn't want to do that. But a thought process that I wrestled with when reading Missional Motherhood was that I'd be a better mother if I didn't feel like reading the book was on my "to do" list, know what I mean? Sure, sometimes I'm going to find an instructional book all kinds of happy but when life is tense and stressful in its own right, I began to see that my reading choices didn't need to be all mentally/spiritually stimulating as well. (Note again: Furman is an excellent writer and she is not writing to guilt!) All I'm saying is that I realized there is value in relaxing and I shouldn't read a book because I feel pressured to learn more about this, that or the other. Rather, I should read a book because I find the book a joy to read. Reading is a joy and a pleasure and to take away from that not only hurts the reader but also the writer who so wants to make a positive connection with their audience.

I really did appreciate Furman. Really. But in this moment of life, reading for the mere fun of it is ok too. In fact, I think it's more than ok. I think it's mentally healthy. Maybe other people won't think my reading choices "mature" but if I can close a book with a sigh and a smile and feel relaxed and ready to tackle the next round of things on my To Do list then I think my reading time was well-spent and plenty productive.

That's all I really want to say. This was a great book. But if I had never read it and read a work of fiction in its place, for the strict purpose of having fun, then that would be ok too. For some of you I imagine that this sounds like common sense but for my sometimes over active and analytical mind, it was something of a break through.


Shonya said...

What an interesting review/conversation with yourself! :) I could just chat and chat back to you if only time were an unlimited commodity. First, I haven't read this particular title, but I have read her other three books. I do think she has some good things to say. Yet I don't tend to come away from her books raving. And I am a little ashamed to admit that her general youth and inexperience sometimes trip me up a little.

But I really connected with your thoughts about reading and reading choices. You may have a hard time believing this, but I have even been struggling with reading PERIOD! Who am I?! I am *five books behind* my Goodreads challenge for the year (and my goal was only 85). This has been such a busy and demanding season and I have been so tired that reading anything at all became something of a chore. When I would sit down to read, my eyes would just close and all I could do was tip over on the couch and sleep.

So yes, by all means, if you have the time and inclination, read what appeals to you in this season. No guilt, no "shoulds".

Barbara H. said...

I haven't read her but I have seen the name and book title floating around and wondered if she was good.

I have that same feeling sometimes when reading something just because I feel I ought to, but usually it lessens once I get into it.

When my kids were little and I came up against something I didn't know how to handle, I'd think, "I need to find a book on that." But sometimes I needed an answer in less time than it takes to find and read a book, LOL! I determined I didn't need to read books covering every single possible aspect of parenting - I needed to rely on God's promise to give wisdom when we ask. Sometimes that wisdom did come through a book or a conversation with my husband or another mom, sometimes through an answer or idea that I believe God put in my mind. I benefited greatly from books, but that lessened the pressure that I *had* to read the latest parenting books in order to succeed as a parent.

BerlinerinPoet said...

I would like to read this book I think. I have sort of been thinking about this exact topic. I don't have kids right now, but I was obviously created as a woman for a reason. I think I would probably benefit from this.

I also really enjoyed you processing your thoughts like this. I like following your blog because I get good book recommendations and also get to see what is on your heart. I actually go too far in the opposite direction, so I think I probably need more instructional books in my life.

Duane & Patricia said...

The reason I don't like books like this is the focus, actually. I know many Christian women who read book after book after book on motherhood. Christian women didn't use to do that. They read the Scriptures. You have so many voices coming from every conceivable direction and still, their kids are holy terrors. It is because they have made their children the center of the universe===instead of Christ. When your whole life revolves around your children in this way, they become extremely selfish individuals. A Christian woman is first and foremost, a child of God. Secondly, a wife. Then a mother. Children should fit into your life-your life shouldn't revolve around them. (Yes, there are exceptions, such as with sick little ones. But even then the child needs to learn they are not the center of the universe) For those who are screaming in my ear, "I need help!", there is help in the Scriptures. Instead, we too often want to run and have someone give us the answers and too often we fall prey to one person's seemingly "common sense answers" when in fact they can be way off the mark. It takes discernment to know it-a quality desperately lacking in the church. Our roles as mothers is to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So we must KNOW this LORD of ours first and foremost. Spend time with Him as our ancestors did and you will grow in wisdom and knowledge-His wisdom and knowledge-and not every new author that comes along.

Carrie said...

@Patricia - And all I have to say to that is, "Amen."

Yes indeed.

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