Note from Randy: I think this article by Abigail Dodds, the author of (A)Typical Woman: Free, Whole, and Called in Christ and a regular contributor to Desiring God, is wonderful. Having raised two daughters, I’m deeply grateful for our sons-in-law, and their families who raised them to be men of character and faith. And now Angela and Karina are the moms of our five grandsons, who they are raising to know and love Jesus. (Note: I say “our” instead of “my” not out of habit or nostalgia, but simply because my Nanci, though she has relocated to another place, is more alive than ever before.)
Whether you’re a mom to young boys or not, I think you’ll find what Abigail shares helpful and insightful. (You might also enjoy the book Devoted: Great Men and Their Godly Moms by Tim Challies, about how women shaped men who changed the world.)
If you look at the beginning of Proverbs 31, you might find a surprise. The chapter includes not simply the famous portrait of an excellent wife but also the teaching and influence of a godly mother on her son. Proverbs 31 begins with the recitation of a king. And what is he reciting? He’s reciting “an oracle that his mother taught him” (Proverbs 31:1).
What are you doing, my son? What are you doing, son of my womb?
What are you doing, son of my vows?
Do not give your strength to women,
your ways to those who destroy kings.
It is not for kings, O Lemuel,
it is not for kings to drink wine,
or for rulers to take strong drink,
lest they drink and forget what has been decreed
and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. (Proverbs 31:2–5)
Verse 10 begins the more famous portion of Proverbs 31, but it’s worth noting that King Lemuel is continuing to recite his mother’s teaching.
An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain. (Proverbs 31:10–11)
If our sons were asked about the most common teaching of their moms, what might their answers be? What sort of teaching characterizes our commands?
Our most common commands might be mainly safety-oriented: “Always wash your hands before you eat.” “Wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.” “Don’t forget your bike helmet or seatbelt.” Those are not necessarily bad commands. But if they are the primary teaching of a mother to a son, they will not keep a son safe, but handicap him.
Perhaps your teaching is mainly practical: “Be sure to clean your room and make your bed every day.” “Finish all the food on your plate.” “Always be on time.” “Waste not, want not.” These are not bad commands; often they’re good and helpful. Yet, if those commands are left to themselves, without a foundation of weightier instruction, they will provide only earthly help without eternal benefit.
King Lemuel’s mother taught him two very important lessons: (1) how to avoid temptation so he could rule as king, and (2) how to find and value an excellent wife. In other words, his mother taught him how to be a man. And sons today still need mothers who can help teach them how to be wise, just, loving, good men, if not quite kings.
Our sons need to learn how to be heads of a household — perhaps also leaders of businesses, churches, or governments — and men who know what to look for in a wife. That means they need moms who can instruct them in how to judge between right and wrong, true and false, good and best. And between an excellent wife and an evil woman — because evil women actually exist, and our sons need to avoid them.
Mothers instruct their sons in the importance of being a son, a boy, a man. Mothers help sons know what clothes are fitting for a boy versus a girl. They help them know what manners and mannerisms are appropriate for a young man. While our sons are young, and especially during the teenage years, mothers should keep an eye out to help their sons become godly men — not mom’s protégé, not mimicking her femininity. Moms remind sons that their broad shoulders are not meant to slouch, but to carry heavier loads for the sake of others.
Mothers need to wisely, shrewdly translate the wisdom of King Lemuel’s mother to the world we live in today, where it’s not just a king-destroying woman or the dangers of drunkenness he needs to avoid — it’s all manner of perversity and addiction. We need to help our sons avoid the enticements of the LGBTQ+ madness, to learn self-control when it comes to phones and technology, to avoid the deceitful euphemisms that have found their way into some churches, like “pronoun hospitality” or “gender-affirming care” or “reproductive freedom.”
Our sons may not be solicited on the street by a prostitute, but they will likely meet with some sinister images or a person who tempts them online. Without the warnings and cautions and roadblocks, and the faith-filled prayers of their godly mothers restraining them, they will be tempted to respond to the sexual advances of perverse men and women who seek them out in the unseen places of the Internet. Or, at the very least, they will be tempted to make light of those who do indulge such perversity — they will be tempted to affirm what God calls an abomination (Romans 1:32).
We mothers also need to show our children, and perhaps especially our teenage sons, the respite and safe haven of a Christian home, where God’s ways are normal, and the gospel is for them, and repentance and forgiveness are quick and ongoing, and God’s friendship is for those who fear him. We need to be mothers like the excellent woman in Proverbs 31, the one King Lemuel’s mother told him about:
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness. (Proverbs 31:25–27)
God calls us mothers to look well to the ways of our household. We make and keep the home, so home is often a reflection of us, of our own godliness, maturity, submission to our husband, and conformity to Christ — or the lack of all those things. The atmosphere inside the home can be stale and tense and smothering or full of clean air and light hearts. The rhythms of our home will either indulge or discourage idleness.
We can wear the strength and confidence and dignity of a mother who fears God and entrusts herself to Christ, or we can make anxious people-pleasing or selfish strife our default setting.
Remember that our homes are testifying and speaking to our children. It’s likely that our sons will not verbally give us up-to-the-minute details of all that is in their hearts, but their hearts are either being softened to God and his ways or hardened to them. Our home life either authenticates the gospel and the goodness of God’s commands, or it misrepresents those things and becomes a stumbling block through our own hypocrisy. We can speak the words and warnings of life to our sons, or we can prefer safety-oriented rules and practical instruction over the weightier goal of godly manhood.
It’s easy to think that our growing teenage sons don’t really need their mothers. And certainly they don’t need us the same way they did when they were little. They don’t need our constant physical care; they need the wise and godly oracles of their mom telling them how to avoid worldly temptations, and what true justice is, and how to find a good wife. They need to know the respect and love and friendship and counsel and prayers of their godly mother.
They don’t need to be smothered or controlled or manipulated or used. They don’t need to be pitied or babied or coddled. But they do still need their godly mothers to offer wise and repeated instructions on how to be a man while showing them the contagious joy of a woman who fears the Lord.
The article originally appeared on Desiring God, and is used with permission of the author.
Photo by Taryn Elliott