The fourth major thing that I want to imitate in my mother’s example is selflessness. Dying to self is something which she exemplified with small children, then with a house full of teenagers, now with grandchildren, and always with a busy husband.
Growing up, this seemed so normal that I did not even think about it. But living away from home and having my own family has made me realize how much my mother prioritized the needs of others around her, putting her own last.
She home schooled six children; I never heard her say that she was tired. My father worked 80 hour weeks; I never heard her say that she needed more time with him. We normally hosted people several times a week, often for meals; I never heard her say that she was busy. We lived on a couple large properties which fell to her care; I never heard her say that she wanted help. We were on a budget; I never heard her mention how much planning it took to feed and clothe us all.
Date nights were rare, holidays were busy, the house was crammed with people and books, shopping trips included all six of us and were as short as possible. Trips to Starbucks were non-existent.
This is not only counter cultural, but also goes against human nature. But all six of us grew up thinking it was the norm for the believer. In a culture that tells me to take care of myself, to take “me time”, to make sure my needs are being met, my mother stands as an example of what selflessness looks like. God enabled her to constantly deny herself, putting the old man to death and serving those around her. This is a massive encouragement to my own struggles with self, as I often feel tired (is there a mother on earth who doesn’t?), busy (do you know anyone who thinks they’re not?), and in need of some holiday (isn’t that what the check-out magazines want us to think?).
Having a holiday, taking an occasional break, and getting some sleep are all good – needful! – things, but I so often view them with an entitlement attitude. My mother showed me what it looks like to be humbly thankful for a whole night’s rest, to be pleasantly surprised when someone offers to help, and to look forward to serving my family on holidays. She taught us that since what we deserve is hell, and that because of Christ’s self-sacrifice what we are getting is heaven, we should be pouring ourselves out in thankful service during our short time on this planet. She taught us that our eternal rest is coming, that the Lord provides everything we need while we are here, so we are to “spend and be spent” in His service.
She showed me not only the hard work of cheerfully dying to self; she also stands as an example of the blessings that come with obeying this command. We knew, even as very young children, that she would give us anything possible that she thought was for our good – her sleep, her body, her thoughts, her efforts, her instruction, her days. We never thought she was doing something with mixed motives or that she was withholding something from us. She has our total trust and affection for life. She has my father’s, too. The first time I read, “The heart of her husband trusts in her,” I thought, “Oh, they must be like Mum and Dad.” She has a reputation for good works, has shown hospitality, washed the feet of the saints, cared for the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work (I Tim. 5:10). Her constant fight with sin has produced the peaceful fruit of righteousness.
That can only be true of someone who is really dying to self. That is certainly something that I pray my own children will experience as the Lord enables me to take up my cross and follow Him.