6 Breathtaking Examples of Motherhood from History
Fifteen years ago, I was eight months pregnant and hungry—not just for food, but for godly wisdom on how to raise children who know and love the Lord. My husband and I had no idea how to be distinctly Christian parents to this baby that was on her way into our world.
We spent my first Mother’s Day at a parenting conference, which began a lifelong quest to find out how moms before me raised their children in the Lord. History offers today’s Christian women “older women…to teach what is good…that the word of God may not be reviled” (Tit. 2:3-5).
Here are six historical moms who show us what it looks like to raise our children in the Lord.
MONICA – MOTHER OF AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (332-387)
Monica mothered a man who became one of our most influential church fathers. Augustine shaped not only many of the doctrines central to the Christian faith, but his clear thinking and theology forged the church of the next millennia. Augustine was not always a follower of Christ, however. As a young adult, he rejected his mother’s faith with disdain. Unwed, he lived with a woman, fathered a child, and pursued a life of hedonism.
Monica’s early hopes were for her son to live a life of status and privilege, but they evolved into a drive to see her son saved. At 31, Augustine was in the midst of a noteworthy career in philosophy, education, and rhetoric when skepticism gave way under the Bishop of Milan’s influence and the power of his mother’s prayers as he surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Augustine was fully aware that his mother’s prayers were instrumental in his conversion. In his autobiography, Confessions, Augustine said, “My mother placed great hope in [God],” and she “was in greater labor to ensure my salvation than she had been at my birth.” He praises Monica’s persistent prayers on his behalf throughout all of his works. After her death, he grieved that she was “now gone from my sight, who for years had wept over me, that I might live in [God’s] sight.”
Lesson for moms today: Labor in persistent in prayer (Phil. 4:6) for your children and rightly see their salvation as utmost of value. Invite God to change your worldly goals for your kids into Christ-centered ones.
SARAH EDWARDS – WIFE OF JONATHAN EDWARDS, MOTHER OF ELEVEN (1710-1758)
Sarah was married to Jonathan Edwards, a Reformed preacher and theologian, and a key player in the First Great Awakening. The legacy of the Edwards’ home life is famously exhibited in a list compiled in 1900 of the life work of their eleven children and their descendants: college presidents and professors, lawyers and physicians, judges and senators, public servants from mayors to a U.S. vice president, authors, and hundreds of ministers and overseas missionaries. Sarah’s motherhood impacts every corner of American history.
Jonathan was known to be driven and passionate. He spent as many as thirteen hours a day studying. Visitors to the Edwards’ home report that though Jonathan was indeed involved in family life, the brunt of household duties—rearing the children and tending to guests—fell largely on Sarah. However, she created a happy home, an environment built on routine, rigor, and discipline.
Lesson for moms today: Serve your family wholeheartedly, as to the Lord, trusting him to make himself known through you for generations to come (Col. 3:17). Through everyday acts of service, mothers can make a historic—and eternal—impact through their children.
SOJOURNER TRUTH – FORMER SLAVE, ABOLITIONIST, ACTIVIST, AND MOTHER OF FIVE (C. 1797-1883)
Sojourner was born a slave in New York and first sold away from her parents at the young age of nine. Later she married an older slave, bore five children, and was widowed. In the years just prior to emancipation in New York, Sojourner was promised freedom by her master, who reneged after she completed the work they agreed upon. In response, Sojourner took her infant daughter and walked to freedom in broad daylight, saying that she had nothing to hide, as freedom had been promised to her. Her master eventually caught up with her, but her remaining year of servitude was purchased by an abolitionist family.
Shortly after gaining freedom, Sojourner learned that her former master had illegally sold her five-year-old son to a slaveholder in Alabama. Incensed, Sojourner set out to demand the return of her son. She personally navigated the judicial system in Alabama, took the issue to court, and won—making her the first black woman to win a case against a white man. Reunited with her son Peter, they moved to New York City where Sojourner heard the gospel and believed. Following her conversion to Christ, Sojourner said, “The Spirit Calls me and I must go.” She set out to be an abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and preacher of the gospel.
Lesson for moms today: Pursue justice—no matter the cost. Be brave and committed to the truth. Love righteousness and justice (Ps. 33:5), not just at home, but all around you.
AMY CARMICHAEL – MOTHER OF HUNDREDS (1867-1951)
Born in Ireland, Amy’s first ministry experience was in Belfast amongst “Shawlies”—impoverished girls who worked in the mills and could only afford to wear shawls rather than hats. After hearing Hudson Taylor speak, Amy felt called to missions overseas. She served briefly in Japan before an illness forced to return home. She suffered from neuralgia, a disease that caused great pain and weakness and required weeks of bedrest.
Despite her poor health, Amy remained steadfast in answering God’s call to share his love overseas. She set out for Bangalore, India in 1895 where she joined a band of Indian Christian women who traveled from village to village sharing the gospel. Amy worked hard to become fluent in Tamil and understand the Hindu religion and culture.
Along with her teammates, she established the Dohnavur Fellowship, which became a home for children rescued or escaped forced servitude in Hindu temples. Over time, Amy became Amma, or “mother,” to hundreds of rescued babies, children, and teenagers. About twenty years into her maternal role, she fell and was so badly injured that she was forced by restraints to stay in her bedroom for the rest of her life, which lasted another twenty years. That time, though undoubtedly painful on many levels, was not wasted. Amy welcomed little ones into her room and penned nearly 40 books. 
Lesson for moms today: Lack of biological children doesn’t preclude you from being a mother. Be a mother to the motherless. Show your religion by loving the orphan (Jas. 1:27). Spend ourselves on the least of these. And don’t let anything stop you from proclaiming the gospel.
ALBERTA KING – MOTHER OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (1904—1974)
Alberta Williams King was a minister’s wife, an organ player and choir founder at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, member of the NAACP and YWCA, and mother of three children, including Martin Luther King, Jr.
In his autobiography, King said, “My mother confronted the age-old problem of the Negro parent in America: how to explain discrimination and segregation to a small child. She taught me that I should feel a sense of ‘somebodiness’ but that on the other hand I had to go out and face a system that stared me in the face every day saying you are ‘less than,’ you are ‘not equal to…’ She made it clear that she opposed this system and that I must never allow it to make me feel inferior. . . . At this time Mother had no idea that the little boy in her arms would years later be involved in a struggle against the system she was speaking of.”
Six years after her son was assassinated, Alberta was gunned down while playing the organ at her church.
Lesson for moms today: Champion the “somebodiness” inherent in all people because they are created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26-27) and teach your children to do the same.
ELISABETH ELLIOT – WIFE, MISSIONARY, AND MOTHER (1926-2015)
Elisabeth was born to missionaries and zealously pursued missions herself. After studying Greek in college, she went to Ecuador to share Christ with unreached tribes. Jim Elliot was also in Ecuador, and they were soon married. Along with a team of missionaries, the Elliot’s set out to locate and contact the Auca Indians who had previously killed everyone that tried to make contact.
When Elisabeth’s first and only child, Valerie, was ten months old, Jim and four other missionaries were speared to death when they reached with the Auca people. Undeterred from the mission, Elisabeth stayed in Ecuador with Valerie and continued pursuing ministry among the Auca.
Valerie recently said, “Because my parents prayed and hoped to bring Indians to the Lord, when my father was killed my mother had no plan or immediate thought she should leave Ecuador. Human fears would flood her mind, but verses from Scripture gave her peace and assurance we would be taken care of. Mother continued to work with the Indians and continued to pray for them. And the more that she prayed for them, the greater her love grew for these people in need of a Savior.”
Lesson for moms today: Motherhood doesn’t preclude you from mission. Be a mom on mission. Go and make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19)—and take your children with you.
CONSIDER AND IMITATE YOUR LEADERS
The writer of Hebrews admonished early Christians to “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7).
These six women from history are leaders to the moms of today. Let’s imitate their faith as we seek to raise our children in the Lord.
Author's note: This article first appeared here, at Gospel-Centered Discipleship.