The Kansas City Chief’s Kicker and More Reflections on Motherhood

The hullabaloo concerning Harrison Butker’s (an NFL kicker of repute) defense of the glory of motherhood has caught my attention. In a single speech Butker has become the face of traditionalist home-and-family Christianity and a new punching bag for conscience-stricken progressives. Young Presbyterians looking for cultural heroes should be reminded that Butker also promotes the same Roman mass that the Heidelberg Catechism artfully calls “an accursed idolatry.” In spite of this I remain deeply thankful for his courage to resist the hatred of motherhood so percolating in America.

Butker’s speech in turn reminded me of a recent gathering of men at our home, assembled to send a young bachelor off into marriage. After a hearty dinner of steak and venison the circle of the married counseled the neophyte concerning the unfamiliar terrain he was about to encounter. As you could imagine, very soon the notable patterns of the differences between men and women began to emerge in the conversation.[1] This including jesting, and not disrespectful jesting as in this case the groom-to-be was the subject of the jokes. The husbands were concerned that he not traverse this ground thinking he could fix all things, win all arguments and solve all problems.

I shared, for example, a classic conversation from my own marriage. I am not-uncommonly asked for advice: “What do you think, Peter?” I then let my bride know exactly what I am thinking: “Those shoes do not look good.” At this point there is a significant probability that she will tell me that the shoes look fine. This produces in me a childlike wonder: “Why then did you ask me what I thought?” I am learning to be content with unsolved mysteries. Similar stories were told with deep fellow-feeling as men poured last-minute marriage shaping advice into the neophyte. But deep down we knew that the young Jedi will have to learn for himself before he truly knows. The Lord so helped us, and so we prayed for him.

The ethereal matter of which we were all aware was that of the natural differences between men and women. I can testify that the men who contributed that night have happy marriages and lovely and skilled and competent wives. But we were having this conversation because we all knew and accepted something to be true about nature, God’s nature. He made them male and female. There are profound similarities between husbands and wives, and these provide common ground for communion and fellowship. There are also profound differences—some obvious and some nuanced-- which deepen the joy and wonder of that communion and fellowship.

This in turn got me thinking about the differences between Lauralee and I, and how many of our disagreements have been exacerbated by me trying to make her more like me. And I think learned this to be a mistake in part by reflecting on the glory of motherhood.

Child-rearing came early into our marriage; our oldest was born our first year. In the beginning we were too young and inexperienced to notice or reflect on what we were doing. We actually didn’t know what we were doing. We parented like a new teenage driver—wheels in the ditch on one side, over the middle line moments later, no turn signals, rolling stops, hard stops, no stops, terrifying left turns and a total incapacity to integrate wise real-time counsel into the process. And I have learned that beginning drivers don’t listen for two reasons: Information overload and a reliable over-estimation of non-existent abilities. This analogy describes our own beginning quite nicely, and we remain thankful for God’s mercies, without which we are nothing.

But—recently we received from the Lord our ninth child, 24 years into our marriage. I recognize that revealing these two numbers, 9 at 24, immediately puts us into an unusual category and invites labels that those who do not have our lived experience often bestow upon us. If you are that reader, try forgetting the numbers except for one thing: The numbers mean that we are no longer beginning drivers. What we do with our children and how we do it has changed markedly, and we pray for grace to keep repenting.

And more to the topic—how I see my bride has also changed. I understand in deeper ways how God has fashioned her to be different from me, and that there is so much beauty and power and glory that belongs to femininity.[2] I marvel at her womb, in which she has nestled and carried children, and from which she has borne children in acts of strength and will that should humble the strongest of men. Her hormones ebb and flow in a manner different than mine, and this in relation to her ability to carry new life. She has breasts from which flow live-giving power, by a substance tailored and metered by her body for the life of another. These are things I cannot do; I am incapable and unequipped. And our baby, as yet unable to speak for herself, clearly knows this to be true and lovely in ways that shame the insanity of the modern age.

These differences, however, run so much deeper than biological mechanics. She has an innate ability to communicate with a baby, whose reciprocal communion in that love far transcends my ability to describe the same. She does the same with a toddler, or a preschooler, or a teenage son or our married expectant daughter. There are instincts and determinations and joys that run through her in all of this that eclipse my own and make me give praise to God that she is so fearfully and wonderfully made. And this is illustrated in child-bearing, but not limited to child-bearing: Her instinctive recognition of the true needs of others enables her to offer help and care often more useful and tender than my own. Life blossoms under her care.

And she is more than this. She is also an athlete, musician, college graduate, skilled manager and works countless overtime hours. She runs an elite school, pouring her own academic achievements into a rising generation, and the result has been college graduates and more hopeful graduates on the way. She does all these many things with the gifts and instincts of a mother: “She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”[3]

It is not that I do not possess corresponding gifts and abilities. While she does these things, I do some of the same things and also different things. But I have come to realize that many of the different things I do support her life and life-giving endeavors. I often bring home the stone and she makes the sculpture. I exist to a significant degree to enable and exalt her feminine glory.[4]

And this is where my embarrassment lies with many of our marital disagreements. Some of these were likely differences arising from our own sinfulness and from which—as iron sharpens iron—we did and continue to press each other on onward in more careful and joyful service to Christ and others. But I have come to see that many of our arguments were rooted in my failure to recall that my wife was never supposed to be just like me. And this work of hers—the work of a Proverbs 31 woman—has helped me see in vivid lines the glory of our natural differences.

Similarity and difference both contribute to the wonder of marriage. In the similarities there is ground for the deepest spiritual communion: We are “joint heirs of the grace of life.”[5] From the differences—evident in intimacy and instincts and temperament and calling—spring new wonders that affect the entirety of our life together. I am not simply getting to know another human being, but I am getting to know a particular woman with all the power and glory of her femininity evident from our first meeting, our wedding, in the conception of a child, through the work of home and family and as we receive from the Lord “children’s children.” I am married to someone unknowable by a lazy mental replication of myself, but knowable by pursuit of and learning the particular woman who is my wife.

How is America dealing with these differences? In a word, with violence. We viciously invade the sanctuary of the womb, cut breasts off our daughters, penises from our sons, and fail to condemn so-called same-sex marriage. When tendrils of the lie that men and women are interchangeable invade the world, sadness and brokenness follow. Even the church has adopted much of the mindset—the feminism that lies prior to transgenderism has shaped our view of vocation. The primal vocation, to be fruitful and multiply, equally life-shaping for men and women, seems largely lost to Christendom. The tragedy is that the family is in toto the womb of humanity in general and the church in particular.

The big lie that is pervading our culture—that men and women are interchangeable—is presently destroying culture. It produces either demanding, domineering and hateful husbands, or negligent lazy and resentful ones. Both are ungodly. It produces either shrill and angry women who hate God, self and others or discouraged and depressed women who similarly resent God, self and others. “Transgenderism”, the inevitable terminus of self-deconstructing feminist ideals, is late stage cancer. It is a pathetically disguised crushing of all that is beautiful and glorious in femininity. The woman described in Scripture as the weaker vessel—God’s fine china set beside His jars of clay—she is being smashed by brutishly strong and sexually deviant men.

This lie creates many more child-victims. Little ones lose the person in their life most skilled at intimate communion and nurture when they need their mother most. Fathers forget their calling to love their wives and children, and descend into work and  pursue their own pleasure. Children long to see a man and a woman in love with God and each other; to have parents who love them and who are comfortable and happy in the imago dei glory found in the divine appointment of being created either male or female.

The lie is also destroying marriage. Other children’s home-seeking hearts are broken when dad suddenly finds this particular marriage untenable, or mom believes its end will lead to better justice—for both reconciliation is a mirage. Other children grow up watching the decidedly unromantic and unnatural pairing of either men or women in their home, with the attendant self-loathing that is a prerequisite for homosexuality, and so never learn the liberty and joy of living what is ironically the only truly authentic life.

But—to get back to our main subject—husbands and wives also love to see the other loving God and comfortable in their respective masculinity or femininity. Anything less destroys the goodness and wonder of marriage. The open-hearted embrace of God’s design for humanity leads to the flourishing of life.

The acknowledgement that I am married to my closest friend, best companion, who is so much the same and in the same moment so much other—also fuels the romance of marriage. These are reasons to know more fully, love more dearly and grow more closely while never reaching a oneness that erases the otherness. Marriage has magnificent potential for love and affection, respect and joy built into its fundamental definition—one man and one woman for life. As the apostle Paul put it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery.”[6]

Finally, there is something here that forms the outlines for things of greater depth and glory. We continue our reading of the apostle: “This is a great mystery—but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”[7] These greater depths of glory lie beyond our momentary marriages and fleeting generations. The outlines of marriage and sexuality and family and flourishing natural life are eclipsed by the greater dimensionless glory of communion with God, in which we shall know more fully, love more dearly and grow more closely while never reaching a oneness that erases the otherness—in a covenant communion with an unlimited potential for love and affection, respect and joy built into its fundamental definition: Christ and His bride forever, the Lord God of the covenant and His people forever.

The glory of this goes both ways—backward into marriage and forward into eternity. It is also what is both at stake in and explains the ominous dark rumblings of our present age.

Peter Van Doodewaard is the Pastor of Covenant Community Presbyterian Church in Taylors, South Carolina.

[1] To help those with bias-over-sensitivity but some remaining connection to the real world: “As the same patterns would naturally emerge in a similar gathering of women.”

[2] Proverbs 31:17, 25

[3] Proverbs 31:27

[4] Proverbs 31:28-29

[5] I Peter 3:7, see also  and Gal. 3:28, “…there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

[6] Ephesians 5:31-32a

[7] Ephesians 5:32b.