8 Questions on Motherhood with Margie Zacharias
Margie Zacharias answers eight questions on being both a mother and grandmother.
This Mother’s Day, we asked Margie Zacharias eight questions on raising her three children with Ravi Zacharias, her role as a grandmother, and her faith amidst it all.
1. How did you grow your spiritual life as a mom when your children were young? Was there anything specific that helped you grow during this time?
I would probably say that the most important thing in my growth as a young mother with young children was reading. I have always loved to read. But during those exhausting and often isolating days with young children, when I sometimes felt I was in danger of losing the ability to participate in an adult conversation, reading good books that stimulated my thinking and my understanding of the world and reality, not just a good story, became even more important. However, I can literally lose myself in a good book and totally shut out the world so I had to be disciplined with reading and ration myself.
I would also say that I think that engaging your children in thinking at their level also stimulates your own thinking. Sometimes it is harder to answer a child’s question than you might anticipate. They can ask a question in such a way that you are forced to think of your own faith in different ways, and perhaps not take it for granted. I believe these times of shared thought on important issues with a child have to be initiated by the parent. A parent’s role in their child’s life is not just to provide food, shelter, security, and love, but also to teach a child how to think logically and critically; especially for a Christian parent. I don’t believe it starts with the teacher at school. It starts at home with the parent, perhaps especially the mother as the usual primary care giver.
I think the final important thing for a young mother of young children is to have a friend whose conversation stimulates your thinking as well as being fun to be with, someone with whom you can share on many levels.
2. What was the most unexpected thing about motherhood? What about as a grandmother?
I think I didn’t realize until being a grandmother how important a grandparent’s role could be in a child’s life. I had only one set of grandparents as my father’s parents were both gone before I was born. I loved my mother’s parents, sometimes felt sorry for my grandfather, and have good memories of them. But my memories of them are because of who they were, not because of what I learned from them or because they had any impact on my life. Because of the needs of the ministry, we were not able to live close to our parents when our children were growing up.
Developing the ministry meant we needed to be in the US and our parents were in Canada. Ravi’s mother was gone before our children were born and only Sarah has any memories of his dad. So, they too only had one set of grandparents and they lived far away. Based on my own experience with my grandparents, I thought it was too bad that my children couldn’t see more of their grandparents than they could but that’s where it ended.
I have such an important relationship with my grandchildren, important not only to me but to them, that I now feel very badly that my children never had that opportunity. I see my grandchildren at least once a week, often more than that. Not only do I play with them but I talk to them and they talk to me. They tell me what is in their hearts and I tell them what is in my heart and how important they are to me. Even as young as they are we have very meaningful conversations that both they and I benefit from and are better for having them. It is a two-way street with us. And I am sorry that my children never had the opportunity to develop that kind of a relationship with their grandparents.
3. How did you teach your children about God?
Deuteronomy 6:5-9 says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, and when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door-frames of your houses and on your gates.” And that is what I did, as a parent.
The Lord’s commandments are given to the parents, not just to pass on but to first become part of who you are, a reflection of your relationship to the Lord and your total and complete surrender to his love: Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart... soul... and strength.
You are then to pass them on to your children by making every moment of every day a teaching opportunity so that your faith and your child’s faith and relationship with God become part of breathing, thinking, walking, sleeping, rising. Almost every experience can be used as an opportunity to teach truth to a child. And once you open his or her mind to truth they will begin to think, to ask questions and to express their faith. It is a deliberate choice to do this, to recognize and acknowledge things around you that illustrate spiritual truth and open the children’s minds to see it for themselves. It isn’t something that just happens by accident. It must be deliberate. You must be looking for ways to teach spiritual truth and be able to recognize them when you see them.
What does it mean to tie them as symbols on our hands but doing, acting, living out your faith before your children so that they see you are the same person every day, at home as well as outside with others? It’s being an example, again deliberately, remembering that at this stage, that child’s spiritual destiny rests with you. It means seeking God’s strength to not give in to the temptation to let down your guard and follow the easier path. It is deliberately accepting the responsibility of being an example to your child of what you want them to be.
What is binding these truths upon your forehead mean? It means to “Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus” who did not grasp after even that which was rightfully his but made himself nothing, taking on the nature of a servant (taking one step lower) and became obedient even to death on a cross (the final step down; Philippians 2). It means learning to think like Jesus, feel like Jesus, talk like Jesus, act like Jesus, and love like Jesus. It’s a tough command that demands our deliberate, total commitment in our own lives before we can pass it on.
And finally, “write them on the door-frames of your houses and gates.” What else can this mean but that your love for God and commitment to Him is there for all to see, in all circumstances; your children, your neighbors, your friends, business associates, friends, and enemies. Teaching your children about God means learning those truths first yourself and putting them into action.
Finally, I read often to my children. Good books that taught truth; not just biblical truth but truth about relationships and the world around – books that made them think. And again, I would draw out spiritual truth from something totally secular when I saw it. I chose the books I read to them for how they would benefit from what was in them. There is a lot out there that isn’t worth reading so choose carefully and deliberately.
4. What family traditions did you and Ravi create, if any? Why were they important?
We created traditions around religious and other holidays that again would teach truth to the children, whether it was religious, like Christmas and Easter, or not, like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day. We never took away any of the fun parts of those celebrations, but we made a deliberate decision to find ways to emphasize the spiritual truths there. At Easter, we introduced aspects of a Seder into our celebration and taught them both the Old Testament history and New Testament truths from them.
At Christmas, we incorporated a custom we first saw practiced in Jordan and used it to teach the children our oneness not just as a family but as part of God’s family because He had sent his son to earth. On St. Patrick’s Day and St. Valentine’s Day, we taught them about the men behind the celebrations, while still having fun with leprechauns and cupids, with green milk and pink icing. We introduced them early to what it meant to be part of a ministry, what our calling was as a family, and what their part was in it. We allowed them to travel with Ravi as often as possible, one at a time, so they could see what he did and experience it for themselves.
I also felt that the Lord put it in my heart to find one person who would covenant with me to pray for that child. Each of them knew who was praying for them and I kept these prayer partners apprised of what was happening in each little life so that they could pray. And to a greater or lesser degree, at times these prayer partners wrote to their child and reminded them that they were praying just for them.
5. What has been your favorite part about being a mother? As a grandmother?
I love loving them and finding ways to express it specifically to them. All of us have our own ways of recognizing and receiving love and I have tried to find what it is for each child and love them in the way that they recognize it and can receive it. And I love being loved by them. I know that each of my children and grandchildren love me and value my role in their lives, even if some of them can’t really express it yet.
6. How did you balance external commitments with family commitments?
This is always difficult, especially in ministry. But I always told the children that they came first. And if I made a commitment to them I tried my best to keep it. Even if sometimes I had to break a commitment I had made elsewhere. To me the children always came first and I wanted them to know it. But at the same time, I wanted them to learn responsibility, so I had to model it, which sometimes meant I had to keep a commitment elsewhere when I would rather have been with them. I guess I had an overarching “policy” but made each decision based on the circumstances of the situation. And I always took the time to explain why I was making the decision if I had to keep an external commitment, answer their questions and reassure them of their place in my life.
7. Did motherhood allow you opportunities to share your faith with others? How?
Yes, usually to the mothers of children that my children were friends with, or those children themselves. But I have to admit that I saw my children as my first responsibility, which to be honest, took up most of my time as a young mother. And my community was strongly Christian. Sometimes I struggled with this, feeling I was not pulling my weight. But the Lord would always send a letter from someone just at the right time, telling me that because of what I was doing at home, God had been able to use Ravi in their lives to make a difference and often bring them to Christ. So I felt I had a part in what God was doing through him.
At one particular difficult time for me when I felt that my life was serving no other purpose than to change diapers and clean up messes, someone sent me a letter thanking me for making it possible for Ravi to be doing what he was and reminding of the story in 1 Samuel 30. We read there of a time when David and his men returned home after fighting the Philistines to find that their camp had been raided and their wives and children taken captive. The decision was made to go after them and rescue them. But some of the fighting men were too tired from the battles to move out so the majority told them that, because they did not have the strength to pursue the raiders, they would have their wives and children returned to them but none of the goods they had lost or plunder the others brought back. But David said, “The share of the man who stayed with the supplies is to be the same as that of him who went down to the battle. All will share alike.” This was such a great encouragement to me and I have often returned to it in gratefulness.
8. Is there a secret to being a good mother?
If there is, I’m not sure I know it. All I can say is to reiterate the importance of preparing your own heart as a Christian mother in your relationship with the Lord and to do the best that you possibly can do, leaning on the Lord for wisdom and insight. Beyond that I say that you cannot be a perfect parent of have a perfect child. So don’t hold yourself to that standard. Be able to relax a little and laugh a little, at life and at yourself. There has only been one perfect Parent. And look at the trouble He has with his children! God knows our weaknesses. He knows we are as grass, here today and gone tomorrow as the Scripture says, and makes allowances for us. Do your best before God and leave the rest to him.