What John Piper Has Taught Me about Motherhood and Suffering

God has used pastor and theologian John Piper to teach me three truths related to motherhood and suffering that have given me great hope in my sorrow. The first is that we will suffer as mothers. That reality would be devastating apart from God’s promise that our pain as his children will not be wasted. Not only does God offer us future hope; his Word also sustains us in our suffering.

1. We will suffer.

Piper titled his 2001 Mother’s Day sermon “To Be a Mother Is a Call to Suffer.” I was in my early twenties when I gave my mom a CD copy of this message, and the title intrigued me; but when I became a mother, the biblical truth it points to became a great comfort to me. Even though I felt surprised by an emergency C-section and newborn feeding issues, and later by my children’s serious medical diagnoses, it was reassuring to know that the burden of suffering that we carry as mothers who love and serve our children in a fallen world isn’t a surprise to God. Rather it’s part of our calling.

2. Our suffering isn’t wasted.

In a particularly difficult season, I would play “Though You Slay Me – Shane and Shane featuring John Piper” on repeat in my kitchen, memorizing Piper’s words tucked into this song.[1] I can hear his voice preaching 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 to my soul as I chopped vegetables for dinner, reminding me that all of our misery on the path of obedience is meaningful: “It’s doing something…Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen…it’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.”[2] Because this is true regarding all our suffering as mothers, whether our pain is caused by infertility or a child’s illness, “we do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:16).

3. God’s Word sustains us in our suffering.

Not only does God use our pain to accomplish a glorious future end, but his Word sustains us in our suffering today. In spring 2020, Piper read Romans 8 on the Risen Motherhood podcast, commending this passage to moms who suffer:

“What makes this chapter so great is the absolute realism for mothers of the kinds of hardships and losses and difficulties and setbacks and pain they are all going to have to walk through. It’s utterly wide-eyed to the sufferings of the world with its roots sitting unshakably deep into the massive things of God. 

“It knows when believing mothers walk through the deepest waters, they are not encountering wrath. That was carried away back in verse three on the cross. These are disciplinary acts of God to fit a mother for heaven and for the most fruitful life on earth.”[3]

The Scriptures were written for our encouragement that we might have hope in our present circumstances,[4] and they remain useful not only in abstraction but in application of gospel truths so we can live in a godly manner in our trials.[5] Instead of looking at life from the perspective of our hardship, God’s Word becomes our interpretive lens, helping us see our story as part of a larger Story of grace and glory. 

[1] Taken from John Piper’s sermon “The Glory of God in the Sight of Eternity,” preached at the Legacy Conference in Chicago on July 26, 2013 and available at DesiringGod.org.

[2] “Though You Slay Me – Shane and Shane featuring John Piper,” YouTube, Aug. 13, 2013.

[3] “John Piper’s Encouragement for Moms in Suffering,” Risen Motherhood podcast episode 162, Apr. 22, 2020.

[4] Romans 15:4

[5] 2 Timothy 3:16-17