My mom volunteers at her home church to coordinate their rather robust library. She snapped a picture of a new book she was preparing for circulation and texted it to me, asking if I wanted to read it before she put it on the shelf. Being about four weeks from my due date at the time, it seemed like the right read at the right time, so I said yes.
The book was Labor with Hope: Gospel Meditations on Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood by Gloria Furman (with Jesse Scheumann), and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who relates to any version of childbearing or child rearing.
First, the chapters are short. At an average of 3–5 pages per chapter (and only 151 in the book), Furman gets not only that less is sometimes more, but also that five minutes of attention may be the most a person, especially her primary audience of moms, has to devote to reading. (They’re also a good length for reading in the waiting room of an OBGYN.)
Second, Furman takes an inclusive view of motherhood. She recognizes the labor of the months of gestation and the months (or years) of the adoption process, conception by traditional means and with medical intervention, raising children from infancy and entering their lives later. She not only leaves room for the “non-traditional” mother but seats her at the head of the table.
Third, this book delivers on its promise of gospel hope. If you want pages of witty, relatable mommy moments sprinkled with Bible verses, this is not for you. Instead, this book offers unshakeable hope rooted in the whole of Scripture.
Furman’s premise is that God is not like us, but rather we are like God. Our human experience of birth and mothering reflects aspects of God, rather than God simply using a familiar experience to explain himself. A core example from the book is that women suffer to bring forth children because Jesus suffered on the cross to bring forth his own people.
Scripture uses the image of childbearing frequently and in a variety of contexts. It’s used to describe God’s judgment, his relationship with Israel, and Paul’s labor among the churches, among a long list of others. Furman makes a thorough, though not comprehensive, study of each of them. The book is a rich dive into what Scripture says about childbirth and rearing and how that should affect our view of the vocation of mothers.
Furman talks about Jesus All. The. Time. She talks about Jesus way more than she talks about the tasks of mothering, like changing diapers and preparing snacks. This is not a particularly practical book, in that she doesn’t offer tips on discipline, meal times, or family devotions. But it achieves its goal as a series of meditations on both hope for moms and the hope motherhood points to.
I appreciated that Furman assumes that the women reading her book can grasp the deep and rich gospel teaching she presents. Her writing is both approachable and beautiful but in no way simplified for “mommy brains.” She sets out to offer real hope for the physically, emotionally, and spiritually painful work of mothering, and she knows that it only comes through a more than surface-level understanding of the gospel.
My daughter’s middle name is Hope, and there’s a plaque on her wall that reads, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). Labor with Hope anchors its hope—for parents and their children—in the only safe harbor, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Photo courtesy Sarah Wisniewski