Rebecca VanDoodewaard is a wife, mother, and author of several books. Her most recent book is Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth. In this interview, she discusses some of the most significant challenges mothers face today, recommends two women from the Reformation era, and some of her favorite things to do on her days off.
You are a stay-at-home mom and yet you find time to write. Amazing! Tell us, as a busy mother why did you first start writing?
After moving from Canada to Scotland to Indiana within one calendar year, I started writing down things to remember—spiritual and mental—for the next move (it happened 8 months later). The list grew with each move, and became my first book, Uprooted: A Guide for Homesick Christians.
What is one of the most significant challenges you think mothers face today in raising children?
One of Satan’s tactics has always been to distract Christians from truly important things. A second tactic is to make it look like faithfulness doesn’t really work. In the twenty-first century, distractions are at a record high, and it can often seem like biblical parenting doesn’t work in this day and age. So, the one challenge is to be focused on spiritual realities, including eternity. That makes priorities much clearer.
The second challenge is to realize that using the means God gives us, even when we don’t see clear or immediate fruit, is faithfulness. Walking by sight seems easier and smarter! But that’s not what God calls us to. Barbara Challies’ article, “But Insanity is Good,” is so encouraging on this point, from someone whose faithful mothering is now bearing fruit.
Many women may just feel exhausted. Carving out time to read the Bible, pray, and fellowship with other believers may feel impossible. What advice might you have for women feel crushed by the weight of responsibilities?
During one frantic season of life, a deacon in our church gave me Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. It really helped me see the “extras” in my life and be ruthless in cutting them out. David and Shona Murray’s books on burnout (Reset and Refresh) are also excellent in showing how we can run the marathon that we’re in, be fruitful, and enjoy it. It also helps to remember that while we do have responsibilities and have a call to work hard and run well, we only have to answer for our own obedience to the Lord. We can’t control anything else and we don’t have to.
You’ve written on the importance of biblical hospitality. How does hospitality fit into family life, especially in the 21st century where families can be so separated from one another?
Growing up, I watched my parents host hundreds of people every year (even at their tenting campsite). I knew it was a blessing to the guests, but I didn’t really understand how significant it could be until we moved to other… Click To TweetBelievers welcomed us into their houses and lives. It was not only the food and fellowship giving us strength for that time; we also learned loads about life and godliness from these saints in other cultures. Hospitality turns strangers into family.
Going back to the Reformation, the Luthers were constantly practicing hospitality, in their own unique way of course, as evident by Martin Luther’s Table Talk. How did the marriage and family life of the Luthers revolutionize the way Christians thought about the family in the sixteenth-century?
The Luthers were certainly models of this, part of a larger movement of Christian couples who were also opening their homes in sacrificial ways. One of the things that made an impression on Martin Luther’s students was that Katharina would sit at the table with them, occasionally contributing to the discussions and even disagreeing with her husband. Their example of family life significantly raised the status of women. Protestant family life in this time also showed that hospitality, mercy ministry, and intellectual activity were not isolated or institutionalized endeavors, but the overflow of a healthy Christian home.
You’ve just published a book called Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth(Reformation Heritage Books). This book may surprise many as men tend to hog the attention in terms of sixteenth-century events and publications. So please help us understand why women were so key to Christianity’s “rebirth” as you call it.
Well, you brought up the Luthers—imagine what his life would have looked like without Katie. By the time he married her, his sheets were mildewed from his sweat. She did a lot to keep him alive and sane. Some women in this period saved their husbands’ lives during outbreaks of plague, so they could continue ministering. Others wrote influential works that changed the way people thought about issues. A few directed armies, successfully making room for Protestantism in their countries. And a lot of them raised godly children; God blessed their faithful parenting in many ways so that they were a blessing to many generations of believers.
Katie Luther and Lady Jane Grey tend to immediately come to mind when a conversation turns to women in the sixteenth-century Reformation. But you’ve drawn our attention to twelve other women who are not as well known. If you had to put one at the top, which women would you first recommend to our readers and why?
Picking one is hard, but I think that Jeanne d’Albret is helpful given our cultural context. She has a lot of characteristics (good and bad) that are stereotypically “male”: strong leadership, self-sufficiency, anger, guts, high intellectual and low relational abilities, etc. With a lot of confusion of what it means to be a woman, especially a Christian woman, I think it is useful to ponder how Jeanne used her personality to excel as a mother and queen in the hard situations where God put her. Femininity can mean that we are delicate and timid, but it can also mean that we escape a kidnapping plot and come back with an army. Jeanne’s life was more than interesting; it gives us lots of principles to work through.
Is there a second woman who our readers just must learn about too?
Anna Bullinger did nothing remarkable in the world’s eyes. She raised children, helped her husband, and practiced hospitality. Her unglamorous, hard work is a model of self-denial and self-discipline bearing fruit in secondary ways: her husband’s writing, her guests’ fruitfulness, and her children’s service after her death. There was nothing concrete, like a book or a military victory, that she could point to and say, “I did that; now it’s done.” She did things that needed to be done over and over, like meal preparation, laundry, and care for the poor. But that mundane work did incredible things to build up the Church. She’s a great encouragement for stay-at-home-moms!
If our readers read your book and want to go deeper, is there a book or two you would especially recommend on women and the Reformation?
Ernst Kroker’s Mother of the Reformation, is a great resource on Katie Luther; Olympia Morata’s letters and writings are in modern translation in The Complete Writings of an Italian Heretic; Nancy Roelker wrote the definitive work on Jeanne d’Albret that includes a lot of Huguenot history.
It’s been a long week but you now have an entire Saturday to yourself. Walk us through your ideal “day off” and what you enjoy most.
A whole day? Well, the market would be my first stop because of the color and texture on display—loading up on fruits and veg. Then I would spend a lot of time cooking and baking while listening to Bach, and working out listening to Sinclair Ferguson or Ian Hamilton. An unrushed dinner with the family and at-home movie with my husband would be a good end to the week.