A few days ago I had the privilege of teaching a couple of topics in one of our classes in church. Since it was my first time to teach in that class, I made it a point to come early and listen to the sessions before mine. One of the earlier sessions was on servant leadership, where this verse was mentioned:
But we were gentle among you,
like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.
So, being affectionately desirous of you,
we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God
but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:7-8 ESV
After he mentioned this verse, the pastor, in passing, told the class that if they didn’t know what this verse meant, they can ask me since I’m a nursing mother. I have read 1 Thessalonians before, but not after I’ve started nursing Chadric Noah, so it was my first time to look at this verse and understand what Paul was trying to say, at least in some level. Here’s what I shared to the class before I started the lessons assigned to me, and a few more insights that came to me after class.
1. Tiring is an understatement.
Nursing a baby who is a few days or weeks old is 24/7. In my case, I had to feed Noah every two hours, which gave me around 30 minutes between each two-hour cycle to decide if I will sleep, eat, or take a bath. This drove me nuts and I was a few inches away from postpartum depression (read about the struggles here and how I overcame here).
Now that Noah is thirteen months old, he doesn’t need milk that frequently, and it doesn’t take him long to get all the milk he needs. And yes, I have lots more time to sleep, eat, take a bath (and yes, I do all three every day).
When we start discipling people who are new in their walk with God, it can start off with a constant Q&A. Sometimes, they’d call during working hours, very early in the morning, very late in the evening, or even in the middle of the night. It can be very disruptive. It can take a lot of our time and energy.
2. It can be painful.
If you don’t have that right “latch,” breastfeeding is painful. When babies start teething, it is painful. But as a mom keeps on nursing her child, both mom and baby grow into it to the point that it becomes easier for both.
In discipling people, it can also be painful for us. Our hearts are always what’s best for them and so we bring them to the truth of the Word of God. When they choose to go the other way, it becomes painful for us.
3. It gets frustrating.
When you haven’t had sleep, haven’t eaten, haven’t taken a bath for days, and when it’s painful, everything becomes frustrating. How many times in those first few nights have I wanted a “pause” button?! There’s none and I was left with no choice but to continue having not enough sleep, not enough time to eat, no bath, and taking on the pain. But whenever I held Noah, even when he caused me pain, I have always held him in the gentlest and most loving way possible. He wouldn’t have had any clue of how inconvenienced and almost insane I was.
In discipleship, we can get inconvenienced (and sometimes almost insane). Sometimes, there’s that temptation to just give some people to another leader.
In discipling people, these are costs we must be willing to take. Like a nursing mom who takes all these in out of her love for her baby who eventually grows, we, as leaders, take all these in out of our love for the people God has brought to our care.
Tiring is an understatement. It can be painful. It gets frustrating. But it’s not going to be like this for long. Babies grow, and mothers grow stronger. If we do not give up, the people we are discipling will grow, and we, ourselves, will also grow in character, both by the grace of God.
The text actually says it all: nursing mothers give their lives to their babies. Paul used this illustration to express the same selflessness—they weren’t just ready to share the Gospel to the Thessalonians, but their own selves as well because of their love for them.