Spiritual Mothering: A High Calling for All Christian Women
Baptisms, baby showers, children’s choirs, strollers, pregnant bellies and Mother’s Day tend to be painful reminders to those who long for motherhood. The purpose for women, especially Christian women, is to be fruitful and multiply, right?
For the past few years I have been wrestling with the Lord about my calling in life. I have desired to become a wife and mom since I was a child. I have prayed for my future husband since I was twelve years old. I am now the oldest woman in my family to remain unmarried. This gift of singleness has been one I often want to re-gift. How can I, a single 25-year-old woman, “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28)? Sometimes I wonder whether I can truly glorify God best if I never become a mother, but recently I’ve been encouraged to rethink the call of mothering.
The Biblical Call to Spiritual Mothering
Miriam-Webster defines the word mother in the noun form as “a woman in authority; maternal tenderness or affection.” In the verb form to mother means “to give birth to, to give rise to, produce, or to care for or protect like a mother.” Mothering goes beyond giving birth to children and raising them—it includes nurturing and protecting that is not limited to the nuclear family.
Mother Theresa is a classic example. She was a mother to many but she never got married or had a child of her own. People don’t look at her life and say she was less of a woman or had less influence in the world because she did not mother her own biological children. Instead, she is commended as a woman who faithfully fulfilled her calling to care for others.
In her book Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Model for Mentoring Women, Susan Hunt sets out to convince all Christian women of the Biblical call to nurture the faith of others. She defines spiritual mothering as follows: “when a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman in order to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory.”
Spiritual mothering is a calling for all Christian women regardless of age, marital status, or fertility. God desires for us to not only create physical life but also nurture spiritual life. The command in Genesis 1 to be fruitful and multiply parallels the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to make disciples. Physical multiplication parallels spiritual multiplication, encouraging others to walk with God and glorify him.
In his book 7 Myths about Singleness Sam Allberry writes about Paul and Timothy’s relationship. In Titus 1:4 Paul writes “to Titus, my true child in a common faith.” Sam states, “Paul was single; he wasn’t married. But he did have children. Titus is his ‘true child.’” Paul’s spiritual parenting came naturally but also with lots of intentionality.
Within the female DNA is a desire to create, nurture, and love—to be a life-giver. Being a spiritual mother instead of a mom with children (biological or adopted) is not playing on the JV team of Christian womanhood. It is just as valuable. Evangelizing an unbeliever, discipling a young Christian, equipping someone in her faith, or mobilizing others for the lost world is just as valuable as a mother “training up her children in the way they should go” (Proverbs 22:6). All spiritual multiplication has value.
You, my friend, are a life-giver. When you evangelize and God opens the eyes of a friend, He is allowing you to be the vessel by which she is brought into new life.
Spiritual mothering can cross the lines of age, gender, race, ethnicity, culture, and space. I am able to disciple and invest in girls from different areas of the world and various life stages. Spiritual mothering is not limited to those in close proximity. Currently I spiritually mother my middle school students, a friend who just graduated college, an Asian friend on the other side of the world, an older woman with a child who has not yet put her faith in Christ, high school student leaders, and others. When looking for the necessary qualities to mother someone spiritually, seek out the faithful, available, and teachable, people who have the desire to grow.
Spiritual mothering is an aspect of living with an eternal perspective, focusing on the three eternal things: God, His word, and people’s souls. Susan Hunt notes, “Not every woman can give biological birth but every Christian woman can enter the high calling of spiritual motherhood.”
It’s Okay to Long for Motherhood.
I have been mourning the loss of a stage of life I have longed for, not losing purpose —I am mourning with hope. Grieving can be a slow and long process but also worth the growth and dependence on God.
Marriage and motherhood are good things but terrible gods. Although Christian culture sometimes suggests that Christian marriages and families are qualifications for better gospel ministry, we need to remember that singleness or childlessness does not hinder us from ministry. Singleness in ministry presents so much opportunity for devotion and growth. Although I often want to re-gift this gift, I am reminded that being single can be such an asset to ministry and spiritual mothering.
God is so good to me. I am a single woman in ministry today because God is so good to me. If falling asleep by myself, living alone, having empty bedrooms without a crib, not driving a minivan to soccer practice, and not having my children’s children over during holidays becomes my future reality, my life will still be full. If no one ever calls me “Mommy,” my life will still have purpose.
The good news is that we can fully wrestle every single day, understanding the gospel doesn’t mean that life is all roses. It is the freedom to admit daily that we long for marriage and motherhood while resting in God’s best for us in the here and now, in whatever stage. We can glorify God best today being unmarried and spiritually feeding our students.
Women in youth ministry, we can invest, mentor, and disciple young women with new purpose. Any Christian can be fruitful and multiply through spiritual parenting. Spiritual mothering is a calling for all Christian women regardless of age, marital status, or fertility.