When I was in my twenties, I thought life was effectively over at 30. Incidentally, I also thought time would move much more slowly than it does. When I was in my thirties I knew better, but I still dreaded 40. I looked ahead and saw a future with obvious signs of aging, aches and pains, cultural alienation, and my precious children leaving home—it all felt negative and a big overwhelming.
But now that I am unequivocally in my forties, I realize there are some great things about being roughly at the halfway point of my presumptive lifespan. For starters, a solid majority of marketing and pop culture messages are not aimed at me—it’s very relaxing. For another, I’m actually looking forward to seeing my kids ready to leave home. Yet another, I am legitimately an elder to about half the population, and I find I’ve picked up a nice little collection of wisdom to share—and people actually want me to share it.
I find myself equipped not only for mentoring, but for spiritual mothering, a role I believe all women are called to play during our lives, regardless of whether we mother children in our own families.
Titus 2:3–5 gives a brief glimpse of the importance of this role in the church, with Paul instructing Timothy to ask older women to act in the lives of their younger counterparts. Both men and women need spiritual mothers. In the early days of the church—with few models to follow—people needed spiritual mothers and fathers to teach them how to be Christians. In modern times, this role seems just as important: Many young people live far away from their parents, and naturally occurring intergenerational community is rare.
So what does it mean to be a spiritual mother? It means using some of the same skills in relationships with younger Christians that mothers use with their children.
Nurture—Mothers nurture their children, caring for them, soothing them, and providing an environment in which they can grow and feel safe. We can nurture younger Christians as well, caring for them in both practical and less tangible ways. Spiritually speaking, our interest in them and our willingness to be authentic can create a space where they can safely grow.
Push—Good mothers don’t simply soothe or reassure their children; they also gently push them to try new things, keep practicing, and develop skills and confidence. Spiritual mothers don’t let people stay the way they are either. We push people, not necessarily in the direction we want them to go, but in the direction God is pulling them.