When I was in seminary, I was adopted by several spiritual mothers. Many of these women were unmarried or had no children of their own, and they poured into me by mentoring, listening, praying, and investing in me. I had moved to Boston when I was twenty-two, knowing no one, packing my Ford Escort to the gills and driving across the country from southern California. These women gave me a home.
One of these women, Aunt Patricia, is still there, a phone call away, investing in me and praying for me continually. If I get my way, someday she will move here to Florida, and I will be able to be here for her as she gets older.
One of the most familiar passages on women mentoring other women is found in Titus 2. But when I think of spiritual mothering, my thoughts turn to that encounter between Mary and Elizabeth found in Luke 1:39-45:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Elizabeth offers Mary three subtle gifts in this passage, and they are at the heart of being a spiritual mother to others.
First, Elizabeth offered a place of refuge. Mary was faced with the most miraculous pregnance in history; but the every-day reality would be a far cry from the angels singing and shepherds praising a few months later. She turned to her older cousin, who welcomed her with faith and with a place to be. Mary arose and went “with haste”–she made a beeline to Elizabeth, and there found not only a refuge from judgment and criticism, but a place of rest, hope, and worship.
Second, Elizabeth spoke words of blessing. How often did I, as a young twenty-something dealing with my own brokenness and the struggles of those around me, stand in deep need of prayer and blessing! These women offered it in abundance. They listened, prayed, and offered godly wisdom mined from Scripture. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and was provided with the perfect greeting; we, too, are filled with the Holy Spirit and he will gladly use us to speak words of life to one another.
Finally, Elizabeth encouraged Mary in her faith: And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. Mary was trusting the the promise that the baby in her womb was part of God’s grand design; but she had virtually no one in her life who understood. The Lord provided Elizabeth to offer words of encouragement, to believe along with her that Mary was indeed blessed among women. He poured out his kindness to Mary through Elizabeth, and Mary stayed in that refuge for a long time.
On this Mother’s Day, I am grateful for my own mom and for my husband’s mother–both women love me and love the Lord, and I am deeply blessed by them. I know that for many friends, Mother’s Day holds the sorrow of loss: of children, of mothers. And I am grateful for all of the spiritual mothers that the Lord has placed in my life over the years, those who have ministered to me in so many ways, those who have provided a refuge and pointed me to Jesus.
Lord, thank you for the women you have placed in my path over the decades of my life who have been these spiritual mothers to me. Thank you for their faith, for their listening, for their wisdom. Thank you for the ways you have used them to guide me and point me to you.
May I offer these gifts to the women around me: gifts of place and refuge, of words of blessing, and words of faith that point them to you. Direct me by your Holy Spirit to truth and wisdom that would build them up in their faith, to promises that you are extending to them. Thank you for the richness of the community of women around me–whether with me here, or spread around the world. Thank you for phone calls and visits that allow us to continue to minister to one another no matter the distance. Keep our friendships focused on you, and protect us from gossip and comparison. Instead, let our words be full of life and the light of your gospel. In the name of our kind and powerful Savior, Amen.