At the foot of the cross as Jesus heaved His last breaths, He looked upon his mother and John, the disciple He loved and said, “‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother’” (John 19:26-27).
Why did Jesus assign John to care for his mother, now likely a widow, and not one of her biological sons - James, Joseph, Simon, or Judas (Matthew 13:55-56)?
At this point in history, His flesh-and-blood brothers considered Jesus a delusional rebel, not a divine revelation. They were faithless and antagonistic towards this God-Man (John 7:3-5). James did not accept his big brother as the Messiah until Jesus re-appeared to him after the resurrection (I Corinthians 15:7). Jude, likely younger, was also persuaded at some point as he authored the epistle that bears his name. But Scripture gives little detail of his conversion or if the other brothers and sisters followed suit and became followers.
Spiritual family is Biblical
Jesus chose to place His precious mother into the hands of a faithful spiritual brother, John.
In providing for Mary in this way, Jesus confirms what a lot of us have learned: our biological family won’t always (if ever) be able to accept, encourage or fan the flame of our faith. In this transition of caregiving, Jesus underscores the value He places on the family of God.
When you become a Christian, you become part of Christ’s body, the Church, and a spiritual relative to all believers. These are the people with whom you will spend eternity, but some of these relationships need not wait until heaven. The family of God is part of God's design to help grow you into a mature believer, from one degree of glory to another.
"We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Spiritual motherhood is Biblical. It is from the Lord. It’s a gift from God that we can (informally or formally) be led, nurtured, encouraged and taught by a mother figure who isn’t our mother. Any healthy biological or adoptive mom will want that for her children.
Spiritual mothers can mirror a more mature, Christ-like faith for us.
"British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wrote of a critical role mothers play in their infants’ lives: acting as a mirror to reflect babies’ own selves and moods back at them. As children grow up, good mothers continue to reflect for their children, telling kids who they are and how the world sees them. Spiritual mothers can do the same, pointing out potential they may not see in themselves, helping them identify their spiritual gifts, and identifying habits they need to change" (christianitytoday.com).
Investing in and encouraging younger generations is one of the key success factors in the Body of Christ. It is critical to pass on the baton of truth to those you will one day leave behind. It is equally as critical to pay attention and listen to those women who are seeking the Lord and have more wisdom and experience than you do.
As believers in Christ, we must receive the truth as well as pass it on.
The role of a spiritual mother
God, in His grace, provides spiritual mothers who can contribute to the unfinished outpouring of your own mother. The role of the spiritual mother is by God’s design, like pieces of the puzzle that are needed to bring you closer to completion. This role in no way negates the need for your own mother or father or other spiritual relatives; it is simply a vital part of the whole.
What value, then, do we place on spiritual mothers (and spiritual fathers, sisters, brothers and grandparents) within our own lives and the lives of our children? Do we recognize the role these saints have in our lives? Do we welcome them into our inner circle, to pour out God’s truth and love, or do we shut them out because we are fearful about someone doing it differently or, maybe more threatening, better than us?
Titus 2:3-4 says, “In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not slaves to excessive drinking. They are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children...”
Being and seeking a spiritual mother takes humility, intention and time.
Even if your own mother is a faith giant, God knows other women are needed to fill in the gaps your less-than-perfect mother left. Whether it's a gaping hole or a few hairline cracks, God can use other women with different backgrounds and experiences to be the bridge that brings you closer to the Lord.
Even if you have a mother who is easy to celebrate, she probably already has - and definitely will - disappoint you. There is no perfect mom. Whether through distraction, distance, disinterest, dysfunction, divorce or eventually death, your mother will not be able to meet all your physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Only the perfect Jesus can meet all your needs, and He regularly does it through the provision of His imperfect people. Spiritual mothers. It does, indeed, take a village to contribute to raising a whole, healthy image bearer.
This should be a relief and not a threat.
Spiritual motherhood also comes with great responsibility, and age is not the only qualifier. A life lived surrendered to Jesus and His Word is what most earns spiritual mothers the right to be heard amongst younger women.
Spiritual mothers through the years
God has blessed me with numerous spiritual mothers over the course of my life. I hope you can look back and pinpoint some too. Each impacted me in different ways and at varying depths. Each revealed the hand of God at critical points of my upbringing:
My 4th grade teacher took me to a church Christmas play where God opened my eyes to the Gospel and I accepted Christ. Maybe even more than a spiritual mother, she was a spiritual midwife who helped me be born again.
In middle school, I often observed the mom of a close friend post Scriptures on her children’s bathroom mirrors and joyfully volunteer at our school. Most Sundays, I went to church with them after a Saturday night sleepover. Time spent with that family left more of an impression on me than that carpooling, PTA mom will ever know.
In high school, my stepmother - who never had children of her own - was dedicated in taking me to church and walking out a quiet but consistent faith. Her hands were never idle and words were often few. She communicated more to me through her actions and commitment to be present in my life. Her godly parents embraced me as a granddaughter, attended school events and prayed for me as I grew up and married.
When I was a new mother, sleep deprived and startled by the demands of a baby and living in a different city than my own mother, I joined the international Christian organization called Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS). We met every other Friday over hot casseroles and coffee while the church nursery cared for our kiddos. We shared about diaper rash, postpartum depression, diligence in our homes, among many other relevant topics. During that time, I had several mentor moms invest time in me outside of the meetings, pray with me and encourage me in being a godly wife and mother. These were among my most formative adult years. These women simultaneously held my hands as I grieved miscarriages and grew me up as a leader in my home and the MOPS community.
In my most recent years, I enjoyed the priceless gift of being mentored by a woman at my church, who never had a daughter of her own. She embodied the essence of a spiritual mother. She encouraged, she pushed, she challenged, she role modeled, she shared personal testimony of God’s grace and goodness in an authentic and transparent way. For six years, I sat under her teaching, attended prayer nights, took many walks around the neighborhood and, finally, had a front row seat to watch her suffer well through cancer. She went home to be with Jesus nearly six months ago, but the impact she left on me and so many other women is eternal.
My own single mother sacrificed much over the years to afford me with a Christian education from preschool to college, wisely knowing that there were gaps that she wanted filled by other godly men and women.
God placed each of these spiritual mothers in my life for different seasons and at just the right time. It has been one of His greatest gifts to have spiritual mothers speak truth and love into my life, sincerely seeking to see me flourish for the Kingdom of God.
At 40 years old and presumptively more than two-thirds through my life, I feel the Lord leading me to pour into other young women as well as be open to releasing my own four daughters to women who can fill in my gaps. I don't feel ready, and I sorely wish my mentor was still here to teach, give advice and celebrate my personal victories.
But now it is my turn. Maybe it's your turn, too.
"You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others" (Hebrews 5:12).
I don't think we ever outgrow the need to be edified by other Christ followers. I welcome lessons learned and godly wisdom from the Body of Christ. But we should grow into our gifts for the glory of God.
In whom can you invest today? From whom can you receive spiritual mothering?
Spiritual mothers for your children
Do your children have a spiritual mother? Are you intentional about surrounding them with exemplary Christian women (and men) who can model the values and character traits you are working and praying for in your own child?
My husband and I decided several years ago that we would only have babysitters in our home who loved the Lord. After interviewing many “qualified” caregivers, it became apparent that if we were not going to be the ones praying before dinner or tucking them into bed with a Bible story, we were going to need someone else who could.
As any parent knows, bedtime is ripe with discussion and questions. Maybe it’s a ploy to stay up later, but nevertheless, it’s often when hearts open up and profound theological questions are asked. We could not risk missing those opportunities with someone who was not equipped to lead them.
We are grateful to have had several young women in our home over the years who have become wonderful role models to our daughters. To have a young adult model loving the Lord to your impressionable children is priceless. Encouragement and godly advice from these young women carry a different weight and impact than when a parent says essentially the same thing. Be protective of with whom you allow your children to spend time. Children absorb more than we know!
Spiritual mothers in the Church
What about the Church at large? Where do spiritual mothers fit in? Just as the Bible teaches that the best design for family is to have both a father and a mother raising children, it is also the best design for the Church to have both men and women involved in leadership, decision making, teaching and discipleship at all ages and stages.
"Listen, my son, to your father's instruction, and don't reject your mother's teaching, for they will be a garland of favor on your head" (Proverbs 1:8-9).
God created both men and women to need one another to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). This command was not just for biological offspring but for spiritual offspring as well. Both spiritual fathers and mothers are needed to fulfill the Great Commission and to raise up the next generation of godly sons and daughters.
Spiritual mothers bring favor to the Church. The world has enough single-parent families. It doesn't need single-parent churches.
When Jesus walked the earth, He intentionally involved women in His ministry, which was highly counter-cultural in first century Israel. A woman's testimony was not even considered trustworthy. Women were valued as baby makers, not soul shapers. They were minorities, not mentors.
Yet, Jesus came from heaven to earth through Mary. From the beginning, He hadn't designed a man to carry, labor and birth Him into the world. He hadn't just appeared from on high. He chose a man to carry the seed and a woman to be His vessel.
Once His ministry was underway, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well before anyone else that He was the Messiah (John 4:26). He chose a broken, sinful woman to proclaim His arrival. This encounter with Jesus caused her to immediately leave her jar and run to town to share the Good News, becoming the first recorded evangelist.
"Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of what the woman said when she testified" (John 4:39).
Mary Magdalene, and many other women, followed and financially supported Jesus during his ministry (Luke 8:1-3). Mary Magdalene, not Peter or John, was the first person to see the resurrected Christ (Mark 16:9). He bestowed this honor on a woman, the underdog of society, not a religious leader or even a regular man. Mary Magdalene also immediately ran to the disciples to share the good news. Jesus positioned her to teach and tell.
In the early church, the married couple Priscilla and Aquila worked with and even at times corrected Paul, whom he called "my co-workers in the ministry of Christ Jesus" (Romans 16:3, Acts 18:26).
It is clear that Jesus believes spiritual mothers are needed to edify His Church as they co-labor with spiritual fathers. Spiritual mothers bring a different and needed perspective that will help make the Church more whole through the power of God.
As you honor your mother this Mother’s Day, in memory or in person, also honor a woman who has poured into you spiritually. Find a mentor mom. Think about how you could become that woman for someone else. God has placed specific people in your life at a specific time, all for His glory and your growth.
Abide in Jesus and welcome the family of God into your life.