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Spiritual Mothering & the Subtle Shadow

My daughter Jess Connolly interviewed me for a podcast on Go + Tell Gals last week and opened our conversation with this question: Jess: “I get the benefit of having you as my mother, but there are many other women who also call you their Spiritual Mother. How does that feel for you?” Me: “Honestly, I’d love for us to get rid of that label, that verbiage.” Since we hadn’t talked about this previously, my answer caught Jess by surprise. We’ve processed it more since then and you can hear some of that on the podcast. But since this is the week we celebrate Mother’s Day, it feels like a great time to explore this line of thinking further. The primary reason I think we need to stop using this phrase is because of the subtle shadow it casts on the mothers who raised us. I first heard the term when building a Titus2 Mentoring program. As director of women’s ministry, pastoring over 3,000 women ages 20-100. Spending months reading, researching and observing programs at other churches, one of the books most recommended was: “Spiritual Mothering: The Titus2 Model for Women Mentoring Women” by Susan Hunt. In her opening chapter, Hunt defines spiritual mothering as “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.” She goes on to remind us that ‘giving birth biologically or being of a certain chronological age are not prerequisites for spiritual mothering. I agree 100% with her working definition and lack of prerequisites. I just don’t like the nomenclature and here’s why. The fifth commandment is the first one followed by a promise:

“Honor [kabod] your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12)

“Honor [tima] your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:2-3

Before we get twisty about all the misuses of the word ‘honor’, let’s remember that the Hebrew word used [kabod] and the Greek in the NT [tima] mean: to fix the value, to prize. With these verses in mind, it pains me to hear women make disparaging remarks about their moms or slightly judge them when spiritual guidance was not a part of their upbringing. Each one of us must answer to this commandment, but please hear from someone who has lived ten years now without my mother. I wrote a couple of months ago about ‘things I’d said to my mother’ as my first attempt to fix her value and prize this gem of a woman. What I didn’t say was that she was not my spiritual teacher, mentor or guide although my mother didn’t read scripture to me, teach me biblical principles or have devotions with us. Her faith in God was private and real, but she never prayed with me or for me aloud. I learned about those things from other leaders, mentors and Titus2 women placed in my life, but none of them devalue the many beautiful things she birthed in me. I cast a shadow on her, if I call those other women by any title with the word ‘mother’ attached. This Mother’s Day, I will remember and honor (prize) the gifts of gardening, celebrating special occasions, nurturing and unconditional love and the unbridled joy shown to me by Betty Powell. I’ll spend the other 364 days of the year giving thanks to the others who taught me spiritually. How about you? I know that some have had wounds and pains from absent or abusive mothers. Maybe you’re in counseling or working through childhood trauma. I believe we can still honor, while holding boundaries and safe spaces. But let’s fix the value on their lives and make progress towards fulfilling this commandment. It’s the right thing to do and besides - I want the promise that follows, don’t you?

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