Some of the very best mothers I know don’t have children, at least not physically. Two of them are young, single women raising siblings with special needs or foster children. Two more married later in life, beyond child-bearing years; yet they have more children whom they feed and nurture and protect and guide than the Duggers. Still others, well past their own mothering years and well into their grandmothering years, continue to invest intentionally in the lives of younger women.
They probably don’t get invited to special Mother’s teas and Muffins for Moms. They likely don’t receive tender trinkets presented by eager little hands; however, they are every bit as much mothers as those who have raised physical children.
Spiritual mothers deserve to be showered with our thanks and affection. While it may not be appropriate for us to make play-dough bowls or paper flowers to present to them, we are called to honor them for the ways they have invested their lives.
In his letter to the Jewish believers, the writer of Hebrews encourages us to remember, to study and to imitate spiritual parents.
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith (Hebrews 13:7).
Remember Spiritual Mothers
The Greek word for remember is mnémoneuó, which aside from being a mouthful, means to call to mind, to hold in remembrance, to recollect or even to rehearse. Fittingly, it is from this root word that we derive our phrase mnemonic devices (like My very excellent mother just served noodles to remember the order of the planets in our Solar System).
The writer challenged the Church to continually call to mind and to remember those who had invested in them and others. We are asked to rehearse, to go over and over, the ways in which they have served the spiritual family.
Study Spiritual Mothers
First we are called to remember and to notice them. Then we are called to look intently at the ways they have lived their lives.
The Greek word anatheóreó, translated consider above, means to gaze upon, to look intently at, or even to dote upon. While we are commanded to study their lives, we also have every reason to be compelled to study them, their practices, their priorities and the outcomes they have shaped. And we are not limited to those we know in time and space.
While I have never met Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie Ten Boom, these women have nurtured me. I hear phrases they have written and mottoes by which they have lived regularly in my daily life with both my physical children and my spiritual stock. I have gazed long at their lives through biographies and sermons, and I am seeking to glean every ounce of wisdom I can from these spiritual matriarchs.
Imitate Spiritual Mothers
Lastly, the writer of Hebrews bids us imitate these spiritual mothers. The Greek Word mimeiomai means to follow, to emulate. Just the reading of the word calls to mind our modern words mimic and mimeograph (the forefather of the copy machine). Interestingly enough, this word is always in the middle voice in the Greek. While we don’t use the middle voice often in English, the middle voice implies a high level of self-involvement. It assumes that we are highly motivated to mimic and follow the lives of our beloved leaders.
Thankfully, this last step flows naturally out of the first two. Once one has noticed the women who have spiritually mothered others and looked long and hard at the harvest of their long investments, it is almost impossible to not want to emulate their lives.
I wish it was a simple cut and paste project, this attempt to imitate the lives of the spiritual mothers who have gone before us. I have tried that to no avail, as apparently I am not wired like Amy or Corrie or Betsy (my spiritual mothers on paper) or the handful of women who have faithfully invested in my life with their actual flesh and blood lives. No one else is in my exact situation or place with my exact personality and my calling; yet, I can distill principles from their lives that can applied to my context in nuanced ways.
This Sunday, as you receive a flower at your Church or get ready to be fed a homemade breakfast like the Queen of Sheba, remember those who have spiritually mothered you. Notice them. Dote on them. And then spend the rest of your life seeking to imitate them as they imitate Christ.