A new perspective on motherhood

Dropping my phone on the kitchen counter, I left the house quickly. Troubling news from the doctor’s office drew me out the door. What would this mean? How would life change? My mind was racing. I needed air and space to think, a new perspective.

I walked into my neighbor’s house and collapsed on her couch. Feeling the weight of the day, I shared with her some of the news I received earlier. Focusing intently, I noticed her eyes welling up as she listened. Once I finished, she rushed over to me and asked if we could pray together. She held me close and spoke the exact words of surrender I needed. It was a prayer of desperate hearts seeking the Lord’s peace and wisdom. We sat in silence for a while still wrapped in arms and prayer. Leaving her house, the fog over my situation seemed to lift. I felt loved, supported and renewed in confidence. In a word, I felt “mothered.”

Reflecting upon my relationships, so many women, both family and non-family alike, have acted as spiritual mothers for me. Naming a few, Sister Pat, my former boss, sends me handwritten notes each year on my birthday. My aunt texts me morning Scripture meditations. My dear college friend once drove 45 minutes in morning traffic to arrive at the hospital and hold my hand when my son needed surgery. Despite differences in age and vocation, they all live out a capacity “to mother” by demonstrating gifts of sensitivity, openness and hospitality.

The Lord entrusted humanity to women as an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for others. Our bodies confirm this reality. Yet, motherhood isn’t a gift only reserved for those who bear children. As mothers, we feel deeply the joys and wounds of those we attend to giving ourselves completely. We bring beauty into the world. We make a home.

We can recall the roots of spiritual motherhood going back to the first pages of Scripture. After the fall, Adam turns to Eve and calls her the “Mother of all living.” It’s significant that Adam’s revelation takes place even before Eve is pregnant. Gazing upon his beloved, Adam reemerges from sin and spiritual death into a world where he anticipates new life and purpose with Eve. Author Danielle Bean astutely points out in her new book, “Manual for Women,” “Mother of all living is the ideal for which women were created.” Regardless of whether we bear children physically or not, each woman has a capacity to draw others’ out of despair into the light. Providing loving support and gentle encouragement changes lives. Danielle Bean states, “For Adam’s words describe the art of life-giving love that every woman is built for and uniquely created to bring forth in herself and others. This is us. Even in the darkest of places women bring life. We bring love. We bring hope to a fallen world.” We see this played out in our everyday lives through other women around us. Neighbors, friends, even caring women whom we don’t know pass by with a smile and offer their assistance to lighten the load.

I recently took part in a Mothers’ Morning of Reflection which focused on the theme of universal spiritual motherhood. We had 87 women attend from all age groups and walks of life, including those who’d been impacted by infertility, miscarriage and the loss of spouses, children and loved ones. During our small group discussion time, I was astounded by the sense of mutual encouragement that took place. It was beautiful to listen as grandmothers empathized with moms of toddlers or rebellious teenagers. It was also incredible to witness the wonder that several older ladies shared as they encountered committed, faithful young Catholic women.

A good friend of mine who speaks to teenagers shares the maxim, “To compare is to despair.” Social media can be particularly harmful by fostering jealousy, competition and judgement. More than ever, we need to be mentors who act as spiritual mothers reaching across generations and looking for opportunities to build one another up. Mary’s relationship with Elizabeth provides a glimpse of this mutual mentoring. Though relatives, they are not obvious choices to be close friends. Elizabeth is barren and advanced in age, while Mary is a young virgin. Yet, Mary’s haste in reaching her cousin reveals their soul-bearing friendship. They’ve weathered the storms together of sorrow, infertility, misunderstanding and judgement. Now remarkably, they find themselves in very similar circumstances with lives miraculously growing in their wombs. Together the women sing in marvelous recognition of God’s plan fulfilled, not only in their lives but for all humanity.

In approaching my neighbor, I found the new perspective for which I searched. Over these last months, our friendship has grown deeper, and I often show up on her couch seeking advice. The Lord has a great plan for our lives as women. We are called to support and encourage one another, bringing forth life and hope into places of darkness. As with Mary and Elizabeth, may our common voices join in singing praises to God for his plan lived out in us.

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