Spiritual Mothering

Nov. 5, 2011 Susan Hunt

Session Transcript

Susan Hunt: We have twelve grandchildren. When my name’s sake Susie was about 4 years old, she slid down their stairs one day on her pillow just as her mother walked around the corner and said, “Susie! Don’t ever do that again.”

And Susie said, “Did you do this when you were a little girl?”

And her mother said, “No. My mother wouldn’t let me.”

Susie said, “Who is your mother?”

Catherine said, “Susie, MeeMommy is my mother.”

Susie said, “Uh-uh. She’s an old lady.” (Sounds of laughter)

It gets worse. Susie is now sixteen, and I think we have a picture. Susie is the one in the fancy dress. This was her homecoming doings and the other is another granddaughter Cathy. But actually Susie is right, and the only thing I can think of that qualifies me to be up here speaking on spiritual mothering is that I am the old lady in the room. But I found out this morning that there are a few of you that are older. If you want to come on, come on down. (Sounds of laughter)

I love a quote from Elizabeth Prentiss, the 19th century author of one of my favorite books, Stepping Heavenward. She wrote to a friend: “I’m ever so glad that I’m growing old every day and so becoming better fitted to be the dear and loving friend to young people I want to be.”

Earlier this morning I talked about some ways for us to implement and develop a Titus 2 ministry in our churches. But in this session, Nancy asked me to speak on spiritual mothering as if it was my last opportunity to do so. That’s been a good challenge. It’s made me dig deep in my own heart and ask myself, “Why have I been so driven for so long by the Titus imperative for women to equip and teach women?”

Paul’s letter to the Pastor Titus is about the church, and that’s key to understanding this passage. This is a letter about church life and church policy with a real emphasis on sound doctrine. Titus 2, verse 1 and then 2 to 5: “But as for you, Titus [Pastor Titus] teach what accords with sound doctrine.”

Then he gives instructions about the older men. Then verse 3: “Older women, likewise, they’re to be reverent in behavior, not slanders or slaves to much wine. They’re to teach what is good and so train the young women.”

The church is to be sure that women are equipped to nurture, to train, to spiritually mother other women for God’s glory. It was about twenty-five years ago that I became captivated by this concept. It has really shaped the calling that God has put on my life over these years. But I can say to you, I am more passionate about this concept today than I was twenty-five years ago.

My vision for spiritual mothering has intensified. It has broadened as I have seen this concept, not as an end in itself, but as part of the magnificent whole. If we do not see the Titus mandate in the context of the the big story of Scripture, we will usually reduce it to moralism or legalism.

We will be like those disciples who were walking to Emmaus after the crucifixion. Scripture tells us they were sad, but then Jesus came along. They did not recognize Him, but He began walking with them, and He asked them what they were talking about. They were shocked that He had not heard of the crucifixion. So they told Him everything that had been going on, and then they said, “And we hoped that He was the one that would redeem Israel.”

Then Luke 24, verse 25: “’Oh foolish ones and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets had spoken. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?’ And beginning with Moses [that’s the first five books of the Bible] and all the prophets, He interpreted them and all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

He showed them Himself in the Old Testament. He showed them the big story. The Old Testament is not just a random collection of disconnected stories. It’s all about Jesus.

Then Jesus joined them for a meal. They recognized Him, and He vanished. Then we read in Luke 24, verse 32: “They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened us the Scriptures?’ And they arose that same hour and went back to Jerusalem to tell He is risen.”

Seeing Jesus, seeing redemption in all of Scripture changed them from having sad, slow, sluggish hearts to hearts that were impassioned  to go and to tell. If we disconnect any portion of Scripture from the big story of redemption, we will usually reduce that portion of Scripture to moralism or to legalism. We will distort it, and we will distort our ministries. We will construct weird and wacky ministries that don’t have staying power.

Titus 2 is not simply about matching an older and a younger woman and telling them to be friends. Titus 2 is about God’s redemption story that was determined before creation. How cool is that? Our story is one that began before the beginning.

Let me tell you what this old lady sees now when I look at Titus 2. I have to begin with Ephesians 1 which gives us a stunning overview of this redemption plan. Here we see that covenant of redemption between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1, verse 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ according to his will for the purpose of the praise of his glory.”

The Father chose us to be His own not because of anything we had done or would do but because of His own will for the purpose of praising His glory.

Then in verse 7 we see that through Jesus we have redemption through His blood.

Verse 12 we see the same purpose “so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.”

In verse 13, we see “in him, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and belief, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it [again, that same purpose] for the praise of his glory.”

The Holy Spirit applies this redemption to us. He enables us to believe. He secures our inheritance, pointing us to the grand consummation of all of history. Now, don’t miss this: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in power, in glory, and in being, but each has a separate, distinct, equally valuable function in the accomplishment of our redemption, but all with a unity of purpose—the praise of God’s glory.

Then the beginning began. God created everything. In Genesis 1:26, we read where God says, “Let us make man in our image. God created him, male and female he created them.” God did not create a genderless being. The man and woman were equally created in God’s image, but each was given a different function in God’s kingdom, but the same purpose: God’s glory, thus reflecting the unity and the diversity of the Trinity.

In Genesis 1:28, God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.” Here we see that the cultural mandate was given to God’s image bearer to have dominion, to extend God’s kingdom, and their gender distinctiveness was needed for this to task.

Because the man and woman lived in perfect fellowship with God, they were perfectly happy being a man and a woman. Here is the true man and the true woman. It was natural to be what they were created to be because they lived in this perfect relationship with God. But the man and the woman sinned. The true became new, and it was not a pretty picture.

The true woman became a new woman, and she entered history with clenched fists. “I will have my way.” The man and the woman were covenant breakers, but because God is a covenant keeper, He did not end human history. He came to them, not with a sword, but with a promise, with the promise of the gospel.

Genesis 3:15: “I will put enmity . . .” (Here He’s speaking to the serpent, and He’s saying, ‘I will do what they cannot do for themselves.’ God’s sovereign initiative. God’s sovereign grace.) “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

They listened. They fully expected death, and yet here they hear the promise of life, and it will actually come through the woman. What was Adam’s response to this first proclamation of the gospel? Genesis 3:20: “The man called his wife’s name Eve because she was the mother of all living.” Eve means life giver.

First of all, you see that the man named his wife. Naming is an indicator of headship. Adam was restored to headship because of the gospel. The woman was restored to her ability to be a helper, to be what she was created to be because of the gospel. This is not just biological. We are not only capable of giving birth biologically, but woman is redeemed to be a life giver in every season of life in every relationship of life and in every situation of life.

Now we are all different, and our lives are different, but we’re female, and our femaleness is intrinsic to who we are, and it permeates every nook and cranny of our lives. The question is: Will our perspective of our femaleness be shaped by God’s Word or will it be shaped by culture?

The rest of Scripture and the rest of history is about the Triune God pursuing His chosen ones. He gave the promise to Abraham, that covenant promise that says, “I will be your God; you will be My people, and I will live among you.” God binds Himself to us with this promise in covenant loyalty.

From Abraham He formed the nation of Israel, and in New Testament language, Israel is the church. As we read in Galatians, “if you’re in Christ, then you’re Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise.” The church is the family of God. The church is the covenant community, the bride of Christ.

Ephesians 5 beautifully describes the consuming love that Jesus has for His church. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word so that he might present the church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies, for no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes it and cherishes it as Christ does the church because we are members of his body. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is profound, and I’m saying it refers to Christ and the church” (vv. 25-32).

Jesus left His Father’s house to claim and redeem His bride. He holds fast to her. That is covenant language binding Himself to us in loyalty in an intimate, personal union with Himself. Jesus, the offspring of the woman, the God-man came and lived a life of perfect obedience. He met every covenant requirement and offered Himself as the substitute for His bride. He took her punishment so that she, so that we can be clothed in His righteousness. She can wear white to her wedding, the whiteness of His purity.

He conquered sin and death, and He ascended to the Father, but before He left, He gave His church that grand and glorious imperative to “go into all the world and to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Here the cultural mandate is given expanded meaning. We’re to take dominion, but the currency of this kingdom is not military or political power. The currency of the kingdom of grace is grace.

We are to extend this kingdom with grace. The currency of this kingdom is gospel power. We’re to extend this kingdom lovingly, gently, one person at a time, sometimes a mother sitting at her table spiritually mothering another woman.

Now do you see the significance of Titus 2:3-5? Some discipleship—not all, but some—is to be gender specific, but our discipleship of women does not stand alone. It’s one part of the church’s total ministry of discipleship as we carry out that great commission. And get this: Redeemed women are the only ones who can display before the world and before the heavenlies God’s creation design and redemptive calling for women because we’re the only ones who have the life of Christ within us.

And redeemed women are the only ones who can give this legacy of womanhood to the next generation. We are the only ones who can disciple women to be life givers. Once we have the life of Christ in us, we have the ability, but we need to be trained. We need to be mothered to glorify God as life givers.

Titus 2:3-5 is about discipling women, who by nature are life takers, to, by grace become life givers. It’s training new women to become true women.

What does it look like? A couple of examples:

As you know, our economy today is causing enormous pressure on many families. Many young men are like our son-in-law. We’re very thankful he has been able to keep his job, but because there’s been so much downsizing, his work load has then doubled and then tripled, which for him means he is away from home much more than he ever wanted to be. But we’re very thankful he has a job.

But one week when he was away, granddaughters Kate and Maggie began whining, “I miss my Daddy. Why is he gone so much?” And soon, as happens with females when we begin feeding each other’s emotions, (sounds of laughter) they were sobbing about how much they missed their Daddy. “I want to call my Daddy.”

Our daughter set them down and she said, “Girls, your Daddy has told you that you can call him any time he is away, but I’m not going to let you call him when you’re like this because you would make him sad, and you would make him feel guilty, and we must be thankful that God has given our daddy a job so that he can provide for us so that I can be at home with you. He’s away working because he loves us, and he wants to take care of us. Now when you can call him and encourage him and be happy, then I’ll let you call him.”

To which Maggie responded, “(sobbing) I think I’ll wait until tomorrow.” (Sounds of laughter) Wise little girl. Timing is everything, girls.

But then my daughter called me and she said, “Mom, did I do the right thing? I know they miss him.”

“Yes, you did the right thing. You are teaching those girls to be life givers and not to be selfish life takers who say, ‘I’m miserable because you’re not here, so come home,’ when he’s out there taking care of you. You are training them to be true women.”

Another example: One of my favorite spiritual mothers that God has put in my life—I was privileged to know her for about the last fifteen years of her life. Her name was Florestine. She was a single woman, about this high, but looked the same all the time. She had this beautiful white hair. No children, but our church was full of her spiritual children. She was a very simple woman. To my knowledge, she never taught a Bible study or anything like that, but she kept the nursery at our church, and she babysat for young mothers as long as she was able.

My favorite thing that she did was that every Sunday morning on the last hymn, she would scurry out to the back and stand just outside the church door. As soon as church was over, all the children would line up, and she would give them a piece of candy. Sometimes there would be a young mother standing there who would say, “I remember standing in this line when I was a little girl.”

One day I asked Florestine, “Why do you do this?”

She said, “I want the children in our church to know that they’re special, that I love them, that this is a place where they are loved and where they are secure.”

When Florestine died, one of her spiritual daughters suggested to the family, and the family did this. On her tombstone are written the words, “The Candy Lady.” I want to be the candy lady in my church.

Being with all of you is a taste of heaven. We’re getting the sense of the global nature of the church when we’re all together. Last night I was privileged to have dinner with a group of women from Chicago. One of those women I met when she was seventeen. She and I weres on a mission trip to the Ukraine. She’s now a young married woman and a member of that church where my dear friend Karen’s husband is a pastor.

But also with us were women from the Dominican Republic that I met years ago when I did a conference there. One of them even had the blessing for us in Spanish. It was this glorious sense of the global nature of God’s church, the bigness of His church.

Standing here speaking to you is an amazing privilege, but what really matters is: Will I show up in my local church tomorrow, maybe not giving candy—though chocolate always helps—(laughter) but giving a word of hope to that woman whose husband has left her. Looking beyond the outlandish clothes of that teenager, looking into her face and accepting her and giving her a hug and letting her know that I love her, giving a word of encouragement to that woman who is caring for an invalid parent.

What really matters is will I show up Tuesday morning and teach our women’s Bible study year after year after year because I’m absolutely overcome with gratitude that I’ve been adopted into God’s family, that I’m a part of His bride?

To say that mothering is sacrificial is a huge understatement, so is spiritual mothering. Why should we do such a thing? Why should we live so sacrificially? I could tell you twenty-five years of stories of the outcome of spiritual mothering, but you know what? If I did not have a single story to tell you, I pray that my commitment would be just as strong because our commitment should not be based upon the stories we sing.

The gospel imperative that we see in Titus 2:3-5 is predicated upon the gospel, the big story of God’s redemption, that declaration of who God is and what He has done for us in Christ that we see in Titus 2:11-13. Every gospel imperative is predicated upon a gospel indicative of who God is and what He is doing for us in Christ.

After saying that, we should be involved in investing ourselves in the lives of other women. In verse 11 we read: “For [or because] the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, waiting for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The two appearings are the reasons we should be involved in obeying this mandate. The first appearing of Christ and that He is going to appear again. Jesus came, and Jesus is coming back, and in between He has told us to make disciples, to train them to renounce ungodliness, to live self-controlled lives, to be life givers.

Then on in verse 14, “Jesus gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawliness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

It is not up to our programs nor our effectiveness. It is the power of the gospel that redeems and sanctifies. Jesus is the redeemer. Jesus is purifying His bride. He is washing her stain and making her wrinkle free.

Spiritually mothering other women actually gives us the privilege of getting the bride ready to meet the Bridegroom, but even if that other woman makes no response to the gospel—hear me on this—when I make this investment in another woman, I am prepared to meet the Bridegroom. My stains are removed. My wrinkles are ironed out. No Botox needed. (laughter)

Now I want to make absolutely sure you hear what I’m saying on this: We do not earn sanctification points by spiritually mothering other women. Our position and purity in Christ is a gift from Him. He declares us to be pure based upon the purity of Christ, and we are just as pure right now as we will be for all eternity because our purity is the purity of Christ which has been credited to our account. But our practical purity is that ongoing gospel process of dying to self and being transformed in the image of Christ, for us as women, of being transformed from being life takers to being life givers.

The Titus idea is given weight at the high point of human history when a young girl is told that she will be the mother of the Messiah. It’s very interesting to me that in the midst of this angelic announcement, suddenly the angel says something that seems totally out of place: “Behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.”

But it wasn’t out of place. Mary got the message. She understood that she needed the ministry of an older woman, and that God had made provision for her. So we read in verse 39 of Luke 1 that “Mary went with haste to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” There’s our qualification for spiritual mothering, not whether we’ve lived life well and all of that, but are we filled with the Holy Spirit right now? “Filled with the Holy Spirit, she exclaimed, ‘Blessed are you among women. Blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why has it been granted to me that I should see the mother of my Lord? Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’”

These were Spirit-led words of encouragement, of instruction, of affirmation, and of blessing. And what was Mary’s response? Mary explodes in that Magnificat, that hymn of praise that has blessed the church down through the ages. Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of his servant. Behold from now on all generations will call me blessed for he who is mighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name” (Luke 1:46-48).

One commentator said that Mary did not sing when the angel spoke to her. Mary sang when an older woman welcomed her into her home and spiritually mothered her.

But now the narrative continues, and Mary has another encounter with an older woman. We come to Luke 2, and we see that Mary and Joseph take the Baby to the temple to present Him to the Lord, and there was old Simeon there who had been told that he would not die until he saw the Christ. So he sees them come in, and he knows that this is the Promised One.

He takes the Baby in his arms; he praises God, and then verse 34, Simeon blessed them—Mary and Joseph—but then he said to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce your own soul, too).”

What shocking information for this young woman. A sword in the soul is terrifying. It is more painful than a sword in the flesh. What can cause a sword in the soul of a woman? Our providential circumstances, and this was the situation with Mary. Her providential calling by God—that’s what would put a sword in her soul. It may be for us cancer, or the death of a child—any number of things.

But a sword can also be caused by our own sin. The woman who has an abortion in her past or an addiction. Or it might be caused by the sin of another to us: abuse, betrayal, unfaithfulness.

But it’s what happens next that takes my breath away. There was a prophetess, Anna. She was really the old lady in the room. She was eighty-four years old. Coming up at that very hour, she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. At the very moment that Mary was confronted with the cost of her calling, God had another woman ready to step into that situation and to spiritually mother her.

What did Anna say? She gave thanks to God, and she spoke of the Redeemer and the redemption He came to bring. She reminded this young woman of the big story. That old lady saw the sword in the context of redemption. It is likely that as she looked back on her own life . . . She had been widowed after only seven years of marriage, and being a widow in that culture was especially painful and vulnerable. But she could look back on every sword that had been in her own soul, and she could say, “It hurt, but it was good. God used it to glorify Himself. He used it to shape me and to transform me into His image. I can honestly say that I am thankful for every sword that I have endured.”

He helped this young woman to put her pain in the eternal context of God’s love and His power, of His plan and His purpose. He helped her to see that sword redemptively.

At some level, Mary understood the enormity of her calling and that all generations would call her blessed. She said so in her song, but I suspect that Elizabeth and Anna never expected a shout out at a woman’s conference in 2011. (laughter) They were ordinary women who, because of the extraordinary grace, were looking forward to the redemption of Israel.

They were looking forward to the first appearing. We’re looking forward to the second appearing. But looking forward to that is what shaped their lives and their ministries. I also suspect that Mary was not the first young woman, nor was she the last, that they had spiritually mothered—not because they were some crusaders for women, but because they were looking forward to the redemption of Israel. They were looking forward to the redemption of the bride of Christ.

So that’s what this old lady sees when I now look at Titus 2, but let me tell you what I see when I look at you. I see the great company of redeemed women—Eve, Hannah, Sarah. I see Elizabeth and Anna and Mary. I see down through history: Susannah Spurgeon and Elizabeth Prentiss. I see my great-grandmother who I never knew but who prayed for the generations to come, and I’m an answer to her prayer.

I see my mother and other women in their eighties and nineties in my church who minister to me through their prayers. I see my daughters and my granddaughters, and I see your daughters and your granddaughters. And I see the generations yet to be born.

I see a parade of women who are saying, “Come, Lord Jesus, but until You do, use even me to prepare Your bride, to train other women to be true women, to be life givers.”

It’s a glorious sight. Don’t just watch this parade. Join it.


Father in heaven, there’s just no way to even express our gratitude that even before the world began You chose us to be Your bride. Father, we thank You, and we praise You, and we would pray that You would even use us, Lord, to get Your bride ready to meet You. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.