When our pastor’s wife announced that the ladies would be going through a study of Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt, I was a little wary at first, because in reading a few of Susan’s other writings, I thought she came across as clinical. I’m happy to say, though, that that’s not the case with this book, and she comes across as much more warm and personable. This edition is a revision of a book she wrote about 25 years ago.
She begins by noting that Titus 2:3-5, the instruction about older women teaching younger, is not to be taken in isolation or out of context and only read during women’s ministry functions. It fits within the broader framework of our Lord’s command to make disciples, and the function of the church as a whole, and the context of living life for God’s glory.
To glorify God means to reflect back to him the glory he has revealed to us (p. 53).
No earthly relationship will meet all of our needs. Fulfilling the purpose for which we were created is he only way we will experience wholeness. Mary focused on glorifying God. She did not speak of Elizabeth as her only source of help; spiritual mothering is not a cure-all for the older or the younger woman (p. 52).
[Re giving birth in a stable]: [Mary] exercised the discipline necessary to move beyond disappointment and distractions and to carefully think about the thing that really mattered–God’s glory (p. 56).
Mary could adjust to these extremes [angels and stables] in her life because she saw them from the vantage point of obeying God’s will, not from the perspective of her expectation or preferences. In defining herself as a servant, she had relinquished control to God. Her purpose was not her convenience but God’s glory (p. 57).
Susan defines spiritual mothering thus: “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” (p. 36). Her main Biblical models throughout the book are Elizabeth and Mary, and my first thought was that I don’t think that’s primarily what the passages that speak of them are there for. But she draws out many applicable principles from their time together and draws from other relationships as well (like Ruth and Naomi). However, she points out that the principles of spiritual mothering can be seen in and drawn from many passages where God compares His care of His people to a mother’s love. And because we draw from His example and because He equips us, spiritual mothering has nothing to do with having biological children or even being married: God calls each woman to nurture in this way and enables them to do so. Usually we’re in the position of an older lady to some and a younger lady to others.
It would be easy for some women to quickly disqualify themselves by saying, But I don’t have the gift of teaching.” Sorry, that won’t work! A closer look at the word translated “train” will render that reasoning invalid. The Greek word is sophronizo and denotes “to cause to be of sound mind, to recall to one’s senses…the training would involve the cultivation of sound judgment and prudence (p. 72).
The popular concept of mentoring and coaching suggest some degree of structure and formality. Spiritual mothering may involve mentoring and coaching, but it is broader. Nurturing seems to be more compatible with what Paul is advocating in the Titus command (p. 72).
Before reading the book, I was a bit afraid that Susan would be pushing a formal and structured relationship, which can too easily seem artificial. She does share ways that can be implemented. But overall she advocates this type of nurturing in connection with other interactions, activities, and ministries, which I’ve always felt was a more natural way to go about it. “Spiritual mothering has more to do with demonstrating ‘the shape of godliness’ than with teaching lesson plans” (p. 93).
She discusses characteristics of the relationship and sprinkles many examples from modern life throughout the book, as well as opening each chapter with one woman’s story. Each chapter ends with a challenge of meditating on a specific passage of Scripture and taking definite steps in regard to the chapter’s subject matter.
Other quotes that stood out to me:
Servitude is not easy. Obedience is not a one-time decision. Obedience is a lifetime discipline. But it does bring a simplicity to life because it settles the issue of who is in control (p. 59)
This command [Titus 2:3-5] is sandwiched between the exhortation to “teach what accord with sound doctrine” (v. 1) and a statement of purpose: “that the Word of God may not be reviled” (v. 5). Sound doctrine must be the basis for the older-woman/younger-woman relationship and honor for God’s truth must be the goal of the relationship (pp. 65-66).
A reverent life is the product of a reverent view of God (p. 69).
Resentment erects barriers that cause older and younger women to miss each other. Resentment is a product of a self-centered approach: unless you are doing and being what I want you to do and be I am offended. Living for God’s glory frees us to value and appreciate rather than resent one another. We can appreciate our diversity of temperaments, life-stages, life-situations, abilities, and callings from God. We don’t have to be or do the same thing. In fact, there is no real unity without diversity. Two of the same things don’t need to blend to become one (p. 131).
There were just a few places where I agreed with what Susan was saying but didn’t feel that it quite came from the passage she was using for its basis, and one or two places where I felt she was wrong. For instance, on p. 52 she says, “Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms how to glorify God: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4, NIV). Completing the work he assigns us – joyful obedience to his will – is the way we glorify him.” It is a way, but not the only way. A couple of other ways: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23, ESV); “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8, NASB).
But overall I thought this was a good and helpful book and I gleaned many good things from it.
The ladies at our church who were studying the book met every other week to discuss a couple of chapters at a time, and I am sorry I missed that, because I think it would have reinforced the principles and truths brought out in the book. I did hear that they also had some panel discussions with some older ladies, which I would have loved to hear, and paired up an older and younger lady for some one on one time. I’ve been meaning to ask some of them how that went but haven’t thought of it while at church.
Have you read this book? What did you think?
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday) and Carole’s Books You Loved)