One of my favorite books as a child was the classic by P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? It’s the story of a baby bird who falls from his nest and goes in search of his mama. I would anxiously turn the pages as he asked a hound dog, an old car, and a host of other creatures and objects his soulful question: “Are you my mother?” As the little bird goes along searching, he passes right near his mother without being aware. The text reads: “He did not know what his mother looked like. He went right by her. He did not see her.” Having met with disappointment and even danger again and again, at last he would find her on the very last page, just as my four-year-old heart was about to break from the suspense. Eastman wrote a book that appealed to an obvious truth: babies need mothers.
I’m now in my forties and a mother to four children who are almost grown. As I’m writing, they are all “out of the nest” for the week, and the unusual quiet orderliness of our house has felt like a foretaste of the next stage of life that is rushing toward me. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it. Being the mama bird of this nest has consumed me for twenty years, and I have loved it. The term “empty nester” feels like an odd fit.
But I know better than to think that my mothering days are drawing to a close. I know this because God calls every believing woman to be a mother. Think about the command given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1: Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth with more image bearers. The command to the first man and woman meant that they were to become parents in the literal sense. But in the New Testament, we find this command expressed also in spiritual terms in the Great Commission: Go to all nations and make disciples. Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth with more image bearers. But this time, the call is also to be spiritual parents, raising newborn believers to maturity, helping them conform to the image of Christ.
I know my mothering days are not over because, as long as I draw breath, the call to fill the earth with image bearers will be incumbent on me. Just as my biological children needed me to train them in self-control, industriousness, and obedience, so also do young believers in the church need those who are more mature to train them in godliness. Every believing woman who grows to maturity becomes, in her time, a spiritual mother to those following behind, whether she ever becomes a mom in physical terms. She fulfills that most basic calling of motherhood: nurturing the helpless and weak to maturity and strength. She helps the young believer to nurse on the pure milk of the Word, faithfully teaching basic doctrine and modeling the fruit of the Spirit. She sacrificially makes herself available, like the mother of a newborn infant, allowing her schedule and personal needs to be inconvenienced for the sake of caring for the spiritually young and vulnerable. And she understands the work to be not a trial but a sacred duty, finding deep delight in wobbly first steps of faithfulness and stuttered first words of truth.