Rebecca started it. Before I use the dreaded phrase here, let me be clear that it's Rebecca's fault. (Just kidding, Rebecca! You know I love you, friend!) Okay, the reality is that she wrote a wonderful post that made me actually think about instead of run away from the phrase and the commenters made me think some more. And the phrase is: "spiritual motherhood".
Let me tell you something about that phrase. When you long to be a wife and mother and someone offers "spiritual motherhood" as a substitute it becomes much more than two words put together. It becomes the specter of all your dreams gone up in ashes. It's the story of your life, which has become to try to fill the emptiness with something that is not filling at all. I once heard someone who was struggling with fertility say that spiritual motherhood was not at all what she wanted, and I thought, "Amen!" and then she finished with something like, "that's fine for those in consecrated life and single people", and I stopped reading her blog for a while (she is a wonderful person, and I get the point that she was making that when you are married, it's not enough. I'm just saying, when you're called to marriage, it's not enough, either.) Spiritual motherhood is not a substitute for physically being a mother. It just isn't.
When I write things like this, I often lump infertility and singleness together. I recently heard someone refer to being single in your 30's to "circumstantial infertility" and there's a lot of truth to that. It is not exactly the same. I know that there are a lot of the medical things that I am not dealing with, etc. But the pain of pregnancy announcements is the same, Mother's Day still sucks, and it's at least as isolating if not more, since you don't even have a spouse to share at least some of the feelings with. Not to mention that we seem to be even fewer and farther between than couples dealing with IF. Anyway, the point being that I know many single and infertile women who hate this phrase with a passion.
However, as Rebecca pointed out, this is not a call for only infertile women or single women, or women that do not have children for whatever reason. This is a call for all women to fully live out their femininity, to love and nurture those in our lives and circle of influence. Even before Rebecca's post, my mom was talking a little about this. My mom always wanted to be a mother and married young and had 6 kids. The road was not smooth, but now she is facing a transition as my youngest two siblings are making their way out of the house and she has no grandkids to focus her energy on (my sisters and I are in the same boat, and my older brother and his wife have also had to struggle with subfertility/pregnancy loss). It stinks for her, too, but she is starting to think about how she can pour that mothering energy into others that need it.
Every woman is called to this. As a single person, I try to make an extra effort with my patients, since that is who is in my life. I remember that perhaps part of my calling is to pray as a mother might for my many friends that have no real concept of God, and whose own parents were often less than stellar examples of God's love; and not only to pray for them, but to try to love them unconditionally in our times together. As for other people living this out, I'm going to call Rebecca out, since I've already picked on her so much this post, but seriously. Most of you that read my blog read hers, so you know. I want so much for her to be able to experience physical motherhood, but she absolutely lives this out her blog posts and thoughtful comments that have ministered to me in so many ways, and I know that they have to many, many others as well.
But looking for and finding ways to nurture the people in our lives is the task of all women. I do not need to look extra hard to find people because I am single and have nothing better to do. Neither does a mother with 7 children get to ignore the needs of those in her life and hope that there are some single/infertile/consecrated women around to do that task. Yes, it looks different. After all, the mother of seven must first seek to fill the needs of those seven children, as those children are the people in their lives that are most in need of their love and nurturing. The point is that we are all called to spiritual motherhood and it is not something that divides women that have children from those that do not. It is something that every woman is called to fulfill in their own lives and circumstances.
To steal from a comment that I left on Rebecca's post as I was thinking about all of this:
In summary: Spiritual motherhood as a substitute for physical motherhood, gag me with a stick and then leave me alone to crawl into a dark hole of misery. But spiritual motherhood as a way that all women are called to live their lives is an opportunity for me to discover that call in my current place and situation in life, not because I am single, but because I am a woman.