A curious command and promise opens Isaiah 54:1-3. While Isaiah is speaking directly of the little post-exilic community in Judea, he is also speaking more broadly of the future glory of True Israel. We just saw the anguished victory of the Suffering Servant in the passage before; now the Servant’s task is seen as fulfilled, and the prophet breaks into a hymn and shouts of praise from the “barren, childless woman,” welcoming the dawn of the New Age.
Hold up… did we read that right? What reason could a childless woman possibly have to rejoice? It’s ironic that Isaiah uses a childless woman to illustrate Christ’s eternal covenant of peace for his Bride. In Old Testament culture, being childless was a shameful state, yet this was the culture into which Christ would come. When God spoke through the prophet of a “redeemed barrenness”, he spoke directly against Israelite culture. It’s one thing to glorify motherhood, yet another entirely to idolize it.
Some of the greatest recorded blessings of God came through barren women; women who were tormented and marginalized by their own culture – even by those in their own households. We need look no further than Elizabeth, Sarah, and Hannah; motherhood in each of their cases was a supernatural act of God, for God’s purposes alone. Even barren places birthed great fulfillment – after all, can anything good come from Nazareth? Yes, and amen! Christ himself didn’t come into Israel at a time of the great kings, or after a great victory in battle; he was born into Israel when there was no fruit on the fig tree; true to the words of Isaiah, he came to Israel after a lengthy silence from God, “like a root out of dry ground.”
In God’s economy, the barren woman so often receives a double portion; temporal blessing, as well as eternal. Sarah became the mother of nations, Hannah nursed the prophet who would anoint a king after God’s own heart, and Elizabeth reared the herald of the coming Christ. All provided symbols of supernatural Kingdom fruitfulness and expectant hope beyond the temporal into the eternal.
Yet the fruit-bearing in view in Isaiah 54 shows an even greater miracle – fruitfulness in glory is promised from no birth process whatsoever, either natural or supernatural. This is truly worth noting then, as God specializes in creating ex nihilo – in bringing something from absolutely nothing.
Christ, the Greater Legacy
According to the 2010 US Census, the number of single fathers in 2010 was 1.8 million, compared to 600,000 in 1982. About 46% were divorced, 30% were never married, 19% were separated, and 6% were widowed. This means at the very least that 1.8 million children are growing up perhaps never having known “mother” in a functional sense. Add this to the number of young men and women who have never rightly known “father”, and the social and spiritual opportunity grows in proportion to the crisis.
My husband raised two young children to adulthood as a single father. Today, they are beautiful and Godly people, making their own way yet still in need of occasional ‘parenting’, guidance and mentorship. I often wish that I had known them as little people, privy first-hand to the stories that now live fondly as exaggerated legends around our kitchen table! The addition of our daughter-in-law has brought our number of children to three, increasing our joy exponentially. There’s a depth to their acceptance, love, respect, and care for me that I deeply appreciate, in part because I do not know what it is to have children of my own. It is beyond precious, indeed.
I feel a similar depth of love to the numerous and diverse young people who stream through our home on a regular basis. They don’t look like me, and do not carry my name. I am learning their histories rather than having experienced them. Yet when we who have known no children open our hearts to those who are seeking ‘mother’ or ‘father’, absence meets absence, longing meets longing, and love is born … ex nihilo.
Many of us will come to fulfillment in motherhood somewhat akin to the way that Christ met Paul, as to one “untimely born.” Paul didn’t meet Christ in the natural manner of the apostles, walking alongside him on the crowded roads during his earthly ministry; yet his comparatively unconventional encounter with the glorified Christ on the dusty road to Damascus held no less value, meaning, or impact than that of the other apostles. Such is it with spiritual motherhood, “untimely born.”
Spiritual motherhood offers an opportunity to become a wise and compassionate influence to our current “social orphans,” adults who have been left with a parental void of wise counsel, compassion, and/or love. When the Church steps in to address their spiritual and life issues, she speaks against a long line of opportunists offering an endless supply of false identities to while away their hours, days and years.
As spiritual parents, we anticipate Christ in glory as he gathers in the nations under his Name alone, the only Name by which we are eternally known. We are able to enlarge God’s tent and ours far beyond parameters restricted by our own name or blood. By intimately ushering the motherless through the practical and spiritual aspects of life, the “never-married” and the childless all participate in the redemptive Kingdom building process, and foretaste this joy that Isaiah has in view.
Children are a memorial, biologically and spiritually. Naturally, my husband and I want see the name of Ellis continue after we are gone, but our desire is far greater to see the name of Christ magnified through subsequent generations. The question then is, whose name will our children memorialize? Our personal one which is temporal and will one day pass away, or the Name that is eternal and above all?
The Cause for Praise
Once one has borne children, one can’t know what it is like not to have borne them; bearing children and not bearing children are two different existential frames of reference. Of course, the woman who has borne children can know what it is to mother one not of her own blood, if not through adoption then certainly through mentorship. Conversely, the barren woman may never know the joy of bearing children, yet the joy in view in Isaiah 54 is apparently one that can only be known in the absence of natural child-bearing. Through spiritual motherhood, the barren woman experiences a cause for praise that the natural mother will never know, receiving blessing in the temporal and storing up treasure in the eternal.
As I reconcile my own infertility and search for meaning and purpose within it, I begin to recognize the great Kingdom potential that lies within me. Spiritually speaking, we are all barren apart from the regenerative power of Christ to draw us to Himself and make us new. Motherhood – indeed parenthood in any form – should be life-changing for all involved as we share joys and sorrows, disappointments and victories, and find meaning in them from God’s perspective.
Through the influence of older and wiser spiritual mothers in my life, my question has changed from “How does God fit into my infertility,” to “How does my infertility fit in with God? Isaiah 54 takes me beyond wanting comfort for “what has not been”, and helps me resist those who treat my “untimely motherhood” as a mere consolation prize. When I see the nations stream through my front door hungry for “mother” and Godly counsel, I realize that even my infertility may have a great and exalted impact on the Kingdom.
Truly, to be regarded as “mother” when one technically and biologically is not so is a simultaneously exquisite and humbling experience – in fact, it brings a surprising and unspeakable joy. Quite frankly, it makes me want to shout…
With 11 children shot just a few weeks ago in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced on February 21 the expansion of a program to offer therapy, field trips and mentorship to young people deemed at high risk of experiencing gun violence and trauma.
Based on a pilot run last summer, the program promises a three-year investment, starting with $1.1 million this summer, to offer more than 2,000 young people emotional and social support.
Besides helping teens cope with the fallout of violence, the program also aims to convince them not to pick up a gun, or engage in conflict that could end in violence.
“If you’ve picked up a gun, you’ve picked up a ticking time bomb,” Lightfoot said at a press conference at Phillips High School in the Bronzeville neighborhood.
Chicago has a responsibility to help young people make good choices, the mayor said. “As a city, we have a fundamental obligation to ensure young people who are involved in gun violence have the resources and supports they need to get back on the right path.”
Young people in Chicago are disproportionately likely to be involved in gun violence — they are 11% of the city’s population, but make up 19% of homicide victims and 25% of homicide suspects.
Many of the victims, and those actively involved in violence, are likely to have attended an alternative school. In the four years through 2016-17, one-quarter of the 425 Chicago Public Schools students who died by violence had been attending those schools. While only 2% of district enrollment, alternative school students are disproportionately affected by violence in the city, according to a Chicago Reporter investigation.
The city’s new initiative will focus on alternative school students, schools chief Janice Jackson said at Friday’s press conference. The program also will serve students involved in the justice system, previously victimized by violence, or not on track to graduate on time.
A review by the University of Chicago Crime and Education Labs found that students involved in the pilot program had 32% fewer misconduct incidents in schools than the control group.
Even as the mayor pushed to involve young people in the program, known as Choose to Change, she acknowledged that they don’t control all the violence. Of last weekend’s shootings involving children, at least three were accidental.
“Adults, we have to be better,” Lightfoot said.
Speaking at the press conference, Acting Police Superintendent Charlie Beck said two adults were prosecuted over the weekend for endangering young people by allowing access to guns.
The mayor also acknowledged that efforts to end gun violence run up against intractable social problems.
“It’s an unfortunate fact that it is easier for them to get access to a handgun than to get a job, easier to handle things on the street than it is to get access to social-emotional support,” Lightfoot said.
If the summer program is any indication, the new program will provide some support for young people, but might not change the harsh reality they face each day.
Kayla, one of the students who participated in a six-week pilot program over the summer, said the program was a welcome respite but, like the rest of the students, she would return to communities that struggle with a lack of jobs and housing and an excess of violence.
“Y’all took kids that ain’t had nothing and gave them something,” she told Chalkbeat last summer. “It’s a positive thing, but it’s just for the moment.”
It’s been eight years since I transitioned from active duty after serving as a Marine Corps officer. I spent 12 years of my adult life training in a military environment, and growing as a leader and mentor. Basic leadership principles were engrained in me as a college student at the U.S. Naval Academy. Some of these principles were as follows:
Mentoring is a necessary requirement for great leadership.
Mentoring is critical to the success of accomplishing a mission.
Because I was willing to learn, I thrived as a leader and those in my areas of influence benefited as a result. My mentors helped me find my purpose, and I have carried their instructions throughout life.
When given the opportunity to lead at church, I was concerned that mentoring generally was not happening in many congregations. I particularly noticed this with older church members, because they didn’t believe they had anything to offer. Some neglected the responsibility because no one mentored, trained, or taught them. They simply didn’t know what to do.
I also found that others were too busy with the temporal stresses of their own lives to focus on the needs of another. All the while I was receiving correspondences about how desperately people longed for mentoring in their church. So, as a response to these soul cries, I decided to change the narrative.
What if the people of God started to approach mentoring as intentional discipleship? Mentoring does not happen haphazardly. It requires intentionality, preparation, patience, prayer, and yes, mentoring can be a lot of work. But, what if we made a commitment to mentor anyway because it is necessary for advancing God’s kingdom mission? Every Christian has a responsibility to mentor and make disciples!
Matthew 28:19-20 reads: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (NIV).”
The biblical imperative in this statement is to “make disciples.” Among Jesus’ last words was the command to make disciples of diverse groups as his followers went about their daily rituals. This is the Great Commission.
Likewise, Jesus taught his disciples that the entire law of the prophets and the Old Testament was summarized in the Great Commandment—the command to love (Matt. 22:37). The commitment to love is relational between us, God, and other people.
When we commit to mentoring as intentional discipleship, we are embracing both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. This commitment collectively builds us up as a community of believers in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). The church desperately needs every believer engaged in this mission, as does the world.
I agree with worship leader and author Darlene Zschech that, “It is my deepest desire to remind leaders everywhere that the kingdom of God is about people and that we are not here to build our own kingdoms but to bring God’s kingdom into the lives of others.” Will you make the commitment to mentor for God’s kingdom purposes? Here’s how you can get started:
Before choosing his 12 disciples, Jesus spent an entire night in prayer (Luke 6:12-13). If you are wondering who the Lord is calling you to mentor, ask him.
Mentor for Life: Finding Purpose through Intentional Discipleship is a book written just for people like you. Gather with a group of friends or church leaders and go through this book together. It includes discussion questions, exercises, and resources to help you get started. Another great way to discover why and how your work matters to God is to download apps like UMI Connection for helpful resources.
Maybe you want to go a little deeper to launch or revamp a small group, discipleship, or mentoring ministry, then check out my site to download free training resources or consider leadership consulting or mentoring coaching for your leadership team.
4. Press On
Don’t let fear paralyze you. In my early days, as a young military officer, I had been adequately prepared, yet I also made mistakes. Give yourself grace as you get on-the-job training in this new adventure.
The need is urgent. You are called for God’s kingdom mission of mentoring. Will you answer?