Spiritual Mothers, Baby Feet, and Encouragement

This is something I posted last year for Mother’s Day. I’m reposting again as part of this month’s Encourager’s Devotional Series because it was part of the original work I did on the series. I expanded it for this month’s devotion on Spiritual Parenting, but had things in the original that were omitted. It also explains the story behind this month’s thoughts.

Spiritual Mothers, Baby Feet, and Encouragement

“Baby feet have got to be the sweetest things God ever created,” I found myself thinking as I was putting my daycare toddlers down to nap. With my own children being teens, I had forgotten how very much I love baby feet. This daycare job had turned out to be a surprisingly interesting and rewarding experience for me. I say it was a surprise because, when I was first offered the job, I cried – it was the last thing I wanted to do at that point in my life.

After finishing seminary, I had recently moved back to St. Louis. My husband and I both believed that this move was an open door for me to finally fulfill my heart’s desire and look for a job on staff at a church. I had started my job search, but I felt that the Lord was telling me to stop the search and wait. He didn’t tell me what I was waiting for, how long, or why – just wait. I discovered quickly I am not good at waiting!

One day, feeling frustrated, I prayed and asked God to at least tell me how long I was supposed to wait. The next day I got the call to do the full-time subbing job at the daycare in the district where I was substitute teaching. It was going to be a long-term position. I felt God was telling me the wait was going to be longer than I thought – that’s when I cried.

Besides the fact that this seemed like a detour from my dream, I just could not believe I was going to be in a daycare – changing diapers – when my training and experiences in teaching up to that point had been in high school and my most recent schooling was to focus on adult education.

But God moves in mysterious ways, and a few months into the daycare position I found myself actually thanking Him for the experience. I saw how that job actually contributed to my “education” for the work I eventually saw myself doing in the church – teaching and training others in various aspects of church ministry.

And besides that, it gave me some thoughts for the monthly devotional series I was sending out to subscribers at the time. It was called “The Encouragers Devotional Series” and each month I would give suggestions on ways to encourage others. I was working on the devotion for May and, with Mother’s Day approaching, I wanted to write on the idea of being “spiritual parents” to others.

I had planned many Mother’s Day and Father’s Day services in our years in ministry. Each time, I tried to think of ways the service could bless everyone in the congregation and not just those who had good parents or were being honored as good parents. I approached the services realizing that not everyone has a mother or father that is a model Christian or “praiseworthy.” For instance, I knew a young lady who got a little down every time there was some kind of family emphasis at church because she came without her parents. She needed spiritual parents to fill a void for her.

Here’s an excerpt from the devotion I sent out:

There are so many ways one might apply the idea of parenting in a ministry of encouragement. The Apostle Paul was a spiritual parent to Timothy. While Timothy had a strong Christian mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), his father was not a believer (Acts 16:1). Paul filled that void for him. In the opening of both letters to Timothy, Paul calls him his “son in the faith.” And in Philippians 2:19-22, Paul said Timothy served with him “as a son with his father.”      

My babies (my how they grow on you) at the daycare need various forms of encouragement. As they learn to do things on their own, learn to get along with others, and just learn about the world around them, they sometimes need a guide and a cheerleader. And sometimes, they need correction – remember, one of the definitions for the word encourage in Scripture is “to admonish.”

Children’s temperaments, ability levels, and even their learning styles are different. That’s why they need someone who is attentive to them and knows them well enough to create individualized learning experiences for them. Sometimes they are frustrated and just need someone to encourage them to keep trying, to help them develop confidence. When they fall or get hurt by others, they need comfort (and maybe an ice-pack or Band-Aid). And tangible gifts like hugs, stickers, or toys always make them smile and feel loved.

There are many “babes in Christ” who also need these forms of encouragement. Can you think of any? If not, can you keep your eyes open to look for someone who needs a spiritual parent? Pray that God will direct you to someone.

You might be like me and be a little hesitant to take on such a task, to go into unfamiliar territory. But, also like me, you may just find that God’s assignment for you will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.

I eventually left my daycare job. Funny thing is, I cried again when I had to leave. While waiting for my dream job to materialize, I learned that God is full of surprises, that all of His children are precious, and that little things like baby feet can bring us incredible joy when we take the time to appreciate them.

More suggestions for practicing encouragement:

  • Send a note of thanks to someone who has been a spiritual parent to you.
  • Try something new. Agree to help in a new area of ministry at your church (maybe even the nursery!). Even if you explain clearly that you just want to “test the waters” for a short “trial period,” I’m sure the person leading that ministry will feel encouraged AND you may just discover something that you really love.
  • And I’ve got another one for military families. I heard someone say that they appreciated the gift of two identical daily devotion books. One was given to them, and the other was sent to their loved one in the military. They said knowing that they were reading the same thing each day helped them feel connected.