My spiritual mother, Martha, just celebrated her 71st birthday. She is not my mother, and she never will be, but we’ve been knowing each other a long time. We’ve shared more cups of tea, more tears, and more half-finished Bible study lessons than I can count. Over the years many friends and acquaintances have said to me, “I wish I had a Martha,” to which I would sheepishly grin and nod that helpless nod (because NO WAY I’M SHARING MINE). But if I could push away the selfishness for a second, I would say I really do want you to have one, too, and I wish I knew how to help you get one. Because I don’t know what I’d do without mine.

Martha arrived to my newlywed house just a few short weeks after the wedding, took one look at my dining room table and pointed, “You’ve got to clean that off.”

I stared at her, shocked and unblinking, aghast at her uncharacteristic forward tone.

“That’s not a mess,” she continued, “it’s a habit you won’t realize you’re forming.”

Martha didn’t mean the mess. She loves me so well she’s let me into plenty of her own. She meant the pile of stuff that needed sorting or dealing with or calendaring that wasn’t going to get squared away in time for dinner, which would mean it wouldn’t get cleaned off in time for dinner, which would mean my husband David and I would sit side by side on the couch eating our dinner, and probably reach over and flip on the tv.

She was right. And her decision to spend relational capital on that comment has had lasting impact on the habits of my family.

I have a Martha because of the bravery of my co-disciplee Catherine, who had been trained in the importance of discipleship via parachurch college ministry, and asked her on behalf of both of us. I never would have felt equipped to ask myself, and Martha tells us she never would have felt equipped enough to make the offer. Sometimes I get the picture many women feel just as I did—so afraid of the forwardness or logistics of the question that they never ask it. Now when I look back at what I would have missed, I see the gift Catherine’s bravery was for both of us. There was much at stake. Why have we let fear or details complicate the least complicated issue of all? Look and see who’s ahead of you, and turn around and look to see who’s behind you.

In case you’re wondering how to know if you’re equipped, here are the requirements for discipleship:

Number 1:  Are you walking with God?

Number 2:  Are you older than another woman?

We didn’t ask, but here we are

My friend Meredith and I served together one night with junior high girls. Meredith introduced herself to one young lady who immediately replied, “Yeah, I know. I’ve seen you around church.”

I can’t get that out of my head.

Younger women are watching. They are looking and they are seeing the ways we interact with one another. They are observing the ways we parent our children. Meredith and I, both moms of young children, didn’t realize we had crossed that line and would now qualify as discipler and not just disciplee. We never felt qualified or asked to be seen in that light—the younger generation decided for us.

Susan Hunt suggests in Spiritual Mothering for the younger to make the discipleship request of the older. Yes and yes. But we olders, can we ask for the courage to make the offering of ourselves, too? This generation may be more damaged by the all caps How Discipleship Should Look Handbook than we could ever imagine, and the courage to ask may have been sucked right out of them.

Oh Marthas, you have what it takes. And what it takes might just be offering to walk around Target with me and my two small children.

I don’t need you to be brilliant, I want you to be real.

I don’t want to hear how perfect each day is with your husband. I want to see you tear up as you were called to repent of your harsh words toward him.

I don’t want you to be my mama—I’ve got one of those. I want you to carry the lamp into womanhood a few steps ahead, and if you need to, give a gentle warning when I’m approaching shaky ground.

I don’t want you to have the answer to every Bible or theology question—I just want you to encourage the asking and remind me that a big God can handle my questions.

I don’t want you to fret if we didn’t review the chapter/answer the questions/get all the way through the material—I just want to be invited to spend time with you and drink tea at your table.

I don’t want you to be my best friend, but I wouldn’t mind if you introduced me to yours. I want you to know my people and I want to know yours, too.

Martha tells me she’s gotten more from us, her disciplees, than we’ve ever gotten from her. I nod politely but I’ll never believe her. This time I know better, because I know from experience now and again you might need a spiritual mama to tell you to clean off your kitchen table because she sees what you can’t see. She sees the bigger picture. She sees what’s at stake.

Marthas, we need each other. I pray I can find you, but if I can’t, will you find me?

About the Author:

Holly Mackle

Holly Mackle writes and gardens in Birmingham, Alabama. She is wife to David and mama of two flower-sneaking bitties. She is the editor of engagingmotherhood.com, an author of the collaborative study for new moms, Engaging Motherhood: Heart Preparation for a Holy Calling (2016), and author of the family advent devotional, Little Hearts, Prepare Him Room (2016). Holly blogs life and tomatoes and diggingsuburbia and is the humorist for joegardener.com.