New Life: A Mercy from our Mothering God

Jan 1 / Alyssa Bell

Listen to the audio version here:

In the summer of 2018, as I prepared to begin a doctoral program in Leadership and Spiritual Formation, I struggled with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. I could not envision myself as an academic writer, and I had two small children who depended on me (and still do!). What business did I have starting a new degree? But God was speaking new words into my story. Whispers at first from my husband that I clung to just barely enough to show up on the first day with my budget computer and sleep-deprived mind. Those whispers turned into voices from my advisor, mentor, and cohort friends, who encouraged me to keep walking the path God had paved for me, and I began to listen a bit more seriously.
As a woman in ministry, I already felt the weight of following God’s voice, knowing that not everyone I encountered would believe I should fill the role of pastor. As a mother in ministry, I experienced the tug of responsibility as I cared for my children and shepherded a congregation. Adding more school to the mix felt daunting, to say the least. But God was doing a new thing in my life.
Over the next few years, I would lean into an image of God that had previously held only a peripheral role, the image of God as my mother. ¹ This new-to-me way of considering God’s love for me and the world did not replace my image of God as Father. Rather, it enhanced it and opened my heart to a fuller, though certainly incomplete, understanding of God’s character.
God is our Creator, making the world anew out of nothing. God is the giver of new life through Jesus Christ, and through God’s Holy Spirit, we are renewed day by day. God knows about newness; it is God’s nature to bring life from death.
Consider for a moment God’s compassion for God’s people as they returned from exile, displaced, and struggling to regain their identity. “Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.” ² The Hebrew word for ‘mercy’ has the same root word רֶחֶם (rechem) as ‘womb.’ Interestingly, ‘compassion’ shares this root as well. Lamentations tells us that God’s mercies are ‘new every morning.’ ³ God guides us into new places, birthing new stories along the way. God as our mother is about the business of new.
We have entered a new year. This is the time when our culture tells us to pull up our bootstraps and become a new person through new exercise programs, habits, and goals. God’s version of new has nothing to do with personal achievement. God mothers us into new with kindness, compassion, and unexpected Spirit leading.
I wonder, does ‘new’ feel far away right now, out of reach? Perhaps the image of God as mother can bring comfort in the dark. The darkness of the womb is the place where new life begins, unseen and awkwardly formed. This is the place where God knits mercy and compassion into our uncertain, unformed places.
Julian of Norwich, a mystic living in the Middle Ages, frequently saw God as her mother in spiritual visions and dreams. Julian lived through the Black Death and suffered her own serious personal illness. New life was not practically possible, yet we hear her voice of hope in these words as she placed her trust in the God who mothered her: “All shall be well, and you shall see it yourself that all manner of thing shall be well.” ⁴
New mercies are forming in the dark. God, our mother, is doing a new thing, and all shall be well.

If conversations around motherhood, ministry, and spiritual wholeness speak to you, join author Alyssa Bell in her book club as she leads us through her book Calm and Quiet My Soul: A Holistic Approach to Spiritual Care for the Mothering Pastor. Each of the three book club sessions will include a centering practice as well as insightful discussion around book content. Join her on Wednesdays from February 28-March 13. Click the link to learn more!

¹ I explore this image in depth in my book Calm and Quiet My Soul: A Holistic Approach to Spiritual Care for Mothering Pastors.
² Nehemiah 9:31, NRSV
³ Lamentations 3:23, NRSV
⁴ Julian, Showing of Love, 95.
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Alyssa Bell

Alyssa Bell is a pastor at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA where she lives with her husband Matthew and daughters Theresa and Susie. While serving the church, which she loves, she pursues complimentary vocational avenues like teaching and spiritual direction. Alyssa is also the author of Calm and Quiet My Soul: A Holistic Approach to Spiritual Care for the Mothering Pastor. She completed her Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation in 2021 (Portland Seminary) and the Spiritual Direction Training Program through the Companioning Center in 2022. She has a heart for mothers who minister, either in a church setting or elsewhere. For fun Alyssa enjoys walking, making music, reading mystery novels, and completing puzzles.