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“I’m so proud of you and the progress you’ve made.” I smile, and my eyes well up visibly as I offer this praise to a woman who just told me she held firm on a boundary with her mom. My client had started her time in counseling believing she had little to no worth and that she’d never be good enough. Her mom had been a source of criticism and coldness, and my client, well into mid-life, had not received much praise or tenderness as a child or as an adult. Affirming statements I’d offered early on in counseling, reminders of inherent worth, often fell flat or were met with disagreement. Over time, however, my persistent and consistent affirmation began to chip away at shame and doubt, revealing the dignified, worthy woman within.

It is moments like these that remind me that the work I do is sacred. Though I might not ever discuss faith with a client, the Holy Spirit moves with generous abundance in my work. As I assist my clients in their trials and rejoice alongside them in their victories, my calling to spiritual motherhood is often evident.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Looking back to the first conscious moments of calling in my career, I recognize that God has willed for me to use my gifts to serve others. What wasn’t clear, though, was that my career as a counselor is how God was calling me to express my motherhood. Over the past decade of studying and working in the mental health field, God and others have affirmed to me that I’m in the right job. My relationship with work, though, has been less straightforward. I entered this field as a young married woman, full of energy, expecting that I’d give deeply and generously of myself for a few years before devoting my focus and time to raising children. During the initial months of trying to conceive, however, I found my joy at work was challenged; anticipated reprieves from difficult cases were not realized, and it was an exhausting task to carry the pain of my clients on days that my own heart was smarting with the pain of my period starting again. Those months turned into years of infertility, and I knew I needed to change my relationship with my work for my own wellbeing and that of my clients.

During Advent in 2019, I attended a retreat hosted by Springs in the Desert. On that retreat, I learned about spiritual motherhood for the first time, and a new chapter began in my identity as a wife, friend, daughter, and counselor. Praying for the graces of spiritual motherhood revitalized my work, and my relationship with it. Just as warm sunlight can cut through a break in clouds, illuminating new detail in a landscape, engaging with my spiritual motherhood revealed several areas of my clinical career where the graces of motherhood were at work. Embracing these graces has contributed to the progress of my clients, and has helped to restore and sustain my joy. I see my motherhood at work with clients of all ages, through my presence of gentle comfort, my unwavering acceptance, my genuine affirmation, my compassionate challenging, and my wise guidance. I don’t believe it’s happenstance that, from time to time, a client or colleague will use the word “maternal” to describe their experience of me.

As much as embracing my spiritual motherhood at work has benefited my clients, I’ve also come to see the ways in which it’s benefited me, and my marriage. I used to overfocus on being productive at work, often comparing how many hours I worked with friends in entirely different fields, or grappling with thoughts that I should be working more because I wasn’t raising children. As I’ve embraced my spiritual motherhood more fully, I’ve been able to approach taking on more clients with the sort of thoughtful intentionality couples use when discerning whether to pursue having more children. While I previously struggled with guilt over an empty spot in my schedule, I now give myself the permission to discern whether I can meet the needs of another client at that time. Approaching my work this way helps me to be more present to my clients, helps me to be more aware of my own needs during a given season, and also enables me to be attentive to the needs of my husband and other family. I’m so grateful that the wisdom of spiritual motherhood has opened me to accepting God’s gift of rest when I need it. Since I maintain a healthier balance between work, family, and my own needs, I also find that I can more easily save the best of myself for my husband, rather than give him my leftovers after a draining day. It is said that prioritizing one’s marriage is one of the best gifts parents can give their children, and I believe this is true for spiritual parents, as well.

I know my relationship with work is not static; none of our relationships are. More recently, I’ve taken on the additional role of counselor supervisor, mentoring new counselors as they pursue their professional license. Spiritual motherhood has been evident in this work, as well. I do not know what God has planned for the future of my motherhood, and that doesn’t now cause me the anxiety it once did. I am confident God has placed me where I am needed, and with whom I am needed. I can also find joy and purpose in the way I can express my motherhood in my career.