Monday, October 13, 2008

Biblical womanhood (1a) teaching younger women - the need

I was a kid bride, married at the age of 19. I was pregnant 3 months after the wedding; I had my first baby at age 20, and a year later I had my second baby. To say the least, I felt overwhelmed by the task. There were so many times I longed to have an older, more experienced godly woman in my life that I could just call for counsel and advice. My Mum was an excellent role model, but she lived 1000 miles away, so it was not very practical to contact her on a daily basis. I was the first among my circle of friends to have a baby. I really had no-one I could call and ask for help. I felt very alone in this daunting task of being a wife and a mother.

I had to learn from doing it all wrong the first time around, and sometimes it can't be avoided. However, the better way is to glean from the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before us. The better way is to benefit from the training and instruction of older women with godly character. (from Carolyn Mahaney's talk A Fresh Look at Titus 2)
There is a thirst in the hearts of many young women. I should know.

I remember so well how it felt to be a single 18-year-old with no idea of how to grow into godly womanhood, a married woman in my 20’s wondering how to love my husband, and a 30 year old bewildered about how to care for our new baby. How I longed for an older woman who would take me under her wing and show me how to live as a Christian woman!

Oh, I knew the facts. I had read books on Biblical womanhood, agonised over the theology and practice of submission, trawled through books on marriage and motherhood.

But I had no idea about how to serve Jesus through a lifetime, how to love my husband during times when marriage got tough, how to manage our home effectively, how to settle a baby, discipline a toddler, or teach a child about God. And it felt like there was no-one I could ask.

I looked around for older, wiser women, but my husband and I were in university ministry, and there weren't many around. The few faithful, godly older women I knew, who took time to encourage us younger ones, I regarded with admiration tinged with awe. I asked a couple to meet with me, but they weren’t able to. So my friends and I were left to stumble through on our own, with the help of some wise books and the occasional seminar for women.

I’m older now. Perhaps I fit the category of “older woman” myself. But the thirst has never really gone away.

Is this a thirst you have felt? How do you feel about "older women"? Have you ever asked an "older woman" to mentor you? Is there someone you could ask?

image is Diego Rivera's "Two women and a child"


Liz said...

I've longed for a mentor for years. I've been searching and asking for ten years, to no avail.

I am now a 27yo married mum of three kids five and under. I've asked women to mentor me. I've tried to meet up with wise women. I've even tried to start up a mentoring ministry at our church! And still, ten years later, I am left without a mentor.

I am now facing the fact that I am, in many ways, the "older woman" now - at least an "older woman" to an eighteen year old single woman. Or a twenty year old engaged woman. Or a twenty two year old with her first baby. I've never been mentored and I have enough difficulties in my life to feel grossly under-qualified for the role. How do I then mentor someone younger?

Sharon said...

When I first became a Christian, I asked an older woman (a retired missionary from my church) to mentor me. We met fortnightly but it fizzled after a few months. I think it could have been helped by me being able to be more specific in asking her for the help I needed, rather than already, even after only a few months as a Christian, worrying about what she would think if I didn't have things all together. I mean, what's the point of a mentor if you're not going to be honest with them?

Now, I am part of a Christian mothers' group which meets once a month. This is where I get my direct mentoring, because each of us is taking a turn to do a seminar on some aspect of Christian wifedom/mothering, and then we all pitch in with Q&A on how that might look for our particular families. We are learning from each other, in a kind of corporate mentoring situation. We have lost our long-time older mentor (she now is pregnant with #7 and just too busy) but we are all learning what we are capable of as we give each other help and build each other up. This mothers' group provides great sustenance to my wifely/motherly soul. It's not one-to-one mentoring but it is determinedly biblical, fiercely practical and vehemently honest, which are all terribly important if mentoring is going to work. The longer I am part of this group (going on 3 years now), the more I benefit as we deepen our relationships and worry less about appearances and more about encouraging and supporting each other.

~ Sharon

Jean said...

Liz, that's a wonderful and heart-wrenching question. Here's some preliminary thoughts, most of which may miss the mark entirely, since I don't know the details of your situation:

- Think about different ways to receive mentoring. Older women may not think in terms of "mentoring", but may be willing to pray with you, meet to talk about a particular issue, or just be there for advice. You could invite them into your home and chat with them. Mentoring can happen in a one-off conversation as well as a regular, official meeting-time.
- Think about other ways to be mentored by older women, not necessarily in the flesh e.g. books, listening to talks, seminars.
- Keep growing through the many means God provides: church, regular Bible reading, prayer, encouragement of Christian friends. These will mature you as a Christian woman.
- It's helpful - as I'm sure you're aware - to focus less on what we haven't received, for we know that God promises to give us everything we need to love and serve him (2 Pet. 1:3), and more on how we can love and serve others. Something I need to remember myself. Easier said than done, I know!
- You mention difficulties in your life. Without knowing what they are (and I'm not asking you to tell me!) it's hard to respond. I'm sure there are some difficulties which make mentoring next to impossible. But we can still be an example to younger women of how to live a faithful Christian life in the midst of difficulties. I'm aware this may sound unlikely to you, depending on your situation! But God is able to use you to encourage younger women without you seeing it.

I'm aware I've probably missed the mark completely. Sorry about that! I have prayed for you: that's probably the most useful thing I can do.

Jean said...

Sharon, thanks for reminding us that "mentoring" can take many different forms. It sounds like a wonderful group!

Jean said...

And Liz - I just looked at your blog - and there you are, encouraging younger women! There's part of your answer. Good on you for encouraging younger woman in a way that's open to you.

Sarah B said...

Hi Jean
I've been lurking for a while, thanks for the recommendation for Carolyn's talks. I have found them extremely helpful for practical advice which is often thin on the others have mentioned also.

Anonymous said...

Although I think that setting up a mentoring system may have some merits (mainly in connecting people together) nothing seems to beat an organic, growing 'it just happened' relationship. I know, I doesn't always happen like that.

Liz I understand your plight. I've been there. Thankfully I had an uncomplicated, traditional mother who served as a role model in the practical areas of life...but understanding how it fitted within the context of the gospel was something God has had to teach me himself. No older women anywhere! Much of this was in the context of a 'Titus' group of friends my own age.

Now I definitely am at the older end of the spectrum (48) having just become a grandmother and with my youngest now 16... But I'm finding after years (and years) of mentoring basically only my daughters, I am surrounded by young women who really want to be around. Not many are 'official' mentoring arrangements. Some of them have come home as friends of my girls. Some opportunities have come through our church fellowship. A couple I've met because I've (finally...) got time to be involved with a ministry to teenaged mums. (These girls really need mentoring!)

Liz, I know this doesn't help your personal situation but I hope it encourages you.

I've personally benefitted from the online community of thinkers-of-things; Jean you forgot to mention bloggy mentors in your list.

And thanks Jean for using your (valuable) time so wisely and sharing your thoughts.

mattnbec said...

I think any mentoring I've had has been rather sporadic. Some of the best of it has simply been through conversations with older women and watching and learning from them. There have been seminars etc which I've been to, but I think in the formal, organised sense, I've mentored others more than I've been mentored. I agree with Janelle though - there's a lot to be said for blogging as a form of mentoring (so thanks, Jean, on behalf of your readers!). In the end, lots of it seems to be learning with/from peers. I'm seminars at church at the moment and a Bible study there.

mattnbec said...

Also, I suspect that the tendency towards homogenised doesn't help. We loose the opportunity to learn from older, wiser women when our churches are targeted at specific age groups. How does the uni student learn to be a godly wife if they are few and far between at her church? How do you learn how to be a godly mum if they're off at the family service while you're at the young adult/workers' service? etc

Obviously going to all-age churches doesn't solve all the problems, but we have benefited a good deal from having had the privilege of being involved in several multi-age churches. That's where you see the value of the prayers of the old ladies, the wisdom of the grandmothers, the perspective of the mothers of teenagers who tell you 'it will pass' etc. Well, in my experience anyway.

Jean said...

Thanks to all of you - these are really helpful perspectives on how mentoring can take place. I agree, part of the problem is that our congregations are often separated into different age groups, and even when they aren't, there can be an enormous cultural gap between generations. Also that mentoring often isn't formal, but something natural which happens between godly women.

Jean said...

Liz, if you're keeping track of these comments, feel free to contact me privately any time you want to ask questions which involve personal details - and anyone else, too. Just go to "contact me" in the right hand column. I don't promise I'll be able to help anyone, but I'll try, and I'll pray for you, more importantly!

Louisa said...

I wish my child hadbn't suddenly decided she'd had enough of playing on the floor right at this minute as i would love to have the time to read and reflect on these posts (and type with two hands!) i will be back but in short (& very simply) - yes i've longed for this but now as a 27yr old with 1 child i too realise that i need to be there for those younger than me in as way i wish i could have found someone to be there for me.