Monday, October 20, 2008

biblical womanhood (1c) in praise of older women

I'm been doing some soul-searching about a post I wrote a week ago on the thirst of younger women for a mentor.

What I wrote was heart-felt and true. There is a thirst in the hearts of young women for an older woman to mentor them. And it's an appropriate thirst, for in Titus 2:3-5, it is older women who are to teach and train younger women in the Christian life. We do need to call older women to mentor younger ones.

But I don't think we can blame older women, as if they're solely at fault for not mentoring young women. Sometimes, it's younger women who fail to see what's right before their eyes. I can think of 2 reasons for this:

1. A narrow view of teaching and training
When I was young, I had a very narrow view of how older women should teach younger women, no doubt because I was trained in a certain style of ministry. We may fail to recognise the mentoring we receive because it doesn't take the form of regular one-on-one meetings, or a Bible study led by an older woman. Older women may not feel capable of, and often aren't trained in, this kind of formal teaching.

I doubt Paul had in mind seminars, Bible study groups, or weekly one-on-one meetings, when he encouraged older women to teach younger women. The word he uses in Titus 2:3-5 for "teach what is good" is a composite word, "kalodidaskalous", not found anywhere else in Greek literature. It probably doesn't mean formal instruction, but informal instruction by word and example. The word he uses for "train" - "sophronas" - is also highly unusual, literally meaning "bring to their senses", or perhaps "advise" or "urge".*

So the teaching and training of younger by older women includes verbal instruction, but also practical advice and example, generally in an informal, day-to-day setting.

2. The gulf between generations
In our society, young people tend to see older people as irrelevant, inconvenient, and a little embarrassing. Older people, unsurprisingly, don't expect younger people to respect or listen to them, so are reluctant to offer advice or even support. To make matters worse, we frequently divide our churches into age-specific services, which may make ministry and evangelism easier, but which doesn't encourage relationships between generations.

I am ashamed when I look back at the subtle, unspoken attitudes I harboured (and sometimes still harbour) towards older women. I wasn't really aware of them, but they went something like this: "I'm a young, modern, educated, theologically trained, ministry-minded woman. I love the older women in my church - they're friendly, and loving, and kind - but what do they have to teach me? They just don't see things the way I do!" Hmmm ... sounds rather arrogant, when you say it out loud.

It's easy to complain about what we don't have, without stopping to reflect on what we do have.

Take a moment to reflect on all the times you've admired an older women for her kindness and grace, or received a meal or cookies from her, or watched her discipline her children, or asked her how she persevered in reading the Bible when she had babies, or been encouraged by her to take a weekend off with your husband. At that moment, she was mentoring you.

Don't get me wrong, I think we need to be more intentional about older women formally teaching and training younger women. But let's not forget the natural flow of love, support, encouragement, advice, prayer, and example, which takes place when members of different generations share their lives, if only we are brave enough to offer these things to younger women, and humble enough to receive them from older women.

I'd love you to share your thoughts with me. What are some ways, formal or informal, that you have either received teaching and training from older women, or given teaching and training to younger women? Who are the older women you admire, and why do you admire them? How have they encouraged you in Biblical womanhood? Who are the younger women in your life? How do you seek to encourage them in Biblical womanhood?

Your answers will form part of the basis for the series I'm planning for next year, when we take up the topic of older women teaching and training younger women again.

* Gordon Fee NIBC commentary on 1&2 Timothy and Titus pp.186-7


Liz said...

I read a book called "Divine Secrets of Mentoring" ( which talked about this "unintentional" mentoring in the course of every day life, so I have considered the concept before.

I don't have a lot of older women in my life. As Jean said in the example, our church services are "segregated" meaning that we don't have much chance to interact with the older women of our church. While I love my mum, she is not someone I look to as a godly example of loving my husband, children and home.

I have tried to reach out to women and glean from them, even in an informal way. Most are just too busy to give me that time, even as a "one off". Having three kids can make meeting in someone else's home awkward.

However, I have recently become aware of my tendency to think that because no one I know of has been in the same specific situation I have been in, then no one else could truly understand and offer sound advice/instruction. I have come to realise the error of my thoughts and have been working to rectify that.

I don't know if I've achieved anything constructive with this ramble, but I hope it gives you some inspiration for future posts.


Anonymous said...

My goodness, how long should a comment be? I hope this is alright.

You have hit something real here Jean! This topic came up in a discussion group here just this weekend. There is something proud in us when we are young which communicates I'm a young, modern, educated... I have to confess to that attitude with my own mother when I was younger, and it is highly likely my daughters and daughter-in-law struggle with this too.

I want to try to answer some of your questions; some of my suggestions will suit older women who may be freer with their time, others for all ages.

We all have a mother; some more or less competent in role modelling for us. But surely all our mothers have experience we don’t and if we were to respectfully gain their confidence so they could tell us their stories, I wonder what we’d learn.

There is no need to convince me that the mother/daughter relationship is the *primary* older/younger women relationship God intends to work through to pass on these vital skills (and much more than skills – ‘that which is in accord with sound doctrine’). I’d suggest if you have a daughter she is your first priority.

And if you have a mother, she may be your next. Even tho’ the relationship might be far from perfect, I wonder if we embraced a really humble attitude would we receive the grace to experience changes beyond our imagination. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5b. I have seen this happen with a friend whose mother is not a Christian.

Next point may be quite controversial, but I have to ask “How, as Christians, we can encourage our girls to spend 13 years in general education + often ½ that again in specialist (tertiary) education and then expect or hope that they will value a job (wife and mother) for which they have had little training and (depending on their home circumstances) rarely seen modelled?” Can we consider this question seriously? (please don’t read into it what I am not saying!) Possibly this issue Jean, is at the heart of both the main points you raised in your post.

In most church families there will be varied generations and Jean, you are right; there have been mentoring moments which I’m sure I’ve overlooked and possibly not appreciated at the time.

Our first pastor had 3 children when we got married and we learned some child training from them. For example, we expected that our children would be well behaved and sit for as long as needed in services, because we’d seen our pastor and his wife doing this with their children. I’m *so* grateful (and not bragging) because even from the first weeks of life our 5 children hardly ever distracted us from participating in what was going on (I have very normal children, believe me!) We’ve even attended days-long conferences (without using child care) and our kids have been happy and I believe learned lots (at their own level). I wish I could share this information with some very tired and bedraggled looking parents who, I think, just don’t understand (parental) authority and how restful it can be when understood correctly. Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul. Prov 29:17

Another pastor and his wife who had approaching-adult-aged-children (when ours were little) gave me an expectant hope that our marriage, including our intimacy, would improve over the years, because this was what she communicated through her love for her husband.

Boy, I can see that this has been a good exercise for me as I wouldn’t have considered these examples as that significant, but clearly they are. 

On the question of how I have taught or trained younger women...I’d hardly be bold enough to say that I have...yet, when I consider a couple of deep friendships which have grown over the years (maybe unlikely connections at the time) these friends have told me they’ve appreciated my input. Maybe the reason I don’t see it as a mentoring thing is because of our modern perception of mentoring (which I am hesitant to adopt in some ways; it implies one ‘experienced’ person training another ‘inexperienced’ person). Our friendships are so natural and mutual - it just is not a one way thing.

These friendships initially began with my intentional reaching out to them in a practical way; making meals when there were needs, letting my daughters visit them (my girls were the ‘big kids’ at the time...being all of 7 or 8), and inviting these families to our house for meals/play. Often there were skills which could naturally be exchanged...”I’m building a new fence around the vegetable garden can you help on Saturday...we’ll provide the food/drinks.” “Hey can help me get my internet connection set up?”

Now that my own daughters are adults, I am finding that their friends and even younger girls from church want to hang around our place. This has happened in several ways; my kids all know that no matter who... or when...there will be an extra meal provided and a bed if it seems appropriate. I am stunned at the opportunities to share meaningfully with these young men and women. Just so you aren’t misled into thinking everything is wonderful at the Hardy’s house can I tell you the biggest temptation and possible hindrance to my being able to contribute meaningfully to them?

Because I am older I can often see (what I consider) an obvious issue someone may have to address. A combination of things makes me very impatient to talk to her about whatever-it-is I feel she should receive my insightful comments about. Part of it may be because ‘I know I am right!’, or maybe it’s me wanting to appear important or whatever...I am learning that just as with your own young adult children, just as with the young families, there is *no* place to ‘speak into’ someone’s life unless they have given you that freedom, or you are very clearly led. It is enough to provide for the need (social time, help, food, fun, movie night) and allow God to build a relationship, which *may* then be conducive to her learning something from me. I really can’t start out with an agenda. I should see myself as a servant and just love these girls. Some of the friendships will grow, some will fade away.

This next example I want to share is very exciting and I have waited for 24 years for it. Recently, I have become involved in a ministry for teenaged (unchurched) mums. Woohoo! Beside the benefit for me of the other (and older) mentor mums, I am thrilled to have connected particularly with a 16 year old (very young Christian) and a 19 year old mum who has a two year old. Besides our weekly playgroup activities I have been able to invite them to our home, to church functions and (yay) they are getting to know my girls and their friends slowly....

Just a final example, since the Equip book club began I have used my own love of reading (and the opportunity to use their book list and discussion) to begin a book club at our church. I can’t tell you how wonderful that has been for getting young and not-so-young women together.

It may seem ridiculous to sum up after all this rambling but looking back at what I’ve written I will;

a) be where younger girls are. This may sound like it is stating the obvious but I am talking about things like; go to playgroup with a younger mum. Just go to “help her” and pretty soon everyone will be used to you being there and appreciate your help that you will be a part of it. Or go to McDonald’s after the evening service with all the under 20somethings. My husband and I are the oldest by 25 years but only a few people look at us oddly any more... Learn to txt msg  I’ve managed to get many of the young girls’ phone numbers and I always include them in bulk texts when I’m arranging a bush walk or bbq or something similar. I often send out scriptures by text, or msn, or facebook...

b) discern real needs. We all have had families in great distress in our churches (say a death, cancer) and amazingly people rally around to provide meals, clean house, etc.. But also and without anyone knowing it, a young woman may be struggling because her husband’s work has trickled down to nothing and she has 4 young children and no mother around and is getting behind in the housework and...well, you get the picture.

Let’s not wait for obvious, emotional crises to give the impetus to do something to help other people. Taking an interest in that young mum may provide insight into her needs and an opportunity to spend more time with her family.

c) use your own interests to connect. Do you scrapbook? Have a scrap afternoon at your house. What about a bonfire...have an open invitation and see who turns up? Ask someone (or more) older or younger to the movies...pick one which would provide discussion over a coffee when you’ve finished. You get the idea but I reckon you can’t emphasise your own home enough. Take the risk. 

Book recommendation: Girltalk by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre. (for mums with pre-teen and teen girls or friends)

Thanks Jean once again for your honesty and insightful comments.

puff pant puff...

mattnbec said...

I agree with your first point, Jean. I think I used to think of mentoring more narrowly, but now I think some of the best informal mentoring I've received has t been watching and learning from older, godly women.

Growing up, there was an older lady in my church who was a brilliant wife for her ministry minded husband. She was his 'eyes' and 'ears' as he served in our church, a warm host, thoughtful and wise, loved people and prayed faithfully. In her prolonged illness, she continued in all this and trusted God. She and her husband have been some of the most encouraging people for my husband and I and have had wisdom when we've sought their opinions. I never met with her formally, but I'm so thankful for the way she lived her life and what she taught me as a younger woman. I consider her a spiritual grandmother.

Since coming to the UK and leaving family, I've learned about service from an older lady at our church who has offered to help out at bedtime when my husband was away on a two-week study trip. There are some other older ladies who have such wisdom and insight about parenting. Some of it has come from seminars or small groups but some of the best has been from conversations. Things have just come up, really. I think where people have just sought to get to know me and care for me, those ladies who have godly insight and practical wisdom have just shared themselves or a relevant thought and in doing it, have helped me.

I think it's hard to think of mentoring younger women without thinking of the more formal aspects, such as 1-1 or seminars etc. It's hard to know exactly how you've helped others, or not. We've tried to have a open house so that people can witness our lives. I guess, unsurprisingly, I just try to be like the ladies who have helped and served me in talking and getting to know people and in doing it, trusting God that he would use me in doing it.


Lilly's Life said...

Visiting from WTBAY on your feature day. Great post. I think the mother/daughter relationship is perhaps a lot stronger with this current generation than it was with my own. While I get on with my mother wonderfully we dont 'get' one another. My own daughter and I on the other hand have a different relationship and can share more about life and experiences.

Hippomanic Jen said...

It can be hard in our day and age to make time to spend with others for that 'informal' mentoring. At the same time to have a whole church programme about it can seem contrived.

Why do we feel so weird about approaching someone individually?

janaliel said...

Thanks for your post. When I had my first child almost 13 years ago we lived away from both lots of parents but God blessed me with a wonderful older woman who became a second mother to me and grandmother to our children. She had lots of wise advice when I asked and would gently call me to task. I didn't see her as a mentor but she was.

These posts have also been timely as, just yesterday, a friend with 2 young girls called and asked if she could come over and stay for lunch. As I looked around at the many jobs calling my name I was reminded that God calls us and uses us in his timing. I was able to really enjoy her visit and, I hope, provide some encouragement and blessing to her.

Sarah B said...

I'm not sure if this is off the topic a bit, but I am genuinely interested in your opinion.....I have been listening to the talks and turning this over in my mind also.....I can't help but wonder if motherhood and wifedom are the high-calling we all consider them to be
"Should we be encouraging our daughters, young women in church, sisters-in-Christ to pursue their university degrees with as much vigour as we currently do? Are we somehow sending the wrong message on this issue?"
Feel free to not publish this one of course, I don't wish to hijack the conversation but I have posed this one to Emma before and want to think about it some more.

Sharon said...

A while ago there were only two stay-at-home mums in my church. When I heard another lady (more and acquaintance than an friend back then) was finishing up at her job to stay at home, I decided to invite her out for a coffee after church one Sunday. Now we get together every month or so for a few hours, and sometimes with the other SAHM as well.

We all have a love of books as well as being Christians, so we meet at a bookstore/cafe. It offers something to kickstart casual conversation until we get rolling.

We talk about all sorts of things. None of our kids are the same age: mine are pre-school, the recent SAHM's are in high school, and the other SAHM's kids are in mid-primary. We all have different backgrounds, two married to Christian husbands, one not. One is in music ministry at our church, another has been a pastoral care elder-thingy and I help in the children's church, so our giftings and passions are quite disparate. The major thing that unifies us is our desire to live a life that glorifies God.

So we find lots to chat about. It is just casual, but I have learnt a LOT from these two women who are ahead of me in the marriage and mothering stakes, and I hope I have encouraged them in their Christian lives. I definitely try to!

I think this sort of casual conversation can be very helpful, because we can bring up what we've learnt recently or been struggling with, rather than following some pre-set "womanly" curricula.

On the other hand, I've also given a few seminars on Christian mothering of young kids and have found that the time I have invested in preparing these talks has benefited me as well as providing a more cohesive lesson than is possible in a casual chat.

~ Sharon

mattnbec said...

I suspect I underestimate the amount of mentoring that my Mum does. Spiritual mothering and other forms of mothering just seem to merge into one with your own mum. Also, it's always been that way, so there's never any sudden change in the relationship which you notice. Probably the same thing is true of my relationship with my mother-in-law too. All of which probably means I take them for granted too much!


Jean said...

Thanks, everyone, for some wonderful ideas and observations: keep them coming!

On the issue of training daughters, including uni eduction / training in homemaking etc. - I would like to address this sometime, although now is not the time.

Sarah B (Sarah from my old church, I assume, since you mention Emma - in which case, hi!) could you clarify this - "I can't help but wonder if motherhood and wifedom are the high-calling we all consider them to be" - do you mean you don't think they're a high calling, or that we ofte don't think of them as a high calling? I assume the latter. And where's the bit in quotes from?

Thanks, everyone! Love Jean.

Sarah B said...

Sorry about the dodgy grammar there Jean (yes it is Sarah Brown, by the way), I think most of us reading your blog would agree with the priority wifedom and motherhood should play in our lives. Therefore, how would we go about answering the question I posed about formal education.
Clear as mud???
During my last comment I was attending to burning sausages, a 5 yr old's finger slammed in the back gate and generally not focussing on my homely excuse for the grammar in this one is that I should be in bed. Goodnight

Liz said...

Sarah, I'd love some clarification because it seems like your post suggests "Being a wife and mother are not a high calling, like people try to tell us".

Jean said...

Liz, I think Sarah meant "It looks like we don't always think motherhood and wifedom are the high-calling we all consider them to be" i.e. our practice doesn't seem to match our beliefs when we educate our daughters. Is that right, Sarah?

Sarah B said...

Thanks Jean, you are spot on.
That's why you have a great ministry mentoring us younger women via your blog and I don't!

Jean said...

Ok, so what do I think ...

I think education is a great blessing, for women as well as men. I am very grateful that I live in a time when women are taught to read and write, and encouraged into further education! After all, women also need to learn to read and understand the Bible, and to think about God's truth, apart from any other benefits.

I think we definately neglect the education of our daughters in marriage, motherhood and household management. These topics have become very unpopular in modern society! Most of our daughters will go on to fulfil these roles, and they may struggle with discontentment and difficulty if they are not taught how. (Our sons, of course, also need to be trained to be men, including marriage, fatherhood and some home skills, but that's another topic.) I'll write more about this another time: but a good book is Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitaker's "Girl Talk".

When our daughters choose their uni topics, if they choose to go to uni (and we shouldn't assume this is necessary for any of our children, boys or girls!), they may select courses which can be used in their likely future roles as mothers and homemakes, as well as in their working lives. I chose Arts because I thought it would train me to think about Christian things, which it did, although I don't think I had motherhood in mind! Other courses like teaching or nursing spring to mind as very helpful for mums.

Very traditional choices, aren't they?! I feel a bit embarrassed writing this! But I can see how the fact that a women is likely to spend much of her adult life caring for home and children, may have an impact on the kinds of courses she chooses.

That being said, there's nothing wrong with women studying medicine or law, for example. I'm very grateful for female doctors, aren't you?! It's just that we might want to take our girls' likely future responsibilities into consideration when helping them to make decisions about their courses or specialities. Some will fit better with being a wife, mum and homemaker than others.

Sarah B said...

It's refreshing to have that opinion put out there. Nursing and teaching are ideal courses for Christian women because they are more flexible and family-friendly professions than those, for example, in the business sector.
This is a logical conclusion to make if we are to encourage younger women to prepare for life as a wife and mother. My experience has been that this is not happening in our churches and Christian groups. I wonder why not?
At the same time I think we need to exercise great care and thoughtfulness towards women whom have trained in less family-friendly professions, and for all sorts of reasons continue to be employed in them as they raise their children.

Jean said...

I agree, Sarah.

Rachel said...

Sarah and Jean, rivetting stuff!
I have thrown the uni education issue around in my head too.

I agree that teaching and nursing are better prepartion for wifedom/motherhood and they provide more flexibility (and I told some students just this in a seminar I led on feminism once!)

I wonder if we are reluctant to teach this as we have been heavily influenced by feminism which teaches us that we can 'have it all', career and motherhood, and to suggest that women steer clear of some courses could be seen as a bit defeatist.

I have seen many women struggle with having completed a uni degree, but have started to raise a family and feel that they have to use their study but are torn between caring for their family and working.

I think we need to teach our daughters (and younger women) the realities of completing university and the pressure that they can feel to 'have it all' once it is completed.

Jean said...

Just to make it clear: if my daughter wanted to study medicine, for example, I would encourage her, although I would also talk through the implications in regard to her future: the demands of the course, how long it takes, how it might impact her in terms of marriage / children.

Part of the problem may not just be which course you do, but what your expectations are about how you'll use it afterwards e.g. with medicine: hot-shot specialist, or part-time GP, which would fit excellently with motherhood in many ways.

I know one doctor friend - and there are many others! - whose choices re specialities has been impacted by motherhood (and fatherhood, for that matter: when I think about it, lots of jobs don't fit too well with that, either).

mattnbec said...

Yes, I'm glad my parents did discuss this sort of thing with me before uni. My mum (in rather a humble way) told me she gave up a scholarship to study medicine because she didn't want to make the kind of sacrifices a career in medicine would mean in terms of marriage and family. She knew the impact that a father who was called in for various emergencies etc had. She knew it would take years and years until she was fully qualified. At the time, I understood but kind of also thought she was a bit mad to reject a scholarship. As one of the ones she gave that up for, I'm so thankful and I really respect her for making that decision. I'm so grateful that they did talk about the difficulties of trying to be superwoman and doing it all with me.