Monday, January 4, 2010

from the archives: 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

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