Mentoring Is More Than Affirmation

Sometimes over the years I have read the question from younger women, “Where are the older, godly, Titus 2 women?”

I’ve also read many sentiments from younger women, especially younger moms, that they don’t want anyone to criticize them or tell them they should be doing anything differently. They just want to be encouraged and told they’re doing a good job.

Granted, older women have a reputation for being critical. We should take great pains to affirm and encourage younger women. We shouldn’t be talking behind our hands to our friends about the younger generation (or anyone else). We need to be open to the fact that many things about Christian womanhood can look different for different people and situations and not insist that everything should be done like we did it 20-40 years ago.

On the other hand, though, is mentoring just about affirmation? Does a classroom teacher or athletic coach or job supervisor only affirm and encourage? Do they not sometimes correct and instruct?

Once I looked up the Greek word translated “teach” in the famous Titus 2 passage about older and younger women. It’s the only time this particular word is used in the NT, and, according to BibleStudyTools.com, it means:

1. restore one to his senses

2. to moderate, control, curb, disciple

3. to hold one to his duty

4. to admonish, to exhort earnestly

Are we actually looking for that kind of interaction with older women?

I know it’s hard sometimes when you get conflicting or thoughtless or inappropriate or “out of touch” advice. Here are some thoughts:

1. Manage your expectations. No one on the planet, even a wise, godly older woman, is going to hit the nail on the head every time. We’re all sinners; we won’t always get it right; we won’t always be available when we should be. We want to be the ideal older woman, but we’ll fail. Your mentors won’t be gurus or fairy godmothers: they’ll be very human. But that’s even better, because we can learn from God’s grace in their mistakes as well as their shining moments.

2. Even though God wants these kinds of relationships, don’t seek them before Him. Seek Him first for any problem, and ask Him to direct you to whom to talk to if that is His will.

3. Attribute the best motives. Once in the mall with our young baby in a stroller, one older lady from our church stopped us and told us he needed to be covered up more so he didn’t get a chill. Just a few minutes later, another older lady from our church told us to uncover him so he wouldn’t get hot and sweaty. It’s easy to want to roll our eyes behind people’s backs sometimes, but tell yourself that they mean well and at least showed an interest.

4. Glean. Sometimes you’ll get different opinions from different older women whom you respect and who both love the Lord. This was hard for me as a young mom until I hit upon the idea of gleaning – kindly listening and then taking from their advice what would best work for our family and leaving the rest.

5. Observe. In every stage and season of my life, God has placed ladies just ahead of me that I have learned much from just by observing.

6. Interact with older ladies, whether going to ladies’ meetings, talking with them at baby showers, asking them over for lunch or dinner, etc. Sometimes older women feel unwanted by the younger: let them know that you do want to know them. Sometimes you can glean a lot just by being around them.

7. You may need to take the initiative and go to an older woman whose advice you would like to receive. Some are reticent because they don’t know how to mentor or they are afraid of offending. Feel free to ask questions. They’re much more willing to share when they know their thoughts are wanted.

8. Don’t be offended. I read a post years ago about a woman who was rebuked in a harsh way by an older lady over a modesty issue. To her credit, the younger woman took it to the Lord and came to believe that the woman was right, even though the woman had gone about it in a totally wrong way. That doesn’t excuse the older woman, but we’re also not excused from something God might be trying to tell us through an imperfect vessel.

9. Don’t be oversensitive. Don’t mistake advice or a suggestion as criticism. Some years ago I was with a younger lady who had just received a gift of a parenting book after her child was born. This was pretty common when I was a young mom, and we welcomed it – we knew we needed all the help we could get. I knew the giver, and she had discussed this book with me once and mentioned that she liked to give it to new moms because it had been such a help to her. But this new mom was hurt, interpreting the gift as an indication that the giver thought she wasn’t going to be a good parent. Likewise, I’ve heard women sound hurt when someone tells them, “You have your hands full!” and take it as a jab for having an active child or more than one child. More often than not it is said by someone who has also had their hands full parenting in the past and who know what younger parents are going through.

10. Don’t assume that you know the motives behind what another woman is saying. Ask questions to clarify if need be.

It’s hard for older women to know how to go about mentoring unless we’re in an actual position of authority (parent, Sunday School teacher, pastor’s wife). Even then it can be touchy. For most of us, in our everyday interactions it wouldn’t go over well to just stop a younger women in her tracks and start “teaching” her. But here are a few considerations:

1. Pray. If there is someone on your heart, pray much before approaching her, pray much about how to approach her, pray much about whether to approach her at all. If someone asks you a question on the spot, send up a quick prayer for wisdom and possibly even ask for time to think and pray about their question and get back to them.

2. It’s generally best not to offer advice unless asked.

3. Even when offering advice, we need to couch it in suggestive rather than authoritarian tones. I often say, “You might think about…” or “Something that helps me is…” rather than “You ought to…”

4. Don’t contradict a woman’s doctor or pediatrician unless a moral issue is involved. Obviously if a woman’s doctor is advocating abortion, we’d want to try to help her see another view. But in just the little everyday parts of child care, I was amazed at how much had changed between what I was taught as a young mother and what my daughter-in-law was instructed to do with my grandson. It’s probably best never to use the phrase, “Back in MY day…”

5. Don’t contradict a woman’s husband unless there are moral, sinful, or abusive issues. If he wants her to work while she wants to stay home, pray with her, possibly suggest ways she can approach him about it, but don’t incite rebellion.

6. Don’t major on the minors. There are so many divisive issues among women: getting married or remaining single; working vs. staying at home; breastfeeding or bottle feeding; home school vs. public school vs. private school, whether to use a pacifier or not, and on and on and on. Most of these are secondary issues that the Bible does not give specific commands or instruction about. You may have specific principles you’ve drawn after much study in the Word. That’s as it should be. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). The whole tenor of Romans 14 is that believers can have differing opinions about even such things as what days to celebrate and what’s permissible to eat without judging each other or having divisive arguments. Take a stand where the Bible does but allow for differences where the Bible does.

7. It’s best to mentor in the context of relationship. Don’t just look at someone as a “project.” Look at them as sisters or daughters in Christ. Have them over, develop a relationship, truly care about the other person. If some kind of advice or a different perspective is needed, it will go over better coming from a loving relationship.

8. Don’t be a busybody. Don’t overstep or go too far.

9. Don’t belittle.

10 Don’t assume. Sometimes when you see part of a situation, you may not understand the whole of it or what has lead up to it. One off reaction might be just one off reaction rather than characteristic of a whole personality. “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19, ESV).

11. Be careful of your example. Some time ago I was at a table of women at a church event, and the oldest woman at the table started talking about things her husband did. It was all quite funny, but I cringed at the negativity couched in humor. Would he have thought it funny if he had been there? The other women may have chuckled in sympathy, but did they get an example of reverencing their husbands? I’m not saying we have to put on a front and pretend everything is perfect in our homes, but we can present godly ways to deal with conflicts. By contrast, once I was with an older woman at church as she and her husband were preparing for an event for a group they headed up. The woman came into the kitchen looking for something or trying to figure something out, and was not exactly rattled (like I would have been), but pressured in getting everything ready. Her husband came in at that moment with another issue. Her back was to him, and I saw her just close her eyes a moment and then gently answer him. She probably wasn’t even aware that I was there or had observed that moment, but it spoke volumes to me.

12. Don’t be afraid to share your mistakes and what you’ve learned from them.

13. Do encourage that God will give them strength and wisdom, that the “terrible twos” don’t last forever, that they can go through their children’s teen years with their relationship intact, that God is using them and will give them grace in every moment, to keep on instructing and disciplining their children even if it seems nothing is getting through.

14. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29, ESV.

I’m not saying that older woman should start looking for things to correct and advise on. Rather, I urge them to look for ways to encourage and help younger women. And I urge younger women to look for more than affirmation from older women. Pray over advice, filter it, discuss it with your husband.

Also, these truths apply to more than marriage and motherhood, but that’s my realm, so that’s where my examples come from. Obviously women who are single or who are in the workplace can apply these same principles.

How about you? Have you ever received advice from an older woman that was particularly helpful? What are some other ways older women and younger women can help each other?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Tell His Story, Faith on Fire)

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Problems, Blessings, and Dangers of Middle Age

Some time back, I saw a few people online lamenting that there weren’t many blog posts written for “middle-aged” women. There are a lot of “mom blogs,” particularly for moms with young children. But blogs for moms of teenagers and adult children or for women past that stage seem to be few. Part of that is because you can’t talk about your teens’ problems online in the same way you share about struggling with your two-year-old’s temper tantrums or refusal to eat anything but cereal. Then, too, middle-aged women are often the “sandwich generation” years, dealing with nearly adult children at the same time as aging parents, so time can be lacking.

It’s also hard to define middle-age. I have joked that the middle-aged spread doesn’t refer so much to a thickening waistline as it does to the number of years we consider ourselves middle-aged. I’m in the far side of my fifties, and “old” is at least another 20 years away in my thinking.

I’m not an expert, and my experience might not ring true for everyone, but I thought I’d share what I consider the good points, bad points, and dangers of middle-age.

Problems of Middle Age:

Might as well get the bad news over first. 🙂

Physical issues:

It’s easier to gain weight and harder to lose it.

Peri-menopause and menopause (for me, peri-menopause – the years leading up to menopause – were much worse than menopause itself). There are a number of sites dealing with the particulars and what you can do for them.

Staring to decline in strength, eyesight, etc. There are all sorts of “aids” for that kind of thing, from “reader” glasses to bifocals, to “reachers” that help us get out-of-the way things, to tools that help get lids off jars, etc. Instead of lamenting on how old I am that I have to use these things, I can be glad that they are available – some were not until fairly recently.

Beginnings of problems with blood sugar, blood pressure, arthritis, etc. Some of these are better avoided than corrected – I’m guilty of “Oh, I’ll deal with that someday” in regard to weight and blood sugar issues. If I had been dealing with it correctly all along, I wouldn’t be having the problems I am now. Of course, sometimes problems in those areas will crop up anyway because our bodies are not eternal. I heard one preacher say that one reason our bodies break down as we age is to remind us of just that and to urge us to be willing to let go of them and prepare for eternity.

Sleep issues. Middle-aged women often have trouble sleeping through the night and trouble getting back to sleep once they wake up. Sometimes that’s due to urinary issues. I am not sure of the other causes, but it’s a common complaint. That in turn affects us emotionally and intellectually.

Emotional issues:

Menopause has emotional as well as physical issues. But that’s not an excuse to just spew negative emotions all over our families: it’s an occasion to lean all the harder on God and draw strength and help from Him.

The “empty nest” usually occurs around this time, and while we rejoice in seeing our kids take steps toward adulthood, don’t really want them dependent on us forever, and know that the goal of motherhood is to work ourselves out of a job, it is still a major emotional adjustment when they leave the home. Even as we come to enjoy some of the perks of having the house and time to ourselves, we miss that everyday interaction with them that we used to have.

Some of the physical issues themselves affect our emotions, and sometimes just having physical issues affects our emotions.

Realizing that we have more time behind us than ahead of us can be depressing when there is so much more we want to do and less and less time to do it.

Intellectual issues:

I keep the post-it note company in business – if I don’t write reminders to myself, I’ll forget what I need to do.

Sometimes we’ll forget a name or fact we know perfectly well, or forget in the middle of a sentence what we were going to say, or enter a room and forget why we came there. Granted, that happens to everyone at every age, but it seems to happen more the older we get. These things in themselves don’t indicate dementia (and worrying about it makes it worse!) But it can be frustrating.

Lifestyle issues:

The empty nest has already been mentioned. Facing retirement, the possibility of needing to downsize and/or move due to declining income, dealing with aging parents and the medical and aging issues of spouses, are all often faced in the middle-aged season of life. I wrote extensively about caring for an aging parent in Adventures in Elder Care.

Pluses:

Settledness. Sure, there can be upheavals, as mentioned above, and sometimes the empty nest, the death of a spouse or parent, or the loss of a job can turn our world upside down and cause us to have to contemplate what to do next. But as a general rule we know who we are, and, if we’ve walked with the Lord for any length of time, we know to turn to Him for help. Previous trials help us face current ones. We know what our gifts are and aren’t. I used to have some pretty serious self-esteem issues, but once I got hold of being “accepted in the Beloved,” those seemed to melt away. One dear young mom I follow is constantly writing about coming to terms with who she is and what she is supposed to do and how she fits in the grand scheme of life and reinventing herself, and sometimes I just want to tell her, “Hon…just live your life. Enjoy your husband and kids, take the opportunities God brings to hand, and just live.” But I doubt that advice would go over well, and it may be that kind of angst leads to being more settled as we work through those issues, so I just pray that God would help her to be settled in Him.

When I see favorite photos of my kids as toddlers, I sorely miss those little ones. Yet I do rejoice in the young men they have become. Though we miss aspects of babyhood, getting to know our kids as they get older and then relating to them as adults is great fun. As they grow older, they become companionable friends.

Middle age can bring more time as kids get older and their needs from us decline. On the other hand, with aging parents having more needs, sometimes we have more demands on our time.

Likewise, middle age often brings more breathing space financially as the kids move away, at least until retirement and fixed incomes.

Perhaps you’ve seen this humorous list of “Perks of Being Over 50” (I don’t know who originally wrote it, but I have seen it all over the internet):

No one expects you to run a marathon.

 People call at 9 P.M. and ask, “Did I wake you?”

People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.

There is nothing left to learn the hard way.

In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.

You can eat dinner at 4 P.M.

You have a party and the neighbors don’t even realize it.

You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.

You quit trying to hold your stomach in, no matter who walks into the room.

Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.

Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather service.

Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them either.

Your supply of brain cells is finally down to manageable size.

Senior discounts!

Grandchildren are the best part of middle age. 🙂

Dangers:

The “we have always done it this way” syndrome. Being stuck in a rut. This can especially cause problems in church and in dealing with new in-laws as our children marry. There are bedrock truths that we shouldn’t budge on, but in other areas we can be open to new ways of doing things.

The “I know better than everyone else” syndrome in our words and attitudes. Not receiving suggestions from others. Griping about “kids these days.” We have been around the block a few times more than some, but we don’t know everything. And even in areas where we do know better, we can share that in a way that’s helpful or in a way that’s obnoxious and off-putting.

The “stuck in the past” syndrome. We can enjoy our memories and share them sometimes, but we need to pay attention to the people in our lives now and pray and consider ways to minister to them.

The “I’ve done my time” syndrome. “I’ve worked in the nursery/managed VBS/cooked for every event, etc., for x number of years now: it’s time to let somebody else do it.” Granted, for various reasons we might not be able to do all the things we once did. But there is no retirement from the Lord’s service. There is something He wants us to do, even if it doesn’t fit into the organized ministry of the church. See Ways Older Women Can Serve.

Bitterness over life problems, people not treating you as you’d like, etc. etc. The Bible has much to say about bitterness: “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled,” Hebrews 12:15. “Take it to the Lord in prayer,” as the hymn says. Ask Him for wisdom in how to deal with the issues, do your part to keep relationships what they ought to be, and rest in Him.

Stagnation. Not learning, growing, trying anything new. Sitting in front of the TV all day.

Fear of the future. With health and financial issues, as well as potential loneliness, it can be easy to fear or dread what the future might bring. But God has promised to supply all of our needs. He may not supply them just the way I would have preferred. I don’t want to be dependent on my children some day, and I hope that doesn’t happen, but I have to trust that if it does, God has something for all involved to learn. God’s promises don’t mean that I don’t need to plan and use my resources wisely. But I can trust Him to work through and beyond my resources. “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).

Conclusions:

Come to terms with your mortality. Prepare for eternity by receiving Christ as Savior. Even though we mourn leaving loved ones behind, having our eternal destination settled takes much of the sting out of facing death. But salvation isn’t just about securing passage to heaven: it’s about having our sins forgiven and living now for God, having His help and grace through life and making His priorities ours. Knowing that we have His help for whatever we will go through and living for Him rather than ourselves will make our remaining years a blessing to ourselves and others.

Stay in God’s Word and prayer. We should never stop growing spiritually.

Look at aids (bifocals, magnifying glasses, cane, etc.) as something to help you and extend your abilities rather than something to get down about.

Stay active, mentally as well as physically.

Repair broken relationships.

Deal with regrets.

Confess and, forsake wrongdoing, apologize, move on.

Use money wisely in preparation for reduced income.

Take initiative. Once I heard an older lady lament that she hardly knew any of the teens at church and wished that the youth pastor would organize some way to get them together. Suggest that to the pastor rather than hope he thinks of it, or better yet, host a teen fellowship at your house or the church (ask a few other ladies for help) or just have a few at a time over to get to know them. If you feel alone and neglected, reach out to someone else. Don’t grouse that no one has called you: call them.

Keep learning. Trying new things is good for your brain!

Despite its potential problems, middle age can be quite an enjoyable stage of life.

How about you? Can you identify with these? Are there any other problems, dangers, or good points about middle age that you can think of?

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, The Art of Home-making Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Tell His Story, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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Honoring the moms in my life

May always makes me think of my mom, because Mother’s Day and her birthday are both this month. She passed away eleven years ago at the age of 68, much sooner than either of us wanted to say good-bye. That first spring I couldn’t go near a card shop because all of the items out for Mother’s Day were just too painful. Now, though the grief of missing her is still there, it is tempered with good memories.

One of the things I most appreciated about my mom was that she could be a friend to us without sacrificing her authority. I could talk to her about anything.

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My mom and I when I was a baby.

My mom and I before my wedding.

In my college years God brought a new family to our church. They noticed that I came to church alone and invited me home with them often. Mrs. C. became like a second mother to me. I’ve often referred to her as my spiritual mom. Her gentle example as a wife, mother, and homemaker taught me much, though I don’t think she was deliberately trying to teach me anything. We’ve corresponded for years, though her notes have become less frequent as she has gotten older and developed several health issues. I’ll always be thankful for her influence on me.

My third mom came into my life when I got married. My mother-in-law and I have had a very amiable relationship with no in-law horror stories. She had several problems in her life that would have made some people angry and bitter, but instead she sought God’s grace to surround the irritants like an oyster making a pearl. It has been sad to see her decline over the last few years, but we’ve been blessed to move her near us and to be able to include her in our family life.

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2015

The newest mom in my life is my sweet daughter-in-law, who is a loving wife to my son and mother to the cutest grandson in the world. 🙂

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There have been other women as well who had a word of encouragement for me along the way.

I am thankful for “Aunt Sylvia,” my mom’s best friend, who never married or had children of her own but brought us Christmas presents, was always kind to us, and who bravely battled cancer. She once stepped in to pick me up from camp to explain that my parents were with my sister who had been hurt in an accident while I was away, and I am sure her calmness affected me.

I remember spending many nights with my grandmother when she lived near us and accompanying her on road trips in the summer. She was always crocheting any time she was sitting down and her hands were free.

I remember working on a church bulletin board with a lady whose oldest was a teenager while mine was still a toddler. She encouraged me not to dread either the “terrible twos” or the teen years or any stage in between but to believe that even those stages can be good, and I am happy to report they were.

I am thankful for Aunt Bobbye, my mother’s sister, for her being available to us any time we needed her, for her zany sense of humor, her care and support at my mom’s viewing and funeral, and for her love and care and continued interest throughout my life.

I remember and am thankful for walks and breakfasts and lunches and “play dates” with friends in the same season of life as we encouraged each other in our mothering.

I am thankful for godly pastor’s wives I’ve had and their sweet spirit and godly counsel.

In every season of life there have been a few ladies just ahead of me that I could watch and learn from, though they may not have known they were being observed. Even now, on the cusp of an empty nest, I’m inspired by a couple of older ladies who have been shining and cheerful examples in their “upper middle age” years.

I am thankful for so many women who were examples to me and made me a better woman, wife, and mother. I hope I can encourage others as these ladies did me.

I hope you have a wonderful Mother’s Day and feel renewed in your roles this morning.

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Book Review: Spiritual Mothering

Spiritual MotheringWhen our pastor’s wife announced that the ladies would be going through a study of Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Design for Women Mentoring Women by Susan Hunt, I was a little wary at first, because in reading a few of Susan’s other writings, I thought she came across as clinical. I’m happy to say, though, that that’s not the case with this book, and she comes across as much more warm and personable. This edition is a revision of a book she wrote about 25 years ago.

She begins by noting that Titus 2:3-5, the instruction about older women teaching younger, is not to be taken in isolation or out of context and only read during women’s ministry functions. It fits within the broader framework of our Lord’s command to make disciples, and the function of the church as a whole, and the context of living life for God’s glory.

To glorify God means to reflect back to him the glory he has revealed to us (p. 53).

No earthly relationship will meet all of our needs. Fulfilling the purpose for which we were created is he only way we will experience wholeness. Mary focused on glorifying God. She did not speak of Elizabeth as her only source of help; spiritual mothering is not a cure-all for the older or the younger woman (p. 52).

[Re giving birth in a stable]: [Mary] exercised the discipline necessary to move beyond disappointment and distractions and to carefully think about the thing that really mattered–God’s glory (p. 56).

Mary could adjust to these extremes [angels and stables] in her life because she saw them from the vantage point of obeying God’s will, not from the perspective of her expectation or preferences. In defining herself as a servant, she had relinquished control to God. Her purpose was not her convenience but God’s glory (p. 57).

Susan defines spiritual mothering thus: “When a woman possessing faith and spiritual maturity enters into a nurturing relationship with a younger woman in order to encourage and equip her to live for God’s glory” (p. 36). Her main Biblical models throughout the book are Elizabeth and Mary, and my first thought was that I don’t think that’s primarily what the passages that speak of them are there for. But she draws out many applicable principles from their time together and draws from other relationships as well (like Ruth and Naomi). However, she points out that the principles of spiritual mothering can be seen in and drawn from many passages where God compares His care of His people to a mother’s love. And because we draw from His example and because He equips us, spiritual mothering has nothing to do with having biological children or even being married: God calls each woman to nurture in this way and enables them to do so. Usually we’re in the position of an older lady to some and a younger lady to others.

It would be easy for some women to quickly disqualify themselves by saying, But I don’t have the gift of teaching.” Sorry, that won’t work! A closer look at the word translated “train” will render that reasoning invalid. The Greek word is sophronizo and denotes “to cause to be of sound mind, to recall to one’s senses…the training would involve the cultivation of sound judgment and prudence (p. 72).

The popular concept of mentoring and coaching suggest some degree of structure and formality. Spiritual mothering may involve mentoring and coaching, but it is broader. Nurturing seems to be more compatible with what Paul is advocating in the Titus command (p. 72).

Before reading the book, I was a bit afraid that Susan would be pushing a formal and structured relationship, which can too easily seem artificial. She does share ways that can be implemented. But overall she advocates this type of nurturing in connection with other interactions, activities, and ministries, which I’ve always felt was a more natural way to go about it. “Spiritual mothering has more to do with demonstrating ‘the shape of godliness’ than with teaching lesson plans” (p. 93).

She discusses characteristics of the relationship and sprinkles many examples from modern life throughout the book, as well as opening each chapter with one woman’s story. Each chapter ends with a challenge of meditating on a specific passage of Scripture and taking definite steps in regard to the chapter’s subject matter.

Other quotes that stood out to me:

Servitude is not easy. Obedience is not a one-time decision. Obedience is a lifetime discipline. But it does bring a simplicity to life because it settles the issue of who is in control (p. 59)

This command [Titus 2:3-5] is sandwiched between the exhortation to “teach what accord with sound doctrine” (v. 1) and a statement of purpose: “that the Word of God may not be reviled” (v. 5). Sound doctrine must be the basis for the older-woman/younger-woman relationship and honor for God’s truth must be the goal of the relationship (pp. 65-66).

A reverent life is the product of a reverent view of God (p. 69).

Resentment erects barriers that cause older and younger women to miss each other. Resentment is a product of a self-centered approach: unless you are doing and being what I want you to do and be I am offended. Living for God’s glory frees us to value and appreciate rather than resent one another. We can appreciate our diversity of temperaments, life-stages, life-situations, abilities, and callings from God. We don’t have to be or do the same thing. In fact, there is no real unity without diversity. Two of the same things don’t need to blend to become one (p. 131).

There were just a few places where I agreed with what Susan was saying but didn’t feel that it quite came from the passage she was using for its basis, and one or two places where I felt she was wrong. For instance, on p. 52 she says, “Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms how to glorify God: ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4, NIV). Completing the work he assigns us – joyful obedience to his will – is the way we glorify him.” It is a way, but not the only way. A couple of other ways: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” (Psalm 50:23, ESV); “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit” (John 15:8, NASB).

But overall I thought this was a good and helpful book and I gleaned many good things from it.

The ladies at our church who were studying the book met every other week to discuss a couple of chapters at a time, and I am sorry I missed that, because I think it would have reinforced the principles and truths brought out in the book. I did hear that they also had some panel discussions with some older ladies, which I would have loved to hear, and paired up an older and younger lady for some one on one time. I’ve been meaning to ask some of them how that went but haven’t thought of it while at church.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday) and Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Thoughts about women’s ministries

img_0065Every now and then I come across a blog post or article saying something like, “I’m tired of fluffy pink crafty ladies’ meetings. I want to be authentic and go deep.”

I often think, “OK…what exactly does that look like in a ladies’ meeting setting?” Many times the writers say that want Bible studies or opportunities to share that really speak to the core of their Christian walk, where they can share what they’re really struggling with and receive advice and help without being judged. They say they can get craft instruction anywhere; they don’t need it at church. They don’t need scrapbooking or cupcake-making get-togethers. They remind us that every woman is not married or a mother, not every woman is called to be a wife and mother, and we need to minister to the whole spectrum of women represented in our churches, not just wives and mother. They want to discuss and participate in activities to change the world.

And those are all good points.

I’d like to make a few observations.

1. Most women ministry leaders would love to hear suggestions about what ladies would like to do (or they should be. We need to be open to new ideas and not just do the same things we always have). I was a ladies’ ministry coordinator for 9 or so years, and sometimes we’d send out questionnaires to the ladies of the church (to be answered anonymously) asking what they liked, didn’t like, would like us to do. We got very little response from those. A handful of ladies came faithfully; a great many didn’t, and I didn’t know if it was because they didn’t have time, didn’t like what we did, didn’t like us, or what. Plus, sometimes I scrambled for ideas that were new and fresh and that might appeal to a number of ladies. So that kind of feedback would be highly valuable.

2. Make suggestions graciously. Some of these posts have been quite harsh, feeling like a slap across the face or as if the writer is saying, “You’re shallow and I hate everything you do.”

3. Remember different people like different things. If you have two or more people at a church or a meeting, you’re going to have differences of opinion on what and how things should be done. Some women like the fellowship and the crafty things. That doesn’t mean they don’t like Bible study or are shallow. Sure, you can take classes at Michael’s or watch a YouTube video or peruse Pinterest. But often we don’t get to see our friends at church except at church or at these other functions, and it’s fun to get together in that way.

4. Sometimes the crafty things can be a ministry. At one church, we had different ladies share things within their expertise, so it was a way for them to minister when they might not be comfortable leading a Bible study or teaching a lesson. Plus the gathering was not only a basis for forming or growing friendships, it was also a non-threatening venue to invite lost or unchurched friends to. And often at meetings like that, or inbetween meetings like that, we had a woman in the church share her testimony. I remember one in particular in which a woman shared much about her early walk with God and navigating through her young adult years, dating relationships, etc., and was so sad that more of our single young women weren’t there to hear that.

5. It doesn’t have to be either/or. A church or ladies’ group can have informal, fun meetings as well as more serious Bible studies and service projects.

6. Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 do cover more areas than Bible study, though that’s the most important activity. In an era when women might not receive instruction and examples in homemaking as they did years ago, a ladies’ group can help support and instruct along these lines. Most women have a home, whether they have husbands or children, so some of these skills and principles can be helpful to all and can be used to minister to others and glorify God (see Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking.)

7. On the other hand, there is much in those passages applicable to women in any setting regarding character and reaching out to the poor, and much in Proverbs 31 that could be brought out regarding single and working women (business savvy, interacting with merchants, making good quality products, industriousness, dealing with employees, etc.). We do need to make sure every meeting isn’t centered on marriage and motherhood, and, Moms, don’t just call ladies without children only when you need a babysitter.

8. At a time when marriage and motherhood are devalued and under attack, wives and moms need the support, affirmation, and encouragement of the church, and especially other ladies. But we need to remember that single and childless women are under attack in different ways and support, affirm,and encourage them, too. We tend to gravitate towards those in like circumstances and seasons of life, but we can learn from and support each other even when our lives are vastly different. (see When the Message Isn’t For Me.)

9. Deepness can’t be manufactured. Some people, introverts in particular, do like to “go deep,” but would be uncomfortable with a “turn to your neighbor and bare your heart on command” approach. You can have a good Bible study and make every effort for people to feel free to share, but you can’t force it. For some, that inclination will take time to grow; for others, that will only happen with maybe one or two close friends, not in a group setting.

10. Maybe you should go to your church’s ladies’ meetings anyway, even if they’re not exactly what you’d prefer. One of the purposes for almost any ladies’ function is fellowship among the attendees. Maybe a conversation started there will blossom into a warm friendship or an informal mentoring relationship. There’s nothing wrong with formal mentoring, but in my own life, it’s happened informally alongside hospitality and ministry situations. One conversation with an older lady that shaped my thinking about my kids’ teen years took place while we put up a bulletin board in a church hallway. Just being with older women gives you an opportunity to observe, soak up some of their wisdom, and sometimes ask questions.

Something that should have been said first is to pray about it. God knows what kinds of ministries are needed in a given place and the best way to go about them. And consider that if something is on your heat, maybe He is directing you to minister in that way. If you see a need reaching out to the poor, the elderly, single women, etc., perhaps God has brought that to your attention for a reason, either as a function of the ladies’ group or a separate ministry. Though I prefer ladies’ functions when the ladies of the church are all together, there are occasions for a smaller group with a specific focus.

I am at a stage in life when I can’t attend as many of the ladies’ functions as I’d like. With my husband’s mother in our home, I already leave him to take care of her alone most Sunday nights, and I just don’t feel right doing that much more than I already do, plus his work often keeps him from coming home in time for me to go anywhere. I do interact with her caregiver, the hospice nurse, etc., and try to remember to be an encouragement even there. And I admit, it’s cozy staying home on a cold dark night rather than driving a ways and spending an evening elsewhere. But I do strongly believe in women’s ministries and hope to participate in them more in the future. I encourage women to look past their differences and find ways to learn from each other and love each other and encourage each other in the Lord.

See also:

Mentoring Women
Church Ladies’ Groups
Why Older Women Don’t Serve
How Older Women Can Serve
I’m An Older Woman…So Now What?
How Not to Become an Old Biddy
The Quiet Person in the Small Group

(Sharing with Inspire Me Mondays, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Wise Woman, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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When God wants me to do something I don’t want to do

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I had another interesting intersection between my devotions, messages at church, and my other reading last week.

I’m in Exodus in my Bible reading just now, and I can always empathize with Moses’s reaction when God calls him to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. Overwhelmed, he he responds with all the reasons he couldn’t possibly do such a thing, and God graciously promises His provision in every facet.

Who am I? Why would they listen to me? I will be with thee.

What if they ask me what God sent me to them? I AM THAT I AMThus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you

They will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee. God provided three signs to demonstrate before Israel.

O my Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. Who hath made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.

God was very patient with Moses until, at this point, Moses says, “O my Lord, send, I pray thee, by the hand of him whom thou wilt send.” I’m not sure exactly what all that means, but it seems to indicate he’d really rather God sent someone else. God tells him his brother Aaron will be his spokesperson, and sends him on his way.

I would probably have had all the same objections Moses did, and more. They make sense and seem quite valid, except that God promises to overcome each one, no matter how the situation seems to appear at this vantage point.

Some of our Sunday evening services have dealt with Jonah, who, as you know, disobeys God’s command to preach to the Ninevites and goes in the opposite direction. His reasons are less sympathetic; in fact, they are wholly unnoble. The Bible doesn’t say he was afraid of them or afraid to speak to them. He was afraid they would actually respond to his message, and he was so prejudiced against them that he did not want that result. His chastening was pretty severe, and he repented in the belly of a fish. But his heart still wasn’t entirely right. “It displeased Jonah” when the people of Nineveh repented. In fact, he tells God that was why he didn’t want to come to them in the first place, because “Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil” (Jonah 4:2).

Then, when I’ve had time after my devotions, I’ve been reading in The Women of Christmas: Experience the Season Afresh with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna by Liz Curtis Higgs. Around the time I was reading about Moses in my Bible and hearing about Jonah in church, I came to the section about Mary in this book. What a contrast. She may have had concerns and fears, but didn’t voice them. Or she may have just believed that God was sufficient to take care of whatever the repercussions would be. No objections. No “what ifs.” No apparent anxieties or apprehensions. Just, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.

I found in my quote file this from Elisabeth Elliot, though I failed to note which book or newsletter it came from:

The story of the glory of heaven brought into a common, little house in Nazareth to a simple peasant girl, who must have been amazed and baffled, but she was instantly obedient. How often you and I insist on explanations and understanding before we’re willing to be obedient. There are many things in God’s world that will never be understood until we obey. Her response, Mary’s response—”Let it be to me according to your word. I am the handmaid of the Lord” — should be our response, too, shouldn’t it? Whatever He asks us to do.

I haven’t been called to anything of the magnitude of these three, but sometimes my response is more like Moses’s to what God has called me to do. First, “Who, me?!” Then, “I can’t, for all these very good reasons.” Sometimes, “That’s not my spiritual gift.” And sometimes, sad to say, “I know You will be with me; I know You will enable and provide. But I’d really rather not.” I’d like my nice, quiet, even life with very few and very minor bumps in the road, if that’s ok.

But that’s not ok. My life is not about my ease and comfort, or at least it’s not supposed to be. It’s about glorifying God and allowing Him to work through me in whatever way He wants to. I may not feel equal to the task, but that’s ok. That reminds me the strength to do it is not my own, but His. His provision and enabling usually comes at the time of obedience, not before. And what times I have cooperated with Him in this way, it has been wonderful to see how He has worked and to experience His presence through those things. When we believe on Jesus Christ as our Savior, we know God is with us by faith even if we don’t always feel it. But somehow when we trust Him through difficult things, we experience His presence and help and grace in ways not known before.

Sometimes I get to the, “Yes, Lord, I am Yours: Your will be done” after reluctance, objections, repentance, and reassurance. I hope, like Mary, to get to the place where I can go there directly.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Thought-provoking Thursday)

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Book Review: Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World

radical-womanhoodI got Radical Womanhood: Feminine Faith in a Feminist World by Carolyn McCulley some years ago when I caught it on sale – both because it was on sale and because I have enjoyed some of Carolyn’s writing in the past. It’s been on my TBR shelf ever since, and every now and then when I’ve noticed it, I’ve wondered why I keep getting books on this topic when I’ve already studied it out in Scripture and read several books on it and pretty much have nailed down my views. I guess because it’s one of my main interests. But I was compelled to pick it up recently (maybe due to guilt for its having been there so long) – and I was extremely glad I did.

Carolyn comes at the topic from a different angle than I have read in the past, and that makes for a refreshing viewpoint. She grew up as an unbeliever and a full-blown feminist. Her world changed completely when she became a Christian at 29, and attending church was a major culture shock. Over time and through her own study of the Bible and the preaching and teaching of it by her church, she came to different conclusions about womanhood than she had been raised with. She wrote this book partly because she wished her 30 year old self had had something like it to help her navigate through the conflicting viewpoints, but also because she discovered in her speaking engagements that a lot of women didn’t know what the Bible said plus didn’t know how our feminist-influenced culture got where it is today.

The eight chapters are divided by topic, with a history of feminism related to that topic, a Biblical perspective, and a testimony from different women about living out that particular aspect of Biblical femininity.

She points out that feminism did address some serious needs and inequalities, but then went too far. “There’s a difference between restoring God-given rights to women and setting women above both men and God. The history of the feminist movement shows that one led to another–and much earlier than the 1960s” (p. 32).

Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in 1776 concerning the fact that women were not equal in legal status to men and urging him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands…Men of sense in all ages abhor those customs which treat us only as the vassals of your sex; regard us then as being placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness” (p. 32). She “was not suggesting that women should throw off every aspect of feminine existence, trashing the roles of wives and mothers. She simply wanted laws that recognized women as fully legal, adult entities in this new nation” (p. 33). She predicted that failure would “foment a rebellion” in which women would “not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation” (p. 32). Unfortunately, though they had a “close and loving marriage,” he “did not take her seriously on this point” (p. 33).

Her prediction proved true, though. By 1848 the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention met and compiled a “Declaration of Sentiments” including a list of their grievances.

These grievances led to needed reforms in education, marriage, suffrage, and employment for women. But mixed in with those needed social reforms was a challenge to Christianity–its church governance, biblical teaching, and community service…eventually [leading] to the destruction of biblically defined concepts of God, sin, gender differences, marriage, and more (p. 36).

Carolyn deftly details the history of feminism from there, comparing it to what the Scripture actually teaches, and providing some background information on some of its activists. I was surprised to learn–though I shouldn’t have been–that some of feminism’s most strident voices had distinctly anti-Christian views at the core of their philosophies.

I have many more places marked than I can quote here, but here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

All my previous feminist philosophies resulted in merely kicking at the darkness, expecting it would bleed daylight. But Scripture says it is by God’s light that we see light (Psalm 36:9) (p. 26).

The irony of Stanton’s claims is that when the Bible is actually properly taught, history shows that women’s status improves (p. 38).

Spiritual battles are won or lost in the day-to-day thoughts we harbor. Ideas matter! (p. 59).

Every one of us is prone to agree with Satan’s character assassination of God. We often chafe at the good boundaries God has given us. We are easily tempted to think the worst of God. And we doubt that what God has provided is anywhere near as good as what He has restricted. In some ways, we may have more in common with self-proclaimed feminists than we may realize (p. 60).

Back to my beginning thoughts about why I should read a book like this when I’ve already studied it out, Carolyn had this to say:

If you are a longtime Christian, I pray you will be refreshed in your commitment to these godly principles. Biblical womanhood is not a one-size-fits-all mold. It’s not about certain dress styles, Jane Austen movies, tea parties, quiet voices, and exploding floral patterns…or whatever stereotype you are picturing right now. To live according to biblical principals today requires women to be bold enough to stand against philosophies and strongholds that seek to undermine God’s Word and His authority (p. 29).

This was quite an eye-opening book for me. Though every chapter was interesting and filled with information, most interesting to me was the one on the home and it’s history from home-based businesses producing goods to consuming goods, and the fact that my beloved major, home economics, was originally an outgrowth of Social Darwinism!

I wouldn’t agree with just every little thing taught by every Christian leader Carolyn quotes, but I don’t recall coming across anything I would consider a glaring error in the book.

I feel like I have only shared the tip of the iceberg and haven’t done this book justice. Let’s just say I highly recommend it.

Genre: Christian non-fiction
My rating: 10 out of 10.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carol‘s Books You Loved )

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