Organic Mentoring

What does mentoring mean to someone desiring to be mentored? Sometimes women have a specific area where they feel they need help. Some just want to have an older go-to person to ask questions.

Dictionary.com defines mentor as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; an influential senior sponsor or supporter.” But how do people work mentoring out into real life? Classes? Regular meetings? Shadowing?

The word “mentor” is not in the Bible—at least, not in the KJV or ESV. Probably the closest the Bible comes to the concept is discipling. The classic passage for women disciplining women is Titus 2: 3-5:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

It’s always important to look at the context of a Bible passage, and the context here is teaching and relating life to sound doctrine (verse 1). Then the character of a teacher or mentor is addressed. Several translations describe this older woman as reverent; others use the word holy. She’s trustworthy: she doesn’t spread gossip. Your secrets are safe with her. And she’s self-controlled, not given to excess.

I’ve written before about different ways to mentor. And I shared that mentoring is more than affirmation and suggested thoughts for both mentor and mentee.

What I’d like to suggest now is that mentoring doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You may have one person that you go to with every question and concern. That’s fine if you have such a person. But I have found that God has sent different women across my path with just a word in season that I needed at the moment. I’d like to tell you about a few of them.

Mr. and Mrs. B. were the pastor and wife we were under in our college days and then our first few married years. They were an older couple. Mrs. B. was kind, warm, wise. But she also laid things on the line. When I was struggling with some issue and finally ready to do whatever it took to deal with it, Mrs. B. was the person I would go to. I knew she would give it to me straight, yet kindly.

Mrs. C. was a lady whose family came to our church while I was away at college. When I came home for the summer, the family invited me over for dinner several times. They soon became a second family to me. I don’t remember Mrs. C. ever specifically trying to teach me anything, but I learned so much from her example, her character, her response to her husband, her homemaking.

These two relationships were long-term, but sometimes God had an older friend say something helpful in passing. For instance, once while working in the church nursery, another lady mentioned that she had hit the highest emotional highs and the lowest lows in the context of mothering. That stopped me in my tracks, because I had thought something similar, but hadn’t quite put it into words. I don’t think we discussed it any further, but her comment let me know that my feelings were normal. Another time, I was putting up a church bulletin board with a lady who had teenagers while my children were younger. She gave me some off-the-cuff advice not to dread the teen years. She said teens don’t all go through rebellious phases, and if the relationship has been good all along, there’s no reason it can’t continue to be good. That lifted a weight and gave me a healthy perspective of my children’s upcoming teen years, and I’ll be forever grateful.

Once I was doing something in the church building while the group who ministered to the seniors at church were setting up a banquet for them. That kind of preparation can get hectic. The wife of the couple involved, a very sweet woman, came into the kitchen to look for something. While she stood there a moment, gathering her thoughts and looking at cabinets, her husband came in behind her with an urgent question. He couldn’t see her face, but I saw her close her eyes a moment and then give him a calm answer. Whether she was thinking through the answer to his question or changing gears from her own pursuit, I don’t know. But my impression was that in a moment of being overwhelmed, she took just a beat or two to gain control and answer kindly when she might have wanted to be left alone to finish her own task.

Another older lady had to retire from her loved job due to what some considered unfair circumstances. I know this woman was hurt, but I never once heard her badmouth her employers. I watched as she sought out several different new ways of ministering until she found her new niche, and her efforts continued to make a different in other people’s lives.

The one factor all of these examples have in common is that they arose naturally, in the normal course of life and ministry.

There’s nothing wrong with setting up classes and seminars. I have learned boatloads from many great and mostly unknown women teachers. I’ve sought specific counsel from older women at times.

There’s nothing wrong with a formal one-on-one relationship specifically for the purpose of mentoring.

But a mentor does not have to be a formal teacher and may not have that kind of relationship with anyone. Even if she does, we’re all called to the kind of walk where our example teaches and where we’re so yielded to and in tune with the Holy Spirit that He can work though us in the course of everyday life. I think of this as organic, natural mentoring. I don’t remember in any of these cases praying for God to send an older, godly woman my way. But He did, because He knew I needed them.

It’s fine to pray for a mentor, to work through a book or Bible study together, to have a list of questions to discuss. Sue Donaldson has some great ones here. But I also saw a list of 100 questions to ask of a mentor. Honestly, that sounds exhausting. No one wants to feel grilled interrogated. If you want to approach someone with questions, I wouldn’t bring that many. And I’d suggest questions from your own heart rather than a list, things you would like to ask an older, experienced lady about living the Christian life in a way that honors the Lord.

But beyond questions, we can learn much just by spending time with these women and observing their walk and demeanor. I know I have probably asked older women specific questions, but I don’t remember most of those conversations. For some reason, I’ve remembered these instances I shared here for years. Many of them were foundational or transitional to my thinking. And the women in question probably didn’t even know they had said something that affected me. I don’t think I knew it myself at the moment. It probably took time to process their advice, comments, or example. A guest preacher at our church years ago once said that often, when the Holy Spirit uses us, we’re unaware of it.

That’s the kind of godly, older-ish woman I want to be: one who walks closely with the Lord, filled with His Spirit and His Word and a love for others, available for His use in everyday life and conversation.

Have you had such a mentor in your life—someone who wasn’t officially a teacher, yet taught you by word or example? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Literary Musing Monday, Hearth and Soul, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Heart Encouragement, Grace and Truth)

“Just Wait: It Gets Harder”

A young mom friend shared that she gets the above response whenever she mentions that life can be hard with several little children at once.

Why do we women do that to each other?

I’m so thankful that when I was a young mom, a special older lady told me that each stage of our children’s lives has it’s high and low points, and we shouldn’t dread any stage. I think at the time my oldest was about to turn two, thus I was cringing at the thought of the “terrible twos.” Her words helped me not to view that season of life negatively, and the “twos” were not all that terrible.

Though baby- and toddlerhood hold some cute, sweet, fun, and incredibly precious  moments, small people depending on you for every little thing can be exhausting. I loved my babies and little ones, but this stage of life was hardest for me. When they can feed themselves, go to the bathroom by themselves, dress themselves, etc., life gets a lot easier.

Perhaps for some moms, what I call the “taxi years” are the most taxing, when you’re chauffeuring kids to sports practice, music lessons, church activities, birthday parties, school activities, etc., etc. That season does have its challenges. We tried hard to strike the right balance by offering our kids a number of opportunities without the whole household revolving around children’s schedules. It’s not easy. But one perk was that one of our children opened up much more in the car than if I tried to draw him out across the table.

Probably most who warn about harder years of parenting are referring to the teen years. Once, when my children were still young, an older mom and I were working on a bulletin board together at church. As she shared something about her teenage daughter, she said something like, “Don’t dread the teen years. If you keep the relationship good, keep communication open, and train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the teen years don’t have to be a trial for either of you.” And she was right, just like my mom friend who told me not to dread the “terrible twos.” The world has bought into this idea that rebellion is a teenage rite of passage, but it doesn’t have to be. They do ask hard questions, but we should welcome them and help them seek answers. They should be coming to a point where their beliefs are becoming their own rather than just rotely following what they’ve always been told. There might be a few bumps in the road towards independence, but it doesn’t have to be an all-out war.

And then we come to parenting adults. In some ways, it’s a relief that all their decisions are their own responsibility now. Yet we have to let them make their own mistakes. We only offer advice when asked, and then carefully. We have to let go, but we can pray.

Each stage of development is a necessary part of growing up. Each has its hardships and its blessings. We need to encourage each other all along the way.

Imagine you’re hiking up a mountain trail. The way is rough, you’re hot, and you’ve still got a long way to go. Way up ahead you see another hiker. You call out to her and ask how the trail is between you. She says, “You think it’s bad now; you think you’re tired now; just wait. It only gets harder the further you go.”

How encouraged would you be? Not at all.

How much better if those ahead on the path called back, “Yes, it’s tough. But God gives grace. You can do it. Keep up the good work!” Or, even better, we can share how we found verses like 2 Corinthians 9:8 true in relation to motherhood: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

Motherhood has been one of the hardest aspects of my life. Not much else (besides caregiving) showed me how selfish I was and how much I needed God’s grace. But watching and learning from other moms was a great encouragement.

Much has been said in recent years about mentoring, but we don’t need to set up formal mentoring relationships in order to encourage others. So often, I’ve received the most encouragement from off-the-cuff, seemingly random conversations in passing. But looking back, I know they weren’t random. I know God placed those people in my path for  my encouragement.

I’ve shared before this poem from an unknown author that was quoted in Rosalind Goforth‘s autobiography, Climbing (one of my favorites). I had always thought of it in relation to life in general, Christian life in particular. I had mostly thought of it in relation to missionary and other Christian biographies. Even though it’s not specifically about motherhood, much of it can apply. We don’t need to demean or “one-up” others. Older moms, let’s call back encouragement to younger moms. Older women, let’s support younger women whether they are mothers or not, married or not.

Call Back!

If you have gone a little way ahead of me, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track;
And if, perchance, Faith’s light is dim, because the oil is low,
Your call will guide my lagging course as wearily I go.

Call back, and tell me that He went with you into the storm;
Call back, and say He kept you when forest’s roots were torn;
That when the heavens thunder and the earthquake shook the hill.
He bore you up and held where the very air was still.

O friend, call back, and tell me, for I cannot see your face;
They say it glows with triumph, and your feet bound in the race;
But there are mists between us and my spirit eyes are dim,
And I cannot see the glory, though I long for word of Him.

But if you’ll say He heard you when your prayer was but a cry,
And if you’ll say He saw you through the night’s sin-darkened sky-
If you have gone a little way ahead, O friend, call back-
It will cheer my heart and help my feet along the stony track.

Has someone “called back” in a way that encouraged you? I’ve love to hear about it in the comments.

(I’ve read several posts about encouragement this week. This must be a
message God wants emphasized at this particular time.
I love how Kelly expanded this truth to all scenarios here.)

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Literary Musing Monday,
Hearth and Home, Purposeful Faith, Tea and Word, Tell His Story,
Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Let’s Have Coffee, Recharge Wednesday, Share a Link Wednesday,
Wise Woman, Worth Beyond Rubies, HeartEncouragement,
Grace and Truth, Faith ‘n Friends)

 

The Joys and Pains of Mother’s Day

I don’t envy pastors trying to prepare messages for Mother’s Day that celebrate, honor, and encourage moms while being sensitive to those for whom Mother’s day might be painful.

On one hand, it’s good to honor mothers. The Bible does. Motherhood has taken a beating by society over the last several years. Moms have a heavy load, often unseen and unappreciated. They need all the encouragement and support they can get.

On the other hand, some dearly want to be mothers, yet God has not granted that request. Mother’s Day only adds to their pain. I appreciate Wendy Alsup’s thought that “God uses both the presence and the absence of children in the lives of His daughters as a primary tool of conforming us to Christ.”

Some moms downplay the hoopla. They would rather have their family appreciate them year-round, not just on a certain designated day. And, true, it doesn’t make sense to disrespect someone every other day and then buy them flowers and a card on Mother’s day. But I always look at special days in the same vein as Thanksgiving. Yes, we’re supposed to be thankful every day, but Thanksgiving reminds us of all we have to be thankful for. Jesus’ resurrection impacts our lives every day, but it receives special focus at Easter. So Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or someone’s birthday are just opportunities to tell someone you love that you appreciate them. Some do have a lot of hoopla; others prefer low-key observances.

Some moms grieve that their families don’t acknowledge this day at all, and they feel more taken for granted than ever.

I am very blessed that my family goes to a lot of effort to make me feel special on Mother’s Day. But I try to keep in the forefront of my mind that Mother’s Day isn’t about expecting that honor, as much as I love and appreciate it. Mother’s Day was established to promote honor of our own mothers. I wrote a couple of years ago about honoring the moms in my life, women who have influenced me or nurtured me in some way. Still, I do admit it would hurt if no one in my family observed Mother’s Day at all. Erin has some good thoughts along this line.

For others, Mother’s Day is profoundly sad. Some grieve the death of their children, estranged children, mothers who are still here physically but far away mentally or emotionally, mothers who rarely, if ever, showed love, mothers who abandoned them, mothers who have died.

My beloved mother passed away nearly fourteen years ago. My husband’s mother just passed away in January. The lady who was like a second or spiritual mom to me is about to meet her Savior face to face any moment now. Even though I can’t “do” for these special ladies any more, I honor them in my heart, remember their examples, and hold on to the good memories.

For those whose families show their love this day, I wish you joy.

For those who feel like failures, may you be uplifted once again by His grace.

For those who feel abandoned or unloved by parents, may you truly know “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).

For those who sorrow, I pray for the peace that passes understanding. May His merciful kindness be for your comfort, according to His word unto you (Psalm 119:76).

See also:

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Wise Woman, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

Strong Women

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A friend and I were discussing the two half-sisters in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Marian Halcombe is gracious, smart, strong, and capable, but ugly. Laura Fairlie is pretty and sweet, but somewhat weak and fragile. You can guess which one gets the guy.

That discussion led to thinking about other women in literature. Dora, the first love of David Copperfield, was pretty, sweet, and charming, but childish and totally inept as a household manager. She even told him to think of her as a “child wife.” After failed attempts to strengthen Dora, David had to just accept and love her as she was. But Agnes, his friend whom he later came to love after Dora’s death, was steady, capable, strong, and mature, and they could support and help each other. Lucie Manette from A Tale of Two Cities came up in the aforementioned discussion as a Victorian ideal of the weak damsel in distress, but I disagreed. I think she had to be very strong to take in a father who was mentally disabled after so many years locked up unjustly in the Bastille and and nurse him back to health. Then she traveled to France at the height of the French Revolution to find out what had happened to her husband when she feared he was in danger. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility is another strong literary woman. She was steady, had to manage the household frugally even when the rest of the family complained, had to reign in her emotions to do the honorable thing, as opposed to her sister, Marianne, who gave free reign to her emotions and whims. Ma Ingalls is another: I honestly don’t know how she dealt with the sheer hard work of her life as well as the loneliness of being away from other people so much.

I am not a feminist by any means, but I do like to see a female protagonist who does have some umph to her, who adds more to the story than a pretty face.

Besides literary examples, we have a plethora of strong women in the Bible. How could Mary, the mother of Jesus, endure all she did without His strength? Other strong biblical woman are Jochebed, Moses’ mother, who defied Pharaoh to protect her son; Rahab, who took a great risk to hide the Hebrew spies because of her faith in their God; Deborah, a judge who went to battle; Hannah, in grief over her barrenness, yet knowing to whom to turn; Esther, who risked her life to intercede for her people before the king; Priscilla, who helped her husband in business and in discipling; Mary and Martha, strong in different ways; Joanna and the other women who ministered to Jesus’s needs, and so many more.

Being strong is not an unfeminine trait. In fact, Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms,” and “Strength and honour are her clothing.”

She is strong in character: excellent, or virtuous in some versions (verse 10), trustworthy (verse 11), does her husband good (verse 12), kind and compassionate (verses 20, 26), characterized by honor (or dignity in some versions) (verse 25), praiseworthy (28-31).

She is strong in industriousness and initiative: She “works with willing hands” (verse 13), she gets up early to start work and serve others (verse 15) – she’s not still in bed late in the morning waiting on someone to serve her (except maybe on special occasions), she weaves and knows her products are good (verse 18-19), she works into the evening (verse 18), she makes nice clothing (verse 21-22, 24), she makes products to sell (verse 24), she looks well to the ways of her household and is not idle (verse 27).

She is strong physically (verses 17, 25): she plants (verse 16),

She is strong mentally and intellectually: she seeks good products and prices (verses 13, 14, 16), she plans ahead for bad weather (verse 21), she is wise (verse 26).

She is strong spiritually: she fears the Lord (verse 30).

We can sometimes get discouraged just thinking about this epitome of womanhood, but as I like to say, she didn’t do all of that in a single day. And I don’t think we have to take up weaving, plant a vineyard, or have a home business to become virtuous women. But taken as a whole, the tenor of her life is that of strength, industry, and honor. She is definitely not a “damsel in distress,” but she doesn’t need to assert her strength by challenging her husband or stepping into his role.

Admittedly we all experience times of weakness, tiredness, and weariness, and there are times we do need rescue. I’ve so appreciated the times my husband has come to my aid when I’ve gotten stuck or over my head in a project, behind in getting ready for company, overwhelmed with a ministry activity, etc. As a family we all pitch in and help wherever needed rather than standing back and saying, “That’s your responsibility, not mine.” There is nothing wrong with a husband helping and serving his wife: if he loves as Christ loves the church, Christ helps and serves us. But I did struggle in early marriage with wanting my husband to help me in every little thing and having to remember that I am supposed to be a help meet for him. We don’t depend on our husbands instead of the Lord, but we do depend on their God-given assets and strengths. Our husbands also need to depend on us to be able to stand strong in the Lord’s strength. And God enables us to minister to others and give of ourselves even when we feel depleted.

We don’t usually step up to the brink of adulthood or marriage strong in all the ways we need to be. Strength of character has to be developed just as physical strength does. When you first start exercising physically, the first thing you notice is how weak and out of shape you really are, but starting to exercise even in weakness is the first step to developing strength. Often God develops strength in us by putting us in situations where we are totally weak. I could not have endured my husband’s many travels without learning to lean on the Lord for strength, but I was pretty much a basket case at first. I can remember the dismay of realizing as a young mother that I couldn’t just take to my bed when I was sick when I had little ones to take care of. I was probably overly dependent on my husband at first, but had to learn how to make decisions and take care of things while he was at work and out of reach.

Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth were missionaries to China from1888-1936. She had written his biography, and then by request wrote Climbing, one of my all-time favorite books, about missionary life and furlough from her perspective. She writes not as a “super-Christian,” but rather as a woman “of like passions” as we are. She writes in one place:

It was while I had a large family of little children about me and mission work was pressing heavily upon me, while feeling burdened and that strength was insufficient, I sought to find in God’s Word whether there were any conditions to be fulfilled for the receiving of divine strength. The result of this study was a surprise and joy to me, and later a blessing and help to many to whom I passed it on, for every condition the weakest could fulfill!

Conditions of receiving strength

1. Weaknesses. II Cor. 12:9-10
2. No might. Isa. 40:29
3. Sitting still. Isa. 30:7
4. Waiting on God. Isa. 40:31
5. Quietness. Isa. 30:15
6. Confidence. Isa. 30:15
7. Joy in the Lord. Neh. 8:10
8. Poor. Isa. 25:4
9. Needy. Isa. 25:4
10 Dependence on Christ. Phil. 4:13

The key is in Hebrew 11:32-34: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9-10).

The song “I Could Not Do Without Thee” by Francis Ridley Havergal says it well:

I could not do without Thee,
I cannot stand alone,
I have no strength or goodness,
No wisdom of my own;
But Thou, beloved Savior,
Art all in all to me,
And weakness will be power
If leaning hard on Thee.

May you “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10) today.

(Revised from the archives)

Update: I discovered this afternoon that Dr. Michelle Bengtson’s post, 10 Scriptures for When You Need Strength, shared even more from God’s Word to strengthen us.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesdays, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Booknificent)

The Ministry of the Mundane

One morning I chafed over having to go to the grocery store – again. I had just gone the day before, but that store didn’t have everything I needed, plus we were getting ready for company and needed a few extras. I groused inwardly about spending way too much of my life in stores and how I had other things I’d much rather be doing.

All of a sudden the thought came to mind, “She bringeth her food from afar.”

You might recognize that as part of the Proverbs 31 woman‘s description. In fact, a lot of what she did was everyday, seemingly mundane stuff: planting, cooking, sewing, weaving, buying, selling. In those days, with no Amazon, super Wal-Marts, or even grocery or clothing stores, most of what she made for herself, her family, and her home was done by hand, from scratch.

Thankfully I don’t have to weave my own cloth. I don’t even have to go too much “afar” to gather my food. We have four grocery stores within a ten-minute drive, and all but one of them lets customers order online and pick up their groceries curbside. So I really don’t have anything to complain about.

It helps me to realize, or remember, that gathering and preparing food is part of what I am supposed to do. Somebody has to do it. My husband doesn’t mind going to the store for me sometimes, but I don’t like to ask him since he already works more than 40 hours a week and then has yard work and house maintenance on top of that.

But realizing it’s part of my job helps me not to chafe: this is just as important as anything else that seems more valuable. It’s part of my ministry to my family.

I’ve wondered why so much of life is made of the mundane. A friend who was a missionary said that when she first went to the field, she had no idea she would be spending so much time in the kitchen. I remember Elisabeth Elliot writing about dealing with a recalcitrant stove or heater and wondering at how much time, especially in a third world country, is made up of such activities. I remember hearing a missionary lady once say that in her country, they still had milkmen pick up their empty milk bottles, and part of her testimony and reputation involved having clean milk bottles out on her porch at the appointed time.

As I have been pondering these things the last few days, I came up with a few possible reasons so many mundane tasks.

The rubber meets the road in those everyday duties. It’s easy to think about loving and serving our fellow man or woman while at home in a quiet, pleasant room with our Bibles. It’s another thing when our fleshly nature bumps up against each other in the real world.

A good work ethic is a testimony to others. Luther was purported to have said, “The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes.” This article disputes that. I understand the article’s view that it’s not something Luther would have said, but I don’t totally agree with their logic. Perhaps you’ve known someone who thought they served God better by witnessing to people than by doing their job. But we’re admonished to do our work “heartily, as unto the Lord.” We’ve all experienced the pangs of faulty workmanship, employees or even ministry partners who do a slipshod job, creating problems and frustration for fellow-workers, bosses, customers. Sure, we have Mary and Martha‘s example, and we know it’s possible to have wrong priorities, and we need to set aside the earthly for the heavenly sometimes. But when it’s time to work, it’s time to do it well and efficiently.

These tasks teach patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, service, thoughtfulness of others.

I can’t do even these things in the right way and spirit without God’s help and grace. I just stumbled across this quote in my files from Oswald Chambers (source unknown): “The things Jesus did were the most menial of tasks, and this is an indication that it takes all of God’s power in me to accomplish even the most common tasks in His way. Can I use a towel as He did?” God filled the workmen of the tabernacle with “the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship.” He goes on to say, “I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you” (Exodus 31:1-6, ESV).

Ministry to others can be shown through the mundane. Someone said of Francis and Edith Shaeffer, “As many people were brought to the Lord through Mrs. Schaeffer’s cinnamon buns as through Dr. Schaeffer’s sermons!” Practical help is just as needful as spiritual help.

When Amy Carmichael’s ministry began to change from evangelism to caring for children, she questioned whether God had really called her to be a “nursemaid” when there were so many other needs and ways she could be used. “It was then that she read the words from John 13, how the Lord of glory ‘took a towel and girded Himself.’…never again did she question whether her gifts were being wasted. She knew that the Master never wastes the servant’s time.” (Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton)

Mr. Houghton also writes that, “Occasionally someone suggested that character-training of boys and girls…or, still more, the erection of buildings to house them, was not evangelistic work, and therefore not worthy of support.” Amy wrote, “Well, one cannot save and then pitchfork souls into heaven…and as for buildings, souls (in India, at least) are more or less securely fastened into bodies. Bodies cannot be left to lie about in the open, and as you cannot get the souls out and deal with them separately, you have to take them both together.”

We don’t always necessarily have to be doing anything “spiritual” to show forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite blogger friends writes about what’s going on in her home and family, but even in her homemaking tasks she reflects the spirit of a woman who walks closely with God. She’s not trying to show that: it just shines through her. In everything she shows “a sense of Him.”

Perhaps, too, the weight of physical, everyday tasks is a reminder that we live in a physical world with limitations and constant needs. That reminder increases our anticipation and longing for the day we’ll be released from these bodies and this world.

At any rate, my perspective changed that day. I had no thought of Labor Day when I first started compiling these thoughts, but perhaps it’s appropriate on this particular day to remind ourselves that “In all labor there is profit, But mere talk leads only to poverty” (Proverbs 14:23, NASB).

I still need to remind myself frequently that my physical tasks are as needful and important as any type of ministry task. I can do them as unto the Lord. Sure, there are ways I can improve: e.g, planning better can help reduce the number of trips to the store. And I still have plenty of time for things like reading and writing – much more time than the Proverbs 31 woman had. But I can serve, as she did, with strength, dignity, industriousness, kindness, and reverence. Even at the grocery store.

(Sharing with Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Faith on Fire)

Older Women in the Church

“Why don’t older women serve in the church?”

This question, asked on a Christian message board years ago, stopped me in my tracks and stayed with me ever since.

As older Christian women, we should never have an “I served my time, let others do it” attitude.

On the other hand, we may not be able to serve in the ways we always have or even in the official ministries of the church.

Join me at The Perennial Gen where I am guest posting today on the topic Why Older Women Don’t Serve and tomorrow on Ways Older Women Can Serve.

(Sharing with Faith on Fire)

A Stirred-up Woman

I keep a section in my “notes” app on my phone for jotting down things that strike me that I want to look into further, either for my own study or perhaps to develop into a blog post. In deleting some old notes recently, I came across a notation that said “The danger of a stirred-up woman: Acts 13:50.” In the KJV this passage says: “But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.” Some other translations use the word “stirred”; some say “incited.” In this chapter, Paul and Barnabas had come to Antioch and shared the gospel, and many believed. “But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him,” verse 45 (ESV), and then by verse 50 they stirred up others to expel the preachers.

I know the passage refers to men as well, but it struck me both as a woman reader and as someone who has seen the results of a stirred-up woman both in others and in myself.

I looked up the Greek word translated as “stirred” or “Incited” in this verse and found it is only used here. So I looked up other verses using the English word “stir.” An interesting study! One can be stirred up in a bad way (all ESV unless otherwise noted):

All day long they injure my cause; all their thoughts are against me for evil. They stir up strife, they lurk; they watch my steps, as they have waited for my life. (Psalm 56:5-6).

Deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. For behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men stir up strife against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord, for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. (Psalm 59:2-3)

Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men; preserve me from violent men, who plan evil things in their heart and stir up wars continually. (Psalm 140:1-2).

Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (Proverbs 10:12).

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1).

A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention. (Proverbs 17:18).

A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched. (Proverbs 28:25).

A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression. (Proverbs 29:22).

And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him [Jesus] and seized him and brought him before the council (Acts 6:12).

 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. (Acts 21:30-31). (There are several passages in Acts about people being stirred up after the apostles preached.)

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11).

…Or in a good way:

And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord‘s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. (Exodus 35:21).

And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen.  All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair [for the tabernacle] (Exodus 35:25-26).

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the Lord had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. (Exodus 36:2).

Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. (Ezra 1:5).

 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6, KJV).

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities [in verses 3-11], though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder…(2 Peter 1:13).

This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,  that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles. (2 Peter 3:1-2).

Furthermore, “stirring” can be done by God, by ourselves, by other people, and by situations.

Sometimes we need stirring. Hosea speaks of sinful people “like a heated oven
whose baker ceases to stir the fire” (7:4b). But sometimes we’re stirred up to the point of getting out of hand, and sadly, it’s usually the negative kind of stirring that does this the quickest.

So when i feel “stirred up,” I need to ask myself:

  • What is stirring me up? Is this from God, from myself, from others?
  • What emotions are stirred up? Anger, spite, selfishness, jealousy? Or love and compassion?
  • Am I being stirred up to a mindless, destructive frenzy or to purposeful usefuless?
  • What am I stirred up to do? Lash out? Exact vengeance? Harm? Put someone in their place? Use my gifts to help others? Serve? Love?

My initial thought of “the danger of a stirred-up woman” is only partially accurate. After this study, I’d instead refer to “the power of a stirred-up woman,” for evil or for good. Self examination in the light of God’s Word will help me understand whether that stirring is something I need to yield to or to confess and repent of.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Porch Stories, Coffee For Your Heart, Faith on Fire)

Looking to Jesus’ example in discipling our children

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(Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Some folks think of Christ only as “a good example.” We know better, of course. We know He is the Son of God, the “brightness of His glory and express image of His Person,” our Lord and Savior. But sometimes we forget that He is also our example in all things, that He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.

One day when my kids were much younger I was reading about Jesus’ disciples bickering and was amused to think how like my own children they were. Then I began to think through that concept a little further. Of course, Jesus relationship to His disciples was not exactly that of a parent and child, but there are ways ways Jesus interacted with His disciples that I could apply to my interactions with my own children, who were also my disciples.

We’re told that we’re changed to be more like Him by beholding Him, so let’s look at, mediate on, and glean from His example.

1) Do your children ever bicker?

Are there any children who don’t bicker? Mine used to fuss about everything from who got the front seat to who got the most meatballs. The disciples certainly argued, fussed, and jockeyed for position as well. Jesus dealt patiently with them, correcting whatever it was they were arguing over, pointing them to truth.

2) Do your children ever interrupt your devotions?

Jesus made provision for a quiet time alone with His Father, rising up a great while before day, going out alone, staying up at night. When the disciples would seek Him out and interrupt Him, He did not seem to get frustrated or angry; He didn’t rebuke them: He just dealt with the matter at hand.

Finding time, solitude, and quietness to spend time with the Lord is one of the hardest things for mothers, especially when children are young. Rosalind Goforth, wife of Jonathan Goforth of China, wrote in her book, Climbing, that if she tried to get up early to have devotions, it only started “the circus” that much earlier as the children would hear her and get up.

Though it is frustrating to be interrupted, we need to look at the situation through our children’s eyes, and picture them looking for Mommy and being met with scowlings and scoldings when they find her with her Bible. What is their reaction going to be toward their mother and toward the Bible she is reading?

A friend of mine once told me of a childhood memory in which she was looking for her mother and walked into her mother’s bedroom. She found her on her knees, weeping, at her bedside. She felt she had walked into something sacred, and the memory never left her. That incident got me to thinking that perhaps I could look on my children’s interruptions of my devotional time as beneficial to them, that perhaps they needed to see their mother reading her Bible and praying in the ordinary course of the day. So, instead of getting frustrated at the pitter-patter of little feet when I got up early to have devotions, I began to include my children, either reading out loud to them or praying with them, or just allowing them to cuddle up beside me quietly. If I really needed to be alone, I could give them quiet instructions or get them involved with a different activity. I don’t know if they will have specific memories of those times, but I trust their own attitudes toward having devotions were influenced favorably, and I hope that seeing their mother in the Word was and will be a blessing to them.

3) Do your children ever misunderstand you?

Jesus’ disciples did not understand why He “must needs go through Samaria,” why He was talking to the woman at the well, what He was talking about when He said He had bread to eat they knew not of, etc. Just so, our children do not always understand why they can’t have more candy, why they can’t go to that party or watch that movie, why they have to move away from their school and friends, why Grandpa died. Sometimes our Lord explained the situation further; sometimes He just went on with what He had to do. Sometimes we can explain things to our children: sometimes hours of repeated explaining still won’t satisfy them. All we can do is try to teach them to trust us and trust the Lord, to trust and obey.

Those lessons of faith provide building blocks for their future experiences with the Lord, as Romans 5:3-4 remind us: “tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” Once when we had to move due to my husband’s job, which was, of course, a trying situation for the whole family, we tried to keep the focus on what the Lord had for us around the bend. Our children found that they liked their new church and school situation much better and made good friends. Some years later we faced the possibility of another move, and once again they faced that possibility gloomily. Yet we could remind them of the outcome of their previous experience with moving, and, though they weren’t excited about the prospect, they could face it in faith.

4) Do your children ever try to distract you from God’s purposes for you?

One time Jesus had healed people all day. When His disciples sought Him out the next morning to tell Him that people were seeking Him, He told them He needed to go to other towns and preach: His primary purpose was to preach, not heal everyone at that time (Mark 1: 32-39). This kind of distraction seems to be an outgrowth of misunderstanding, and a simple explanation set things straight.

We, too, are faced with myriads of opportunities these days, both as individuals and as families, in the spiritual realm as well as the secular. Sometimes a family has to look at the bigger picture and eliminate things that are not wrong in themselves, but would be a drain of time and energy and a distraction from our main purposes. For instance, one of my teen-agers had an opportunity one summer to go on a mission trip, attend two different camps, and work at another camp for six weeks. He couldn’t possibly do all of that. In addition, we needed to paint his room and wanted him to be a part of that experience as training for when he became the head of a household with those responsibilities. Plus there were youth group activities scattered throughout the summer. And he really needed to get a part-time job and start saving for college. It isn’t easy to sort through all of the good opportunities, and there may be differences of opinion as to which ones to take advantage of and which to eliminate. But we trusted that as we sought the Lord’s wisdom and discussed all the possibilities, the best ones were chosen.

Sometimes, however, distraction from God’s purposes is a matter of unyieldedness. Peter went so far as to rebuke Jesus when He spoke of His coming death. He got a strong rebuke from Jesus in return.

5) Do your children ever not “get” what you are trying to teach them?

This happened so often with the disciples! Jesus just kept laying line upon line, precept upon precept, and went on with what He had to do, knowing they would understand in time. And we have to do that, too, as parents.

Sometimes He did question them (for example, when they were on the boat during the storm while Jesus was asleep. They woke Him up, saying, “Carest Thou not that we perish?” After He stilled the storm, He asked, “Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?”) Sometimes He rebuked them (Mark 16:14: “Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen.”) Sometimes we need to be patient with our children’s immaturity (just as our Lord is patient with ours), but sometimes they, too, need a stern rebuke when they should “know better.”

6) Do you love your children, knowing full well they will fail you and disappoint you?

Jesus certainly does, with the disciples and also with us. The most poignant example, to me, was before His crucifixion, knowing the disciples would forsake Him and that Peter would deny Him. “But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not.” We cherish the best expectations for our children: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor, 13:7). But just as “he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust,” so we know that our children are only human and will fail from time to time. Though there may be consequences to deal with, by God’s grace we always love them and offer to them the same forgiveness He offers us. “Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him” (Ps 103:13).

I am sure that there are many more examples than this of our Lord’s example to us on earth that we could apply to parenting: His love for them, His instructing, illustrated by stories they could comprehend; His teaching them the work of the ministry by example and then by sending them out on their own, etc. How good to know that He knows exactly what we go through as parents and that He will give us the wisdom, compassion, and grace we need!

 And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John 1:14

(Postscript: This is revised from an article I wrote years ago that was published in a magazine which I cannot find now but which I think is no longer published. It would take too long and probably not be very interesting to relate the details, but something I read yesterday touched off a series of thoughts which eventually reminded me of this article, led to an unsuccessful search for my copy of the magazine, and then a successful find of a draft of it in an old computer file. I hope it is an encouragement to you.)

(Sharing with Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Glimpses, Soul Survival, Literary Musing Monday, Inspire Me Monday, Tell His Story)

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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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