Every family has a “family historian” — one who remembers the times, places, events and relationships between different family members. In some families that historian is more of a statistician, and in others it is a storyteller. In my family, we have storytellers (which, by the way, can make some of the statistics questionable), and I am thankful for a sense of history and connection to those who precede me by a few generations. My family was the first family (on either side) to ever venture west of the Mississippi. My mother’s family were farm people, and my father’s family were city (New York City) people. When we moved from the east coast to California, we put 3,000 miles between us and our regular connection with extended family. What was lost in that were some of the stories – stories I heard almost every weekend as we spent time with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. I remember stories that made us laugh until we had tears rolling down our faces, hearing the retelling of the escapades of our “elders” when they were young, and the things they did that got them in trouble. Then there were stories that made us hush in reverence, because they were the stories of loss. As a child, these were sacred times. The mysteries of life — growing up, growing older, facing challenges, and learning to laugh at the end of the day — all of this was passed on through stories.
Some of the best conversations were in the kitchen, with the women. Largely by overhearing conversations not intended for me, I got glimpses into the inner sanctum of marriage, parenting, divorce, disappointments, aspirations. In the conversations that were intended for me, there was advice and encouragement – a view from experienced women about the road ahead.
Titus 2:3-5 instructs older women to be reverent in their behavior “so that they may encourage the young women ” to be loving people, caring for husband, children, friends, “to be self-controlled, chaste, kind… so that the word of God may not be discredited.” The role of older women is clear: Come alongside younger women to encourage, be a role model to, and instruct. How does this work today? Most of us don’t work together on farms, quilt, or bake bread together and, in our mobile society, most don’t live within close proximity to extended family. The ease of natural cross-generational wisdom and instruction has largely disappeared from our cultural landscape.
We are further fragmented by our lifestyles. Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Longing for More: A Woman’s Path to Transformation in Christ, says, “…the number of working women has increased so dramatically that the networking that used to occur quite naturally no longer takes place. The woman who chooses to stay at home full time may find herself the only one home in her neighborhood during the day. In the meantime, working women find that they are barely holding themselves and their family together, without much energy or time for mutually beneficial relationships. Ironically, these very differences cause us to need such helping relationships now more than ever.” Add to that the fact that we live in a world broken in too many ways to list here. It all touches our lives, and we need connection with other women to help us live as faithful people.
…Well…? The answer to this dilemma could be simpler than we think. First, a necessary component to this solution isa recognition that God has given each of us something to offer younger women. Praise God for the young women in their twenties who serve younger high school women in our youth group! Women in their thirties and forties have so much to teach those navigating the challenging years of choosing vocation, marriage, children, or what it means to be single and living out our faith. In other words, women who do not consider themselves “older” are always older to someone who could use some encouragement. I am in my late forties. I need women older than me to help guide me in how to be a consistently loving and godly parent to my teenage children. I need to understand how to face losses, how to be a faithful friend as my friends face losses, and how to love God through seasons that sometimes feel discouraging. How thankful I am for the perspective of those who are a few steps ahead of me.
Secondly, as we live in this time when women of different generations do not always have natural venues to be together, we need to be intentional in seeking those of a different generation for mutual discipleship. Did you notice that I did not impose responsibility on one generation to seek the other? Younger women, invite an older woman you respect to coffee. Older women, do the same! Try to get in homegroups or women’s Bible studies where you will be placed with others outside your generation. Also, notice the intentional use of the word “mutual”. Mutual discipleship always occurs when we seek it with humility. I can say as one who speaks from experience that I spent too much of my younger years desiring self-sufficiency over instruction. How sad for me! Simple pride probably kept a lot of wise and godly older women at arm’s length from me because, you see, older women can sense when a younger woman does not want help or input. I can say that with experience from where I sit now, at this, most recent, season of my life.
Recognition that God wants to use us in the lives of other women; intentionality to carry that forward; and humility to seek God’s larger purpose of kingdom-building in the process — all of this is a joy-filled adventure that God calls us to as women.
I was able to take a trip back east to visit family last year, and spent some great time with one of my aunts. She is our family historian, a verbal gallery of stories and life lessons. This time we talked about growing older, and we talked about faith. I came home wistful, and missing her presence in my day to day life. I also came home, with a greater sense than ever, that God puts this wistful desire in all of our hearts because He desires it for us first – so that we may know Him better. How tender of Him to suggest the encouragement of other women, younger and older, along the way.