Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a topic that seems to separate the younger and older generation of women in the Church.
It seems that younger women feel discouraged when older women don’t lead Bible studies and intentionally pursue discipleship. This discouragement comes from a very real need for mentorship and a very real enthusiasm to grow as Christians. Younger women want to work, lead, be discipled, and to disciple, yet they feel unqualified to jump in and do it themselves. They believe that these acts of service must be reserved for older women.
Meanwhile, the older women seem discouraged to get involved because they are already committed to serving their families (now with grandchildren and aging husbands) and friends (also, now aging and with lives full of concerns). Some say they feel less strong and less energetic than they did a decade ago: leading Bible Studies seems daunting. Of course older women want to continue serving the Church, yet they feel uncertain about how to meet everyone’s needs with limited resources.
I’m beginning to wonder if both generations misunderstand the appropriate expectations for age and work.
In Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Model for Women Mentoring Women, Susan Hunt explores this very real conflict, seeing each generations’ weaknesses and needs as legitimate. She says, when we are wondering how to work side-by-side in the Church, we could
“Consider the relationship between Ruth and Naomi – an impressive illustration of spiritual mothering. In this Old Testament story, we see two women who had bonded! Naomi must have done something right to have elicited such commitment from her daughter-in-law.” (p.15)
What did Naomi do right?
- Acceptance. Hunt points out that – first and foremost – Ruth must have felt Naomi’s acceptance. A Moabite accepted fully into an Israelite family would have meant the world to Ruth.
- Faithful living. And – just as importantly – Ruth must have heard of Naomi’s Jehovah and seen His reality in Naomi’s life. These two powerful attributes – acceptance of Ruth, and faith in God – would have been enough to win Ruth’s heart and devotion.
- Sending Ruth to work. Hunt points out that when Ruth and Naomi arrived in Israel, Ruth worked in the fields and Naomi stayed at home, encouraging and instructing Ruth from day to day.
Hunt’s reply to younger women is, “You’re asking [older women] to go out into the fields rather than encourage and equip you to go.” (p. 16)
(I love this. Younger women may go out into the fields and older women may encourage them to go!)
A younger woman’s passionate enthusiasm for Scripture, for serving and teaching and worshiping, is needed right now. This may be precisely the right time to take the next step in growing as an active member of the Church. This may be precisely the right time to pray about how God would like you to work.
Naomi was willing to continue in her faith while nurturing and accepting Ruth, she developed a relationship with a younger woman that – century’s later – is upheld as the epitome of devotion to God. Not only that, but God used their friendship to continue the family line of the Messiah. What an example to us!
If you are a younger woman, I hope you lead the Bible studies and teach the Sunday School classes, appreciating every ounce of instruction and encouragement from older women as you go. Realize that you must begin somewhere and that God will help you to grow as you work faithfully.
If you are an older woman, I hope you work “in the field” as long as the Lord calls you there. And afterwards, I hope you invest prayer and instruction into a younger woman who has just begun the work, realizing that she will grow as you nurture her and continue in your faith.
Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – from Matthew 9