Some time ago, a young woman asked who had mentored me. She was surprised when I replied I'd never been mentored. I had in mind, of course, the idea that mentoring involves a formal, weekly or biweekly meeting with a wise older woman—doing a Bible or book study together and learning how to live as a Christian woman. I have never experienced this specific kind of mentoring.
But I've been mentored. And a chief tool has been reading good books. Early in my years as a wife and mom, I avidly pored over every Elisabeth Elliot book I could find. Her writing shaped my soul in countless ways. Even today I can recall many wise thoughts from her pen. In more recent years, I've worked my way through Puritan and Reformed writings, finding much nourishment for my soul from John Owen, J. C. Ryle, John Murray, and a host of others. During the last decade, I've discovered and been so helped by Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) writers (e.g., David Powlison, Paul Tripp, Ed Welch, Elyse Fitzpatrick, and so on) who've shown me how to apply God's sufficient Word to the circumstances of life. And of course, reading contemporary theologians (e.g., J. I. Packer, John Piper, Don Carson) provides a steady diet of truth about God. I frequently thank the Lord for the wealth of resources available to us, and I want to be faithful to share these resources with those who have far less.
I've also been mentored by observing others. At a school where my husband previously taught, the dean's wife invited us faculty wives to gather monthly for lunch and prayer for the students. I learned much from watching how she ensured the time devoted to sharing prayer requests was kept brief so that we could actually spend our time praying. What a helpful example! Another older faculty wife I particularly respected mentored me unknowingly as she discussed ways she practiced hospitality and served students. I want to be like Jean when I grow up, I often thought.
I'm continually mentored by the godly women with whom I'm blessed to spend time. I learn much about loving my husband from the ways my friends love their husbands through challenging times. I learn home management tips by observing those extra-organized sisters of mine. And I'm fully aware “mentoring” is not necessarily age-oriented. I frequently learn from and am challenged by comments from the youngest woman in our small group. I view all of these opportunities as informal mentoring.
Becoming a Faithful Older Woman
As a seminary professor's wife, a lot of my time is spent with younger women—often student wives who have questions about their roles as wife and mom. There are far more young women than there are older women to meet with them. Though I cannot fulfill all the requests I receive to meet with them, this is how I attempt to be a faithful older woman.
1. If someone asks to meet, I try to get together at least once, if possible. I endeavor to learn some of her story, discern current struggles, give some advice and suggested resources, and ask how I can pray. I keep lists of women with whom I've met, pray for them regularly, and seek to follow up when I see them.
2. I give priority to young women who are members of my church. We're in a covenant relationship together; therefore, I have a special commitment to them. It's also more natural to have relationships with those whom you see regularly in the course of worship and service. I seek to meet with a number of women monthly or bimonthly. There are certainly cases of greater urgency, however, when I meet regularly with a woman in need.
3. Our seminary has an institute of classes for student wives, and I'm involved in teaching some of those classes. Though this isn't one-on-one mentoring, I do see it as a way of fulfilling God's Titus 2 calling on my life (Titus 2:3-5).
4. I'm grateful for the use of technology to influence and bless others. I frequently read or hear something I can pass on to someone I think it might benefit. I'm grateful for the opportunities to continue relationships via email with women who have moved away—throughout the country and the world—to ministry positions. I fear we underestimate the encouragement a Scripture text, an inquiry about a prayer request, or a “safe” listening ear can offer.
These guidelines help me safeguard my first priorities (being a wife, mother, and grandmother) while seeking to influence a variety of women to grow in knowing, loving, and trusting the Lord, in loving and submitting to their husbands, and in caring for children and homes.
Bow Your Head and Open Your Eyes
You may be longing for a formal mentor, someone who can sit down and speak into your life each week. Pray and ask God for that tremendous gift. He may grant it. But if he doesn't, or until he does, seek out resources already available to you in order to be mentored—even at a distance—by other Christians. I often challenge young, busy moms to read one chapter of a good book each day. You can work your way through a number of books that way. And you're giving your soul something nourishing.
Look for opportunities to be around the women in your church. If you can join a women's Bible study or prayer group, make that a priority. If nothing fits your schedule, ask if a different time slot could be considered. And look for opportunities to serve alongside other women: volunteering in music ministry, working in the kitchen or nursery, organizing an outreach event or an evening for women's ministry—all of these outlets and more help you learn from the women in your church family, both older and younger.
Most importantly, maintain a vital relationship with the Lord through his Word, which sanctifies us (John 17:17). If we truly believe that, we will seek with regularity, with intentionally, with priority, to place ourselves under the influence of his Word, which teaches, encourages, convicts, and grows us all into Christlikeness. What a blessing to know that God equips us for all he calls us to do (Heb. 13:20-21).