Kristi Anyabwile on An Open Letter to the Older Women in the Church

Dear Older Sister in Christ,

I begin this letter to you with a sad story. The first two older women I asked to mentor me said no. I was devastated. I knew both women pretty well. We served together in the same church and enjoyed sweet fellowship together as sisters in Christ, and they were women whom everyone referred to as “Aunt Mary” and “Mama Gracie.” When you read Titus 2:3–5, their names are written all over it as models of women who were reverent, self-controlled, lovers of their husbands and children, and so on. Many women were learning from their godly lifestyle and strong faith, so I was excited about the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with them. You may ask, “If you were already learning from them, what more were you looking for?” Having been a Christian for only a couple of years, I was looking for an older woman with whom my life could be an open book. I desired someone to hold my hand as I walked out my faith and callings as a young wife and mother. I needed a spiritual mom, someone who could help teach and train me to live for the glory of God in all of life.

When I made my first request, Mama Gracie and I met at a local restaurant. Although I knew what I would order for breakfast, I nervously scanned the menu, stalling for time and praying for boldness and just the right words to express my desires. I’d prayed for God’s wisdom on just whom to ask, and believed this woman could encourage my faith as a young believer in Christ and equip me to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. I finally placed my order, put away the menu, took a deep breath, and said something like, “Mama Gracie, thanks for coming to have breakfast with me. I’ve been so encouraged by your faith and have been learning so much from you as I’ve watched you teach the toddlers in Sunday school, care for your children and grandchildren, and care for your husband. You have been a model to me in so many ways. But I know there’s much more I need to learn. I’ve been praying for a mentor and believe the Lord directed me to you to ask if you’d consider discipling me and helping me grow in my walk with the Lord.”

Silence. Awkward pause. Mama Gracie took a deep breath and said something like, “Honey [she calls everyone “Honey”], I’m honored you would make such a request of me, but I have to say no right now. I have my grandkids keeping me busy, and work.” Pause. “I don’t think I have time right now.” Embarrassed, hurt, and trying to play it off and let her off the hook, I responded, “Well, that’s okay. I understand [I didn’t]. If your schedule changes in the future, you can let me know.”

“I sure will, Baby” (she calls everyone “Baby”).

I finished that breakfast as soon as possible and drove home in a flood of tears. In that moment I made God a promise that, by his grace, I have kept for over twenty years. I promised God that if any woman in my local church ever asked me to mentor her, I would never say no. I would find some quality time that we could spend together in a one-to-one discipling relationship, whether once a month or once a week, whether for a few weeks or months or years.

Fast-forward years later. I was in conversation with Mama Gracie, and we were talking about the need for discipleship among younger women. Mama Gracie became very quiet, and after a moment of reflection said to me, “You know, I remember when you asked me to disciple you. Honestly, I had never been asked that question before, and I didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t too busy for you. I was scared because I didn’t think I could do what you were asking of me. Honey, I’m sorry for how I responded to you that day.” That conversation left me thinking and praying a lot about how older women could be encouraged to embrace their calling to train younger women, according to the instructions of Titus 2.

But who are the older women? At least three proposals exist in defining who should be considered “older.” Some say Christian maturity marks the older woman. Others say we’re all older than someone else, so, in a sense, we can all be considered older women. Some say there is an age requirement, though none dare suggest a number!

We know from Scripture that at age fifty the Levites’ priestly tabernacle duties changed from manual labor to supporting the younger men who assumed those day-to-day duties (Num. 8:25– 26). We know that Naomi was at least old enough to have grown sons (Ruth 1:1–4) and was apparently beyond the age and ability to remarry and have additional children (v. 12) or to do physical labor, as Ruth went alone to glean in the fields of Boaz (2:2). The Bible praises gray hair and old age (Prov. 16:31; 20:29; Isa. 46:4). Elizabeth was in her old age when she conceived, and though pregnant at the same time, she still took on the role of encourager to the younger Mary (Luke 1:36, 39–45, 56). We also know that women could not be put on church support until they were over sixty years old (1 Tim. 5:9–10).

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Source: Church Leaders