What qualifies someone as an older woman who teaches younger women? In other words, who are to be the teachers and who are to be the learners? The answer is important. If we get this mixed up, we will quickly get off course.
Chronological, or even spiritual age—the number of years she has been a Christian—does not necessarily make someone an “older” woman according to Scripture. In the context of Titus 2:3-5 (see also 1 Tim. 5:3-14, Heb. 13:7, Phil. 3:17 ), we can see that an older woman has proven character and a fruitful lifestyle.
These two litmus tests of the godly older woman highlight the inner character and the outward result of that character. They help us to discern if we are qualified to teach and who is qualified to teach us.
Proven character – Proof of genuine character requires time and tests. A woman must be a faithful Christian for some length of time and pass tests of faith that result in greater maturity and steadfastness (James 1:3-4). In the words of Titus 2, she is reverent and godly, and has self-control over her tongue and her body. She is not yet perfect, but she is proven.
This means an “older” woman may be quite young. A girl not yet twenty who has walked through the teenage years with purity, righteousness, and love for family and church may be an older woman to younger girls. Or a young pastor’s wife may be a godly example to older members of her husband’s congregation. An older woman need not have passed every test, only passed her tests well.
Fruitful lifestyle – To identify the godly older woman, look at those around her, starting with her family. Here is where the Bible starts (Titus 2:3-5, 1 Tim. 5:3-14). Is the woman faithful to her husband and children, to her parents and her home? Does she leave behind a lovely trail of sacrificial service in the church?
The godly older woman may have a wayward child or a difficult husband or spent hours counseling a woman who wanders from the faith. But she will also have abundant fruit in her marriage and parenting, and in the lives of the women she has counseled and served.
Last year, a prominent Christian magazine published an article entitled: “50 Women to Watch,” and it occurred to me that the fifty women to watch are probably the ones that nobody is watching (except maybe a small child or an elderly dependent or a grieving woman). The women to watch are probably serving in secret, which is why you often see the fruit of a godly woman’s life before you ever see her.
So we must be discerning. Just because a woman in our church has a compelling personality or a desire to teach other women, or just because a woman is a clever writer of books and blogs, we must not automatically assume she is a woman to follow. Take a closer look at her life. Consider the fruit.
Follow a woman you want to be like. Follow a fruitful woman.
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Barbara wrote in to say: I’d love to see a post on what you’d advise moms to do when their children have a public meltdown, whether it is an occasional or a chronic issue.
Aaahhh, the public meltdown. Every mother can take you to an exact time and place where she has wanted to melt into the floor. My eighty-plus-year-old grandma still loves to tell the story of when my dad, just a little guy, got hold of a fire extinguisher in the produce aisle. Hard to top that one.
I put this question to Mom and Janelle the other day and we all laughed, a little dryly. Some memories are funny, and for some of us, a little too fresh.
Better answers are probably out there, but here are a few thoughts we had, from our own experience and from other moms.
First of all, we need to step back and think about public tantrums biblically and objectively. In other words, if this is a tantrum emergency, simply evacuate the premises (with child of course), and read this later.
1. Our children, to put a fine theological point on it, are cute and corrupt. They are tempted, just as we are. And public places are wired with child-size temptations: stores filled with sweets, parks with empty swings, church with little friends. We shouldn’t be surprised when they sin, but we should plan accordingly.
2. Kids are smart. They know when they’ve got us where they want us. Even a little tyke can tell when Mommy is vulnerable, distracted, or powerless to stop them. And most children, in most cases, are going to take advantage of this opportunity. We need to be smarter.
3. A public meltdown is not the ultimate measure of our parenting. It is one of many data points by which we should honestly evaluate our parenting. It means we’ve still got work to do, but it doesn’t always mean we are failing to do that work. I know parents who are incredibly faithful, but whose child still throws a fit sometimes when they leave the park. Over time (even a lot of time!), a child who is being diligently trained at home will stop disobeying in public. So just because it doesn’t happen right away doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing it wrong.
4. On the other hand, if tantrums show no signs of abating, but are increasing in frequency and intensity, we must resist the temptation to be proud or defensive or pretend it isn’t happening. No one is served by an angry response or a “Don’t judge me!” retort. We have a problem and it needs to be dealt with. And we may need help from older, godly parents. Either way, we must take the long view.
5. We aren’t in this parenting thing to avoid embarrassment. Seasoned parents know better; they gave reputation up for loss many tantrums ago. Our goal is to train our children to walk in the ways of the Lord (Deut 6:4-9). Our job description is faithfulness (Gal. 6:9). Mom’s advice has always helped me keep a biblical perspective: “You should not be embarrassed if your child (a known sinner) publicly displays his or her sin. You should only be ‘embarrassed’ if you are not consistently training and disciplining them according to God’s Word.”
6. If our goal is to glorify God (and not just avoid humiliation), we will approach public situations as part of a broader parenting plan that is informed by God’s Word. We will consider how we can serve our children by eliminating unnecessary temptation. We will strategize in order to maintain our loving authority. We will also have an eye to serve others—fellow shoppers, church members, other moms and children—before ourselves.
7. Being objective and thinking biblically helps us keep our chin up and our heart humble. It also drives our strategy. We can prepare, avoid, and react to public tantrums in a way that honors God, trains our children, and serves others. A generous helping of how-to ideas to follow in the next post.
Sunday night, Mike and I went to the movies with Steve and Nicole. (Big thanks to one amazing Mom-Mom for babysitting!) We pretended to be teenagers…well, I guess we are too old for that…let’s say we pretended to be in our twenties. We took stupid grainy pics of ourselves on our phones. We ate popcorn and candy and tried to keep ourselves awake past nine.
It was fun. It was rest. It was needed.
When the night was over we left our twenties at the theatre and returned home to our eight kids. Monday was almost here. Jobs to work, kids to care for, and homes to be tended.
Life is busy. It is good. We are grateful.
Destination matters; not just how we feel along the way.
Take the whooping cranes, for example. A lone whooping crane, or batch of inexperienced flyers, may enjoy the breeze and the scenery every bit as much as the whoopers who follow an older bird, but they all have to land some time. And it matters where they touch down.
“So what is our destination?” we may well ask. What is the end goal of older women teaching younger women?
Faith. Patience. Love. Purity. Steadfastness. Progress. (Heb 13.7, 2 Tim. 3:10, 1 Tim. 4:12-15)
That the word of God may not be reviled. (Tit. 2:5)
That we may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. (Tit. 2:10)
We are to imitate and follow godly women so we might reach Destination Godliness.
But if we are honest, we sometimes want more sympathy than steadfastness out of discipleship. We prefer more understanding, less exhortation. A little more comfort and a little less correction.
So we tend to drift toward the “What you? Me too!” friend who makes us feel OK about our shortcomings. We prefer friends who can relate to our struggles, who are “real” about their faults. But we may keep our distance—and even judge—the woman who seems godlier, more “together” (we say, a tad derisively) than we are.
We may like to talk, even debate, serious theology, but resist inquiry into how that theology is working out in our home, our work-place, or our parenting. We may shower likes on blog posts where women share faults and failures as if they are badges of honor, but pass over an article or book that we fear may make us feel bad about ourselves.
We sometimes have a take the sugar hold the medicine approach to discipleship.
But this is not to our benefit. “Who is the friend who will be a real blessing to my soul?” asks Charles Bridges: “Is it one who will humor my fancies and flatter my vanity?....This comes far short of my need. I am a poor, straying sinner with a wayward will and a blinded heart, going wrong at every step.”
The authors of the epistles see our need. They don’t laugh off faults and failures. Rather, they repeatedly, relentlessly remind us that a life transformed by the gospel should look like it. They exhort us, by the grace of God and in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, to stay on course, press forward to maturity, and make progress toward the goal. And if we are to reach our destination, they tell us, younger women need to follow older women. (More to come on who these older women are, anyway. Not all of them have white hair.)
While it is a wonderful blessing to have friends to walk with us, we also need friends who have walked ahead of us. We need women who have weathered storms and passed landmarks of godliness to teach us how to make progress in our faith. We need godly, older women to help us reach our destination.
Caitlin asks: Can you elaborate more on teaching children “emotional self-discipline”? How do you train children to manage their feelings in a way that glorifies God? How early can this training start?
As usual, this is a vast and vital topic, but here are a few thoughts gleaned from Mom over the years.
First of all, emotional self-discipline or self-control is an important quality to teach children. This does not mean we train them to be stoic or unemotional. We teach them that feelings are a delightful gift from God, meant to be enjoyed, but also to be controlled. “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28). Our job as parents is to help our children build those walls.
Example We must begin with example. From their earliest days, we can model self-control of our own emotions in our lives and in response to our child’s lack of self-control. So instead of panicking when they panic or getting angry when they scream, we demonstrate a self-controlled response to the situation. One of the most effective ways my parents helped my sisters and me to learn emotional self-control (still learning, by the way!) was to model a calm demeanor, and even an affectionate amusement at our melodrama. So if we overreacted to painless fall or harmless comment, they would lovingly joke with us and teach us to laugh at ourselves. By training us not to take ourselves too seriously, they were helping us build a protective wall of self-control against the flood of emotion that flows from innate pride.
Teaching In age-appropriate ways we must teach our children what God’s Word says about the importance of self-control. Memorize Bible verses (Prov. 25:28, 1 Cor. 9:24-27, Gal. 5:22-24, 1 Tim. 2:9, 2 TIm. 1:7, 2 Pet. 1:5-8). Make learning fun through family role play—acting out a right and wrong way to respond. And sing songs about self-control. To Be Like Jesus, the children’s album from Sovereign Grace Music includes two songs about self-control. Seeds of Character by Seeds Worship also includes great Scriptures set to song, including Galatians 5:16-22.
Discipline Obviously if a child responds with strong emotion that is angry or defiant in nature, this requires consistent, loving discipline as well as consistent training. Toddlers need lots of practice to learn self-control. We can train them by insisting on self-control before we give our children what they want. For example, they must stop crying or ask cheerfully if they want the toy, or they must stop screaming if they want to stay in the room and play. Teaching a small child emotional self-control usually requires several intense years of consistent training and discipline. But if we don’t give up, this training will yield much fruit in our child’s life.
Training Of course, in the beauty of God’s plan, each child is different, and some children are more emotional than others. For example, one of Janelle’s children used to struggle with frequent emotional outbursts that weren’t necessarily defiant in nature, but overly emotional given the circumstances. Janelle and Mike sought advice from Mom and Dad and came up with a plan to help their daughter grow in emotional self-control. When she would overreact, Mike and Janelle would calmly instruct her to place her hand on her mouth and quiet down. This simple, specific action helped her regain her composure and made self-control to an obedience issue. Then Mike and Janelle would explain what self-control should look like, and instruct her to remove her hand and respond in a self-controlled manner (e.g. asking kindly or playing cheerfully, etc.). While this took several years of consistent training, it was well worth it. Janelle’s daughter now displays the sweet fruit of emotional self-control. Our Goal: Protect and
Prepare Self-control protects and prepares our children. It protects them from unbridled emotions which can lead to sin and consequences, and it prepares them to handle the decisions and difficulties of life in a mature and godly manner. Training our children to be self-controlled requires perseverance, but let’s not grow weary in doing good (Gal 6:9). Let’s diligently help our children to build a strong wall of emotional self-control.
Those nice old ladies in the grocery store are right- it goes way too fast.
Seven decades ago, the whooping crane population was nearly extinct: there were only sixteen birds left on the planet. Wildlife biologists got to work preserving the endangered bird and today there are almost six hundred whooping cranes and counting. (Yes, this is girltalk, not Animal Planet. Stick with me. The relevance of the whooping crane will soon become clear.)
The scientists weren’t content with boosting numbers; they wanted to restore the whooping crane “culture”—to help whooping cranes teach other whooping cranes what it means to be a real whooping crane. As it turns out, part of being a real whooping crane involves a yearly migration of upwards of a thousand kilometers to sunny Florida. So these wildlife biologists trained and then tracked the migrating birds.
But soon an anomaly appeared. While some groups of migrating whooping cranes glided straight to their destination, other groups drifted forty to fifty miles off course. There was only one difference between the birds that flew straight and “the crooked fliers:” an older bird in the group. The birds that flew more accurately followed an older bird.*
You probably see where I am going with this. A parable for Christian women. As younger women trying to fly straight according to God’s Word, we need older women to help us stay on course.
Scripture is clear about this. Titus 2 most famously tells us: “Older women are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…that the word of God may not be reviled” (v. 3-5). And peppered throughout the epistles are instructions for younger Christians to follow more mature Christians: “Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Heb. 13:7). “Join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (Phil 3:17).
Three things (at least) stand out in these verses:
1. Some Christians are older and some are younger (and it is important to know which you are).
2. An older Christian is one who has an “outcome” (not merely an opinion) worth following.
3. Younger Christians are to “keep their eyes on” the older Christians (not follow the younger Christians or figure it out for themselves).
These days, in our churches and on our blogs, we often get it backwards. Young women are quick to “test their wings” (sorry, I couldn’t resist!), to teach and take the lead, while older women are often marginalized or ignored.
Young women can be more consumed with avoiding the mistakes of the previous generation than learning from their wisdom. We are often better at criticizing than following those who are older in the faith. We think we can find our own way.
But there are also many young women who know they are young, who know they need an older, more experienced guide. They want to be mentored, but can’t seem to find anyone. “Where did all the older women go?” they wonder.
More than ever, we need experienced, fruitful women to teach and train the young women. We need those who have flown a straight path according to the Word of God to show us the way. We need to restore a Christian culture where younger women learn from older women what it means to be real women.
How can we make this happen? What does it look like? Let’s talk.