In 1 Timothy 5, the Apostle Paul advises the young minister about how he is to view women, and that advice is extremely helpful to us women, as well. The passage admonishes us to see “older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, with all purity” (v. 2). Too often today, women competitively seek to exalt themselves over other women, whether older or younger. A widely held attitude is that younger women are out of touch and naive. Ironically, younger women can have the same view of older women!
As Christians, we are to think the best of others. Young women should learn to deeply respect their elders and appreciate the experiences and the lessons they have learned. Older women should remember their earlier days and recognize that youthful energy and zeal are extremely beneficial if wisely directed. I have found myself on both sides of this issue, being both an older woman among a group of budding youngsters and a younger woman surrounded by seniors.
Shining a Positive Light
When I was a young woman, I was still coming to understand who I was and how I fit into God’s overall plan. Though I had few years of experience, I had learned some things I should repeat and some things I should never do again. Approaching my future with determination and zeal to make the most of it, I wanted to feel that I had something of value to offer at church, in my family, and in life in general.
Once I had children, I soon discovered that I did not have everything about parenting figured out. I needed guidance and understanding from wise women. I still strongly remember, from about 18 years past, the example of a thoughtful woman with a hospitable nature. Her one “little” action had a profound effect on me and makes me think of Paul’s expression “with all purity” in the verse mentioned earlier. My toddler had made a huge mess when I had looked away for what seemed like two seconds, and I was concerned someone could fall in the amount of time it took me to clean it up. I hurried to grab a handful of paper towels and rushed back, while this considerate woman noticed it right away and quietly got her own bundle of paper towels. We met eye to eye on the floor, on our knees, and I don’t think she even said a word. She just helped do what was needful, with all purity. Her motivation came from a pure heart of love to help alleviate the embarrassment. This woman’s humble and gracious act remains with me as an example I want to emulate.
Avoiding a Negative Light
On the other hand, advice given before someone is open to it is usually counterproductive. Unsolicited advice out of nowhere can quickly turn people off. A young woman may just be trying to get through the Sabbath or Holy Day service after a long car ride with a screaming baby. An older woman who approaches her with a welcoming and accepting attitude may be able to defuse the tension and facilitate a better experience at services not only that Sabbath, but in the future as well. “Hello, how are you doing today? (Let her answer.) How was the ride to services? (Let her answer.) You have a lot to carry (baby, baby bag, blankets, etc.) May I help you with anything?” Meeting her at the door without kindness and gentleness can make a bad situation worse, create an awkward situation, or be very discouraging. It can put her on the defensive and discount what she has already learned and accomplished with her children.
We need to give each other some space and approach each other with an attitude of “How may I help you?,” as Mr. Ames explains in his article in the May–June 2021 Living Church News. The women I was drawn to when I was young were women who seemed sincerely to care about me, my husband, and my children. I still appreciate those who took time to get to know us and showed a genuine interest in seeing us succeed as a happy, well-rounded family. I also wanted to make sure I got sound advice from a woman who knew something about a matter. Did she seem to have a successful marriage? How did her kids behave, overall? Obviously, no woman has a perfect marriage or perfect children. Still, there were some grown or growing children I was especially impressed with, whose parents had instilled in them character developments I wanted my own children to have. I thought of it as their “fruit,” and a virtuous woman will bear good fruit. I wanted to find out how they had guided their child to grow in these attributes. On the other hand, those who have learned from mistakes in parenting may be able to give excellent advice on what to avoid doing.
Those years of early marriage and childrearing are past, and my life has changed. When we sing a hymn I am less familiar with, I may glance down at the lyrics and look up and sing the wrong word. Truth is, I cannot see like I used to. I see white streaks peeking out of my brunette hair, and someday mine will match all the other hoary heads at church. It is shocking, comforting, and exciting all at the same time. I feel my age even more when I am around younger people and they are facing things I faced 20 years ago. I get excited and want to share everything I’ve learned about the subject right away—after all, I lived it for years and it is a subject I have been tried in. And then I remember that if I were that youngster, a too-hasty outpouring of advice would not have made me want to drink in the wisdom that may have been offered. So, I have learned to hold back. I try to approach the situation gently, as a mother who is willing to listen and who shows outgoing concern. I haven’t always done this correctly, but over time, I have improved in patience and centering myself in genuine love. When a young woman builds that trust and respect for you, she will even ask your advice! And at that point, too, I must carefully think about my words and give only as much as she may be willing to hear.
Learning from Our Elders
Now I want to address the younger women, including me, since there are people older than me from whom I can learn: Strive to be open to hearing a story you have heard three times before. A story retold is a story that is important to the person, a treasured memory. I have learned that sometimes they will add an important detail that they did not include the previous three times.
Consider also that older people can get lonely. Their kids move away. A spouse can die. They may not have had anyone to talk with all week, other than a store clerk or the mail carrier. Spending a few minutes visiting with them may be a kind gift to them—and there could be stories you have not heard, containing amazing lessons they have learned. They may have had experiences that can “knock your socks off”!
Years ago, at the Feast of Tabernacles, I saw an elderly man from my congregation. I had only ever talked to him briefly and his speech was hard for me to understand. At that Feast, he roomed with the young man who would become my husband. I remember that, seeing him coming towards me, I quickly looked around to see who else I could talk to before he reached me. But there was no escape, and here I was with this older man whom I liked but didn’t really know. He sat next to me and started to reminisce. I strained to listen to his mumbled speech and, as the minutes went by, I was able to understand his words more and more. This man had lived an extremely interesting life! He told me stories about his family, his travels, and even of movie stars he had met. From his wallet he pulled out two pictures. One was of him as a handsome young man, standing next to Elvis Presley! The other was of him standing next to John Wayne! This little man with shoe lifts and a soft voice was a very interesting person, and I learned a lot from him. In addition, I learned more about how I should approach older people.
Appreciating One Another
Every older person has a story. Not everything will interest you, but let me tell you, there’s a lot more than meets the eye! Give these elders more of your attention; they will eventually relate an experience or lesson that will really interest you. You can gain a lot from older people’s experiences. The more you break out of your comfort zone and talk to those of other ages, the more you will expand your own knowledge. Older women have had gains, losses, joys, and trials with their children. They understand men a little better from being married and having to communicate daily to learn to work as a team. It is a lifelong process to understand the opposite sex—as women, we need all the help we can get, at any age.
Younger women can learn from older women, and gracious older women can learn from younger women. Some young people have had valuable experiences that their elders haven’t! We all have godly gifts, different personalities, and much to offer. We can glean from one another, understand our brethren at a deeper level, enjoy fellowship, and experience kindness in our spiritual relationships. We can be godly mothers and sisters to each other. I’m sure God would be pleased to see us being grandmothers, aunts, daughters, and granddaughters to each other, too. Let us come together in unity, treating the other women in the Church with all purity.