Be the Gray Hair (When Mentors are Sparse)

The Christian community is hungry for mentors yet few of them exist. Would you consider being one in your community?

If you sat across from me right now, you’d probably smile and wonder why I, a woman who can count only one or two gray hairs on my head, feels the liberty to tell you to “be the gray hair” that you want.

Admittedly, I lack gray hair (I hear it may be due to my voracious consumption of broccoli—it keeps you young, apparently). But, I don’t lack the desire to have women with gray hair speaking wisdom into my life.

They seem rare. Many women I talk with don’t have many older women in their lives that they can turn to for godly wisdom. Older women who are sold out to the Lord almost seem like a paradox, doesn’t it?

The small church we’re members of is best described as a church of peers. We have a stray 20-something couple and two 50+ couples. 1981 was the year to be born (nine of us!), and we have enough children to begin a small school.

We’re full of joy and life. And yet, we lack the gray hairs.

To be sure, we all feel the lack. One woman can’t possibly disciple every younger woman in the congregation, and those of us in the thick of the middle years can’t drop everything to help the older saints with their health needs.

So, what’s a woman who knows her need for older women in her life to do?

Learn Contentment (and turn to the Lord)

When my husband and I celebrated our ninth anniversary, we’d moved nine times. Yes, nine times. He was in professional school and then the Army, but before that, I’d moved several times growing up and during my college years.

I enjoyed moving because with it came opportunity, new places to explore, and new people to meet.

Growing up, I was shy—very quiet and uncomfortable in any new environment. But at some point, after I came to Christ, I got over it because I was always the new one. If I wanted to get to know people, I needed to initiate, no matter how awkward I felt (or was!).

So, when it came to moving, I was quick to meet people and make connections. But it was not always easy to break into new groups. And, as I began having children, that added a complex layer to life. I was less flexible in my schedule, but I found I needed even more help!

I remember a particularly difficult season in which I felt like I was failing right and left as a young mom, and I was desperate for an older woman to help me. 

Looking back, I know I didn’t carry my heart as well as I would like to tell you that I did. 

But I did turn to the Lord and cried out to Him for help. I read books by women I respected and wanted to be like.

What I didn’t understand until later is that I learned to learn right where I was, with what God had given me. 

He taught me contentment. 

Adjust Your Expectations

By the time the Lord began bringing older women back into my life, I was so thankful for them that I didn’t care if they had five minutes or fifty. 

At this point in my life, I’d also been hurt enough in relationships with women, both older and peers, that the Lord began shaping in me a theology for friendship that forever changed how I’d view relationships.

I believe that one of the biggest relationship killers is unrealistic expectations. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, in his book “Life Together,” speaks of “wish-dreams,”

“Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. The man or woman who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.

When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. …when his ideal picture is destroyed…he becomes first, an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally, a despairing accuser of himself… He who loves his dream more than his community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial” (p 26, Life Together, Bonhoeffer).

Bonhoeffer describes wish-dreams within the context of a local church, but we can extrapolate the idea into any relationship.

When we have a wish-dream, we have particular expectations of a person or community. When our expectations aren’t met, we’re disappointed, and rather than taking responsibility for having unrealistic expectations, we tend to blame the other person or community.

Two tell-tale signs of unmet expectations that could be a result of a wish-dream include discontentment and grasping for relationship. If you’re noticing this, can I encourage you to seek the Lord and ask Him to calibrate your expectations to His?

In the Bible, we’re not promised an older woman in every season. We know that they’re good and that the Lord would desire for us to learn from them (Titus 2), so it is good to pray for them!

Be Her–the Mentor

If you find that you’re in a season bereft of older women, I want to encourage you to work on becoming that older woman. There will be younger women in your life who will want your wisdom. 

Will you use this season of waiting to gain the wisdom you’ll need to offer her? 

You’ll be able to share about this season with that younger woman (or women!) and you’ll likely tell her how much you needed this season to become who the Lord wants you to be.

Consider it a sowing season. 

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2Co 9:6 ESV).


Kelly Tarr

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