A note from Mary Margaret West: I love Leslie’s perspective so much. As women leading girls, we have an incredible role and responsibility to care for them well. Let this be a reminder to you today!
My husband and I got married at the oh-so-mature age of 22 and moved to a new town. We joined the “Young Marrieds” Sunday school class and really enjoyed the couples in there, though we were definitely on the younger end. Our teacher’s wife, Heidi, was nine years older than me. I thought she was wise and mature and so godly, but I was soon shocked: we became friends. I’d never had a friend that wasn’t within about two years of my own age. At first I thought she was just using me as an outreach project, but over time I realized we were really and truly friends. Amazing.
About that same time, I joined a women’s Bible study at a woman’s house named Rita. I didn’t know how old she was, but it was somewhere near my mom’s age because her son was young 20s like me. I sat under her tutelage and watched her host 25 women in her home every Tuesday morning with grace and poise. Lo and behold, a year later, I was calling her my “friend,” too.
What in the world?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning the secret to being a vibrant, Jesus-loving, others-loving, well-rounded, emotionally and spiritually healthy woman: Multi-generational friendships. Regardless of the decade in which you find yourself, there is blessing and benefit and edification in knowing women in each of the other decades, as well.
I had taught and encouraged women in this subject for years. My recurring questions sounded like this: do you have a friend in every decade? What are you doing to deepen those relationships? How can we keep friendships nurtured when our lives get busy?
I found that when I was more intentional in my multi-generational friendships, I was strengthened in my faith, gained a broader perspective, and did not stay so self-focused. And as I started ministering to girls years later, I wondered, “Can the multi-generational thing start when they’re still in high school?”
Some call it mentoring: an “older” and a “younger” start a relationship of encouragement and maturity and love, straight out of Titus 2:3-5. But I am maybe not even talking about something that formal. I’m just suggesting that we need more friends outside of our decade. You need it, I need it, our churches need it, and our girls need it.
And of course, those girls are never in a million years going to do something we tell them unless they can see us living it. So build up those multi-generational friendships like this:
- Start having coffee with a few women not in your decade. Invite one younger or one older (or both!), suggesting, “I just thought we’d like to get to know each other better.” No agenda; no Bible study. Just talk face-to-face.
- Develop your discipling skills as well as your being-discipled skills. Who is teaching you? Whose wisdom are you soaking in? At the same time, who comes to you for advice? What can you learn that would help be wiser or more godly?
- Join (or start!) multi-generational events for women at your church. No formal conference needed; a simple book club, testimony night or a Pinterest party are perfect.
Once your multi-generational relationships are growing, talk about them with your girls! My girls have LOVED hearing my stories over the years. I told them about Peggy, who, in her 70s, starting eating lunch at a local bar because she realized no one was showing love to the woman bartending the lunchtime crowd. (“And they have a delightful chicken sandwich,” she told me.) And I told my “adult” friends how 18-year old Julia chose to “adopt” one block in our town, coordinating teenagers to rake leaves, mow yards, and hand out lemonade.
There are some AMAZING girls out there; there are some AMAZING women out there. WHY SHOULDN’T WE BE FRIENDS? (Hypothetical question there!) So maybe your job, girls ministry leader, is to bring the two groups together:
- Invite your teen girls to your Women’s retreat/conference.
- Invite some adult women to come share with your girls about how God got them through difficult times. This past summer, I invited one woman every Sunday to come be “interviewed” by me in front of our girls. Questions included, “What would you tell your 16-year-old self?” “What has God called you to do?” “What is the greatest thing about knowing and following Jesus?” “What has been one of your biggest struggles as a woman seeking God?”
- Include an inspiring teen girl on your panel or leadership team at your next women’s event.
- Inspire girls to plan a Women’s Night of Worship, from the band to the cookies to the marketing, and let the youngers serve the olders.
As my “older” friend Karen Dockrey has said many times, “All of us are smarter than one of us.” We need the enthusiasm, insight, and understanding of the youngers. We need the maturity, the wisdom, and the “been-there-done-that” of the olders. And we need the “I am here with you, no matter what” bond between all of us.