Be a 'safe space'
Photo by Katie Berry
"Could you meet with me regularly so we can speak and pray together?" the message on my phone read. A few weeks later another friend asked: “I need a mentor – would you think about being that for me?" I feel humbled and a little overwhelmed each time a young woman asks to spend one-on-one time with me. I'm not particularly perfect, or patient or loving and I mess up more times than I get things right!
But Titus 2 is clear that older women should teach younger women what is good and train them to live holy lives (even if that looks a little different in practice for each woman – we’re not all married with children!).
As I look back, I am so thankful for the older women in my life that took the instructions in Titus seriously. My mother taught me to love God and strive to live a life that honours Him. Many gracious older women invested in me during my young adult years and onwards. They discipled me over a cup of tea or a sink full of dishes and prayed with me, sometimes even over the phone. These women held me accountable to living a Godly life and encouraged me through the good times and the tough times.
At some stage I realised, whether because of age or spiritual maturity, I had in fact also become one of those older women! During my twenties when I was still living in my home country, I was asked to meet and pray with a young girl who had gotten pregnant during her first year of college. I was terrified. I didn’t know what to say to this stranger who needed help and encouragement. But God made us intimately aware of His presence as we met and I looked forward to meeting with her to read and pray together. I realised then the privilege and responsibility that it is to disciple someone.
In the Central Asian country where my family and I live now one is often watched and we need to be careful, so discipleship sometimes looks a bit different. When I meet with a young woman at a restaurant or coffee shop, we don't get out our bibles and read together. We need to be careful when we take out our phones and read our bibles off them. Scripture memory comes in handy and as we chat I'm also silently praying for the Holy Spirit to bring the correct scriptures to mind (I send the actual verses later on). I'm also learning to pray with my eyes open as I look around the restaurant.
A wise missionary of many years suggested to me that as foreigners, the thing we can offer most to those we come to serve is a 'safe space' to unload their hurts and frustrations. As foreigners, we're cultural outsiders and may not hold the same expectations or prejudices that someone who has grown up within the culture may have (I’m sure that we have our own expectations and prejudices but they're usually different to those living in our host countries). Therefore we may be less likely to judge our local friends or shame them as someone from within their own culture might do. As foreigners, it’s often easier for us to keep confidentiality as it may not hold the same consequences for us. This provides a safe space for the person we’re meeting with to unload.
This is what I pray as I meet with younger women – that I can be a safe space for them; that they can trust me, be honest with me and that I can speak God’s truth into their lives. I don’t know all the answers and I can’t heal the brokenness, but I can point them to Jesus who can do all that and more!
As well as having the privilege of being able to meet with younger ladies, I am also encouraged by Titus 2 to humble myself and find an older woman within my community (usually another missionary) to meet with so that I can continue to learn and be encouraged in my walk with God while we’re on this crazy cross-cultural journey. I’m amazed at the kindness of the women I’ve met with over the years and their willingness to take time with me to listen, pray and point me to Jesus.
May we all be encouraged wherever we are living – or at whatever life stage or season we may find ourselves in – to not only surround ourselves with peers or friends of our own ages, but to be the older woman to the younger ladies who are needing encouragement, prayer and a safe space to be open in. Let us also be authentic and look for the older women from whom we can learn and who can keep us accountable and encouraged. Let us allow God to use us in this way as He draws us and those around us to know and love Him more.