where have all the wise ones gone?

For all of the wise women in my life. And especially for Mom. With love and gratitude.

When Norah was about a year old we were living in “Merica, that vast land of enormous supermarkets and jumbo shopping carts. I was grocery shopping. Norah was sitting in the top of the cart babbling and I was deeply engaged in ice cream selection when I felt a hand on my arm.

“You need to put some shoes on that baby.”

She was a small, wrinkled woman with a black handbag. I looked at Norah. She was barefoot.

“Yes,” I said.

I was thinking, You don’t know my baby. They haven’t invented the boots this kid can’t remove. I felt like explaining that we’d bought her three pairs of boots in three months. That I’d had to drive thirty minutes out of my way only the day before to return to a store and hunt for one of the latest pair, kicked off and left behind. I wanted to tell her, irrelevantly, that I was a good mother.

At the moment truly I didn’t mind her comment. But later I felt a little defensive, maybe a little judged. Why was she telling me that? We didn’t even know each other!

But the thing was, she was right. It was January in New England (I was wearing a down jacket) and we were shopping in the frozen aisle. The baby was barefoot. I was her mother.

I wasn’t a failure as a mother. I just needed to make a change.

I’d like to run into that lady again. Just to thank her for looking out for my child—and to say I admire her courage. Have you contemplated the courage it takes for an older woman to give advice to a younger one in today’s world? Women who attempt to fulfill the Titus 2 commission* (yes, that says commission) with the younger women in their spheres are not winning any popularity contests these days.

We don’t want their input. Someone has probably written an excellent book on whatever aspect of marriage or parenting or career we’re dealing with, we’d rather look it up for ourselves. Besides, we assume they don’t really understand our situation. Okay, so they have been married for forty years or raised five kids or worked in a high-pressure environment for decades, they weren’t married to my husband and they seriously don’t understand the special, particular mix of giftings and challenges that are presented by my little darlings. What makes them think they do? So we are quick to find them presumptious or judgemental if they offer advice.

Meanwhile we’re ripping our hair out and laboriously reinventing the wheel. We’re making our choices and thinking our thoughts in a vacuum and it gives us nothing back to grow on. We’d rather just read a book about it because a book doesn’t have to know all the mess. Also, then we remain the authority in the situation—if we don’t like what the book says, we can set it aside as an unhelpful book. Sometimes we look around and wonder where our village is. Where is the voice of experience? Raising children is not for the faint of heart, we think. Isn’t it anyone’s job to help me with this momentous task?

How can they teach if we aren’t teachable?

Are we seeking—and listening to—advice?

These women are so precious! They have perspective to help us see clearly, wisdom to help us order rightly, and encouragement for the cloudy days. They should be sharing it–we should be listening to it. And recycling it for the next girl.

*Titus 2:3-5: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands that the word of God may not be reviled.”

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5 Responses to where have all the wise ones gone?

  1. Laurie says:

    This is a beautiful and thoughtful post, Betsy. As one of the older (and hopefully wiser) ones, I can tell you that often the experience I bring to the table is unwanted, or scorned, or even openly refused. Because my kids are now adults, young parents haven’t seen me in their shoes, so they don’t really believe that I know what it’s like to try to get a passle of wiggly, uncooperative kids out the door, or to the doctor’s office, or on long road trips, or through potty training, or driver’s ed, or choosing a mate – or whatever. But I’ve done all of those things (and a lot more) multiple times over. I haven’t done all of these things perfectly, but at the very least, I’d love to help young parents not make the same errors (we don’t all have to repeat the same mistakes!). But I’ve also done some of those things well and could genuinely help when they are struggling to sort it all out. But who wants to be snapped at or patronized by someone who clearly wants to do things their own way? Not wanting to push myself on anyone, it is difficult to know when to speak up and when to remain silent. We need each other – that is what the body is all about. It is folly to think that we don’t. And there is great comfort and joy in openly receiving the advice of wise counselors. It helps us avoid pitfalls that we don’t even know are there, in honors those wise counselors, but most of all, we train our hearts to accept the counsel of God in a humble, teachable way. Kudos to you for figuring that out, and may your wise counsel be heeded by those following in your footsteps.

    • betsy says:

      This one was dedicated to you. Laurie, among others. SO grateful for you and your insight. Also, a word in return: please don’t stop. We need ya. Love ya!

  2. Debbie Rosner says:

    Betsy, thank you for your insight and wise words. Reading through Laurie’s response above, I hear what she is saying. As you know, I have three grown children myself, and have felt that sting of rejection by the younger generation, or not even a sting, but an attitude or stance that looks right through me and does not even acknowledge that at MY age I have anything to contribute any more. BUT, that being said, I have also been incredibly blessed with the privilege of mentoring several young single women, women who were teachable and hungry for wisdom or insight into their own lives. The Titus model is still alive! The key is picking up on when someone IS open and attentive and asking questions. If you are living a surrendered life for the Lord it will be apparent, and those that want what you have will be naturally attracted to you. Be open to new people-especially sisters in the Lord. If God has called you to this ministry He enables you, and directs your steps. They may be few and far between, and not everyone that you would pick yourself, but God will direct you and give you wisdom and Bless you in these relationships! We can all be mentees and mentors! There is always someone ahead of us on the road and someone behind….

    • betsy says:

      I really appreciate this thoughtful comment, Debbie! Thank you so much for sharing your insights on this and for your encouragement. Blessings!

  3. Emma says:

    Fantastic article. Like you I have had gentle criticism and wished to justify but I love your perspective on it! I wish that all the children with bare feet in the world had someone who cared enough to encourage the mother to do the right thing. What a blessing that older woman really was. When we first joined our church a few years ago, I was dissapointed that there wasn’t any women around my age, but over time I realized how blessed I have been to be part of the woman’s bible study group with the older women and their wisdom.

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