Words for Younger Women

“I am convinced that in every generation God has his people and is working out his plans. What more can I say?”

Pauline Brown

My mom turns 94 today. From an earthly convential perspective, she has no platform, no followers, and would not be considered an influencer in today’s world. Yet, she has led an extraordinary life and has influenced thousands in her life. She has spoken words of wisdom that people still remember. Most of all, she has been faithful to what and who she believes.

I asked her last night what advice she would offer to younger women. Initially she said “I have no advice!” I pushed her and she said what I have quoted above. I love it, because it’s a reminder to me that though our view is limited, God’s is not.

The question I asked my mom came out of a post that I saw earlier this week from a younger woman who posted a series of prompts on social media focused on women in the second half of life. She talked about watching some women ‘coast’ their way to the finish line. It got her thinking about what it would look like for her to pursue a heart of wisdom, to live fully and faithfully in this second half of life. I loved the questions she posed and wanted to publicly answer a few of them. If anything resonates, I’m grateful, but as with anything I write – if there is not wisdom or grace in this, then blow it away.

If you could go back in time and whisper one thing into the ear of your 40 year old self (and know it would take root in your heart) what would it be? Belonging is not about a place, though place does matter. Belonging is about a Person. Identity is the same. When I forget whose I am, I forget who I am. I fall into that trap all the time, and I wish it would take root. Somehow, the weeds of insecurity and envy get in the way and I forget.

What are some pitfalls you see women in their late 30s and early 40s falling into today? I ache for women today. From TikTok to Instagram to Twitter to Facebook to whatever will be the next big platform, there is so much competition for your time, your intellect, and your soul. I see oversharing and it scares me. I see selfie on selfie on selfie. None of us need that many pictures of ourselves. I see outrage spewing off the pages day after day. There is a lot to be angry about, but it is not sustainable. You will wear yourself ragged. Your kids and family will suffer. You will suffer. And you will not change the world. I’m not saying don’t have a presence. I obviously use social media, but I’ve learned the hardway of what it does to my mind, emotions, and soul. We have to control social media and not have it control us. Mostly though, here is the truth:

The world needs the embodied you, the you who shows up with persistence and resilience, the you who is learning to love well, forgive continually, and laugh with abandon in your family, place of worship, neighborhood, and broader community.

What are unique challenges facing women in their 40s today? What would your advice be for avoiding them? My generation did you a disservice by making you think you could do it all. You can’t. Pick your priorities and stick with them. When you are looking at major work decisions, ask the question “Who do i want to like me when I’m 80?” It’s probably not the organization or institution that you are giving your life blood to and for. It’s definitely not the people online, because they may cancel you before you’re 50.

What are you thankful you leaned into in your 40s? My 40s were still so busy raising kids, learning how to parent college students and still be present for a preteen and teenager. It’s in my 50s that I leaned into speaking and writing. I am so glad I did. When I first began writing, I didn’t know it would turn into books and magazine articles. I didn’t know I would get paid to write. I wrote because I wanted to become a better writer. I’m deeply grateful that I finally had the discipline to write daily. As for speaking, I remember long ago realizing that by God’s grace and goodness, I could be a good communicator. At that point, I made a promise that every opportunity I was given to speak publicly, I would do so. I had to readjust that through the years, but at the time, it was a good decision. Building on both writing and speaking as ways to communicate across boundaries has become something I am passionate about.

What did you intentionally do in your 40s that made what you’re doing now possible? I took every free opportunity for training that came up in my career. I ended up with a diverse set of skills, knowledge, and training ability. From brease and cervical cancer awareness to chronic disease to mental health first aid, I ended up with an eclectic skill set that worked perfectly in serving diverse communities.

How did your mothering shift as your kids became teens? Negotiation became the big word. Instead of saying “Go clean your room – NOW!” I learned to say “Your room is becoming a public health hazard. You have until Friday to clean your room. Please make sure you do it by then.” Oh my gosh. I would be a wreck! I’d think inside “I know they won’t do it, I know they won’t do it, I know they won’t do it!” And then – they did it! It was amazing. It helped me learn a lot about releasing control. That release of control has to go into adult kids as well. They don’t need me to constantly tell them what I believe. They know. They don’t need me to tell them how to parent, make decisions, or anything like that. As the title of a book says “Keep your door open and your mouth shut.” And I have learned the hard way that this is true. I am grateful for the grace of my kids and God’s grace in this journey.

What are spiritual disciplines you’ve leaned into that weren’t as much a part of your earlier years of walking with him? An embodied faith that leans on Divine Liturgy and prayers of the Church. I wish that I had not been so stubborn about entering into the Orthodox Church and faith tradition. In Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren says “Patterns of prayer draw us out of ourselves, out of our own timebound moment, into the long story of Christ’s work in and through his people over time.”

What is different about your walk with [God] the longer you live? Leaning into mystery. I am so grateful that mystery can be a part of my journey. I’m so grateful that I don’t have, or need all the answers. Again from Prayer in the Night “I needed this moment of crisis to find its place in something greater: the prayers of the church, yes, but more, the vast mystery of God, the surety of God’s power, the reassurance of God’s goodness.” (emphasis mine) And I think if I could raise kids all over again knowing what I now know (or don’t know) I’d focus more on the big, grand story of Redemption, a story that is so much bigger than we can imagine. I’d focus more on mystery and grace. I’d be careful of the do’s and don’ts and focus on the freedom that comes with faith. And, in more words from my mom, I would look them in the eye and say: “I think you’ll find your way!”

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