Today is my birthday and a few years ago, I started a birthday tradition. I decided to throw my own party. I grew tired of waiting in hopeful expectation that my friends and my husband would read my mind and throw exactly the kind of party that I wanted. I was tired of being disappointed and decided to take matters into my own hands. For the past seven years, I’ve had great birthdays.
For my 30th birthday my husband threw me a great surprise party. The biggest surprise was my sister who flew in from Ohio. This was a very good birthday, and I must mention it here lest my husband feel that he had not done a good job. But you can’t have a 30th surprise birthday party every year.
The next year I began my tradition. I decided to invite the women in my life with whom I wanted to be intentional in friendship. The women fit into three different categories: the ones I was reaching forward to, the ones I was walking with, and that ones I was reaching back to.
Life is a journey that we all walk. There are women who have traveled a little farther than I have. Often they have traveled a similar road, and I look to them for guidance spiritually, in parenting, in marriage. To be honest, when I make my invitation list, it’s been difficult to find these women, and it is the smallest group of the three. I know it’s a common problem we face in the church. We have lots of women who are dying to be mentored, but few who are willing to step into mentoring. Maybe it’s because “mentor” is such a heavy word and they are afraid they have no wisdom to offer. I wish these women knew that even what they learn from mistakes is helpful to those who come after them. Sometimes it feels like there is little or no space in the busy lives of “older” women for “younger” women to build relationship. Their dance cards are so full with grandchildren and personal pursuits that there is no room for reaching back. Maybe as a “younger” woman, I’m too picky in trying to find the “perfect” mentor. Instead I must choose to be grateful for the “older” women that God has placed in my life. Women who give me the opportunity to watch them lead, teach, and live. They are part of God’s plan for growing me up into a mature woman of God.
There are women that I walk beside who are at a similar stage of life or spiritual maturity. Often it is easy to find women to walk beside us in the journey. Our lives naturally bump into each other, especially as we juggle kids who are similar ages. These are the women that I see on a regular basis; some almost every day. I value my friendship with them as we walk through the rough patches together and wrestle with issues. These friends allow me to be real without expecting me to be perfect. In our conversations, we teach each other the Word and point each other to the cross. God has been so good to me to give me a community full of women who fit into this category. Recently when I was a bit depressed, my husband said, “You just need some time with your friends who see you for who you are and encourage you.”
Then there are women who are traveling the same road I have already traveled either spiritually or in a stage of life. They are women that I can reach back to, encourage and build up. This is not necessarily about age. I have had women who are older than me tell me that I have been a spiritual mentor to them. Also there is minimum age requirement to be a mentor. Every woman is an older woman to someone. We all have women that we come in contact with who are younger than us. We have a Biblical call to reach back and help them to journey well. I need these women in my life. They are such an encouragement to me as I see them growing and changing. I am so blessed when I have the opportunity to speak into a situation and remember what God has taught me. While be a “role model” can sound intimidating, I must remember that as they look to me I point them to the cross. I’m not really the model, Christ is. I don’t have to be perfect because even in my failures God can be glorified. I’m so blessed to have a lot of women in this category as well.
The first year that I threw my own party, I had four women come. This year I invited 27. Wow! I marvel at the faithfulness of God to provide what I need in each of these three categories of women. I am so grateful for each of these women and the role they play in my life. It’s also a time of reflection for me to remember the women that God has placed in my life that I desire to be intentional with. I have to remember these relationships as I make decisions about my time commitments in the coming year. My desire is that these women have a place of priority in my life. At my party, I like to give them each the gift of kind words. I write them a note to say thank you for their friendship (hopefully I’ll have time to do it today…) I want them to know how much I treasure their friendship.
So who are the women in your life, traveling the road with you? Who do you reach forward to, walk beside and reach backward to? Take some time to tell them how important they are to you.