If you've ever stopped short of reaching out to mentor someone or asking someone to mentor you, Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson have some advice for you: Do it! Their book on mentoring, Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe, will inspire you to listen to that nudge in your spirit, to pray, and to step out in faith. Your life will change. Theirs did.
TCW: How did your mentoring relationship start?
Sarah Mae: At first, Sally was just the name on a book that I had. But when I was hosting a national Christian women's blogging conference and found out she had a blog, I asked her to speak. She said yes! We spoke briefly at the conference, but after the conference she called me up and asked, "Have you ever been mentored?" She told me she believed God had put me on her heart and she wanted to invest in my life, mentor me, and be an advocate for me.
Sally Clarkson: I was just being obedient to what the Holy Spirit had called me to do.
Sarah Mae: I thought she was just being nice, but I figured eventually she would stop calling. She didn't—and to this day, two years later, we talk every week, sometimes several times a week.
TCW: When we hear the word mentor, we don't usually attach it to mothering. We think of things like upward mobility in a career rather than as part of our motherhood journey.
Sarah: And isn't that sad? Jesus mentored his disciples. Titus 2 talks about older women teaching the younger women to love their husbands and their children. Sally says if it has to be taught, it must be supernatural. That's why we need each other and why we need older women investing in the lives of younger women.
Sally: In the absence of biblical convictions, people will go the way of culture. There are voices of every kind on the Internet, in the media, and even in your church, and they are all competing with what you believe.
When I was raising my kids, the church wasn't teaching about what I lived or what I'd invested my life in, so when there was a mess or if I yelled at my children, I would listen to the voices and think, "Oh, maybe they're right." These voices attack your security and undermine your convictions.
Sarah: Sally is so right about the voices. I have kids and there are always five million reasons to feel guilty about something! But you have to go before God and figure out your position; then, when you hear those voices, you don't have to feel guilty.
TCW: How do we battle the guilt in those desperate moments when we think, This little person needs me, I'm in way over my head, and right now I don't even want to have this child attached to me?
Sally: A woman alone in her own home, without friends and without a support system, can be hit the hardest. I always tell the women who come to my conferences, "You need a friend. You need to be in a small group or you need to start one."
We never send a soldier into battle without reinforcements, without troops, without a plan, without strength. And yet we're sending women into the battlefield of raising a generation of godly children without a plan, without any support groups, without a general to lead them … and we expect them to be able do it. That's crazy! No one can do it without a support system.
Sarah: That's what our book is all about. Find some women who have done it already so they can encourage you, be advocates for you, and serve as your cheerleaders to help you keep going. We need to have advocates and friendships to keep us going or we will lose our way.
TCW: But it can be so hard to reach out, even within our church contexts, to ask for help or to offer help. How do we battle that fear?
Sally: I think it's a bigger battle than just mentoring. I think that Satan has isolated us. For many of us, we don't know our neighbors, we go to huge churches, we're geographically separated from our families. We've come to accept as the norm what has never been normal in all of human history.
I've moved 17 times in my life, and I kept waiting for people to come to me. Finally God said: "You need to be the bridge to other people." So I began to just say to myself, Okay, I'm in a new city. I know a couple of people. I'm going to start looking for women who help me feel more like myself—women I enjoy being with and who help me love God more. And as I'd identify people, I'd say to them: "Do you want to have coffee with me? Do you want to come over to my house or go out for dinner?"
I started a moms' group wherever I was. That began many, many years ago, and now I've got friends all over the States and all over the world. It all happened because Jesus said to me: "I want you to be a lover, an initiator. You call someone—because they need a friend too."
Sarah: We also need to walk by faith. We have to get over our fears and say: "God would you show me somebody?" Then you can walk by faith and ask that person to be your mentor.
Sally: Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes I would be with people and I'd think, Oh my goodness, we are not clicking.
But with Sarah, we are almost cut from the same mold though we're years apart in age. I enjoy her. We have fun! It doesn't always happen like that, but what if I had never said yes to God's prompting? And what if she had never responded? Both of us took a risk, and we're so glad we did.
TCW: It seems that finding a good fit is key. And building trust in a mentoring relationship takes time.
Sally: We often accept substandard relationships. We need to see it as a spiritual battle and decide, I will not live the norm. I am going to be a lover of people. I'm going to reach out. I am going to trust.
Sarah: What we see in a lot of churches is a mentoring program based on having a big luncheon to set people up. That's fine to try, but I think it's the organic, natural relationships that will actually last. Can church programs start mentoring relationships? Sure, that can happen. But when you're putting people together like that, it can often be awkward.
TCW: There are thousands of older women in our churches who don't realize that they have a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to share. How can we help these women realize they can mentor—and that it's biblical for them to invest in the lives of younger women in their church?
Sarah: I think this is the question.
Sarah: Seriously. I'm being passionate [laughs]. Get us on every show in the world and let us say: "Older moms, go and help younger women. Go and encourage them, inspire them!" Some women feel afraid; some feel inadequate; some feel like they don't have time. Some think, Well, I did it by myself, so now you do it by yourself. There are so many attitudes. But the Holy Spirit wants us to lay them down and help each other.
Sally: I so agree. I have an older woman in my life. She's 14 years older than me. I liked her, and I went to her and said, "I need you. May I just hang around with you?" She was so honest; she thought my life was too busy. And I said "No. I need someone to help me keep going." We have to take initiative.
I think women my age often just get tired. They may think, I've raised my kids. I want my own time now. But have they read Titus 2?
Sarah and I wonder all the time: Where are the older women?
Sarah: That's our battle cry. We don't get to retire as Christians.
TCW: How did your mentoring relationship change each of you? And how is it changing you as you move forward?
Sarah: It's given me so much hope. Sally has taught me so many things, from giving me permission to enjoy my life, to having beauty in my life, to not thinking of motherhood as drudgery. She taught me that a wise woman is active, not passive; I can choose. Sally has been an advocate and a source of information. She's encouraged me. I don't feel so desperate anymore. Yes, I still have desperate days, but you know what? Sally will call me on those desperate days. She'll say, "Let's overcome!"
Sally, you changed my life. My children are different. Our whole world changed because Sally chose to listen to God.
Sally: It's a two-way friendship. She has helped me in so many ways. I really feel like God knew I needed another friend in my life.
The other thing is, to me, Sarah also represents thousands and thousands of other women. She keeps my heart engaged in what I realize is a huge issue. Our mentoring relationship is a picture of a need that's vast.
Sarah: What if every woman listened to that small voice and pursued what she heard? Hearing the Holy Spirit and Jesus say, "Live by faith," and trying it out? Imagine how that would literally change the face of motherhood!
Renee James is communications director for Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec and editor of its magazine The Link & Visitor. She is a regular contributor to Today's Christian Woman and the Gifted For Leadership blog. She writes about change at reneejames.org.