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Ask Jani: “How can I find a spiritual mentor? How can I be a spiritual mother?”

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Episode Synopsis

Jani and Heidi answer questions about spiritual mentors and mothers.

Audio Transcript

Jani Ortlund: We have another “Ask Jani” episode today.

Heidi Howerton: These are some of my favorite episodes where we get to spend time with you, Jani, and hear what the Word is teaching you, and to be able to receive that as a younger woman. So, thank you for putting the time into thinking about these questions and praying through them, and preparing for them. It means so much because the Lord has given you so much wisdom, and we want to hear from the Lord and what he has to share. So, thank you.

Jani: Thank you, Heidi. May he be in this podcast with us today.

Heidi: So here’s a question from a good friend of Jani’s named Anne Dougan. She says, “Jani, what advice would you give for a Christian woman in leadership such as a pastor’s wife, missionary or women’s ministry leader, to find a caring, godly mentor without paying for a ministry coach or merely following someone online?”

Heidi: This is such a good question, Jani. I think it can apply to all of us. I think on some level it’s important as a woman to have a spiritual mentor. How do we find that? What has the Lord taught you about that?

Jani: It is a good question, Heidi. I know in my own life, I’ve wanted mentors and the Lord has given me two wonderful women. One, Mom Ortlund, is with Jesus now, but another woman, Carolyn Roper, who is 15 years older than I am, and she was a pastor’s wife. She still is married to David, but he’s retired from ministry, and she’s been a mentor to me. So I understand that desire. They’ve been so helpful. I think we all want someone older and wiser who cares about us. There’s that longing in a woman’s heart, someone who wants to know about our life, someone to whom we can go with questions or cares, someone who cares about the same things we care about: Jesus, family, the Bible.

Practical Tips for finding a mentor

Jani: Now, it’s not always possible to have a physical woman near you to mentor you. But if you are looking, here are some things that I would encourage you to do.


Jani: First of all, bring it to the Lord. If he put that desire in your heart, he is the same God who says, “I will give you the desires of your heart.” It’s not an ungodly or sinful desire. Surely that must be from him. So pray persistently, earnestly. Ask God to give you eyes to see who in your world would be a good mentor for you.

Stretch your “generational connection”

Jani: Put yourself in groups, in fellowship groups and church groups and other groups where there are older, godly women. I would encourage you to stretch your generational connection, as I call it. It really is easier to be with women of your own generation because you have the same things to talk about. But stretch that generational connection. Try to get to know women who are older than you.

Clarify what you’re asking for (be specific)

Jani: Then, before you ever approach someone, think through what you are asking for. If you come up and ask a woman, “Will you mentor me?” that can be overwhelming to that woman. The first time I did that, I was a seminary students wife. I was 22 years old and I asked an older woman in my church, and she just started stuttering and didn’t know what to say and finally said, “No, I don’t know what I would do.” And I went home in tears. Well, that was partially my responsibility. I overwhelmed her.

Jani: So I would encourage you, as a younger woman if you’re looking for a mentor, to think through carefully what you’re asking for. I would think about a length of time. Maybe in your request you could say, “Would you be willing to mentor me for the next six months?” That doesn’t seem so daunting as, “…until you go to heaven.” What would your expectations be? What would you like to receive in your time together? You know, would you like to meet once a month, once a week, twice a month? Where do you need guidance? Do you want her to mentor you in how to be a Christian mother, how to be a Christian wife, how to be a Christian worker? Maybe she’s someone at your place of work, a Christian lady that you see really understands how to develop a career as a Christian. So think about where you would like guidance and then make her an offer that she can’t refuse.

Jani: Let me say this. If you just need someone to talk things through with, if you just need someone to listen to you, then find a friend or maybe even a family member (maybe an aunt, a sister, a mother, a grandmother), because a mentoring relationship does require some respect, some distance between you emotionally so that you can receive guidance in humility. Does that make sense?

Look for a way to connect, then ask.

Heidi: Yes, that’s helpful, Jani. The only other thing that I would mention, from my experience looking for spiritual mentors, is that before I ask a woman to be my mentor, I try to see if I can just spend time with her first on something she is already doing. Maybe say, “Once a month, could I work in your garden with you?”

Heidi: You’re going to laugh at me for this, but I really wanted to spend time with you because you radiate the Lord. And I remember saying, “Jani, I know you walk your dog, so every three months, could I go walk your dog with you?” Do something that the mentor is already doing, spend time together on that activity and see if there is a relationship there. Then ask questions and spend a lot of time listening. I found as the relationship forms, sometimes it’s easier, then, to go into a spiritual mentor relationship with each other.

Jani: That’s brilliant, Heidi. That’s really good. Look for a way to connect. That’s wonderful. A woman always feels honored if a younger woman says, “I would just feel so honored if I could get to know you. Could I take you out for a cup of coffee someday or would you be willing to come to my house for a cup of tea so I could just get to know you a little bit?” and then see.

Heidi: Yes. And for me, as the younger woman, I just want to listen because I think this woman has a lot to say and a lot of wisdom, and so to give her that honor and respect and let her pour her life into me versus me just chattering. Does that make sense? I remind myself when I go into those situations, “I want to spend a lot of time listening because I believe that this woman is close with the Lord and I can learn things from her life.”

Jani: Yes. You want her to rub off on you because you see Jesus in her.

Heidi: Yes and that won’t happen if I spend too much time talking. So I have to remind myself to be a little bit quieter.

Jani: Yes. Well, I’m sure she would be asking you questions, too, so that would be hard, but yeah, we work it out in those kinds of relationships.

Heidi: Yes, but what you were saying is to approach her and don’t be discouraged.

Jani: Yes, approach her. As I’ve said before, the first lady I asked just didn’t know what to say and she said no, but there have been others who have mentored me. So ask God for a way to approach her, whether it be to ask her out for tea or coffee and get to know her a little bit first. That would probably be the best way to approach her.

Read Christian Biography

Jani: Now another thing that has helped me to be mentored by older, Christian women is not face to face (because I can’t always meet with people face to face), but is to read Christian biography.

Heidi: Oh, I love that, Jani, you taught me the beauty of reading Christian biographies. I had never read a Christian biography before I did your discipleship group, and it grew me so much. I love that. Can you tell us some of your favorite ones?

Jani: Oh, my very favorite is A Chance To Die written by one of my heroes, Elisabeth Elliot. She wrote it about another one of my heroes, Amy Carmichael, missionary to young girls in India. Oh, that would just be so wonderful if you read it. I just finished a biography by Susannah Spurgeon called Susie: The Life and Legacy of Susannah Spurgeon, wife of Charles H. Spurgeon. That was wonderful. You can find that on online.

Heidi: And how do you read these, if you’re reading it in a mentorship relationship, do you read a chapter together and then discuss it?

Jani: You could, yes! Because some mentors might not know what to do together. So you could say, “Would you be willing to read this and talk to me about this woman’s life and how you see Christ in her” Or if you’re in a period where there are no older women in your life, use some biographies to mentor you as well.

Heidi: That’s great advice, Jani. I never would have thought of that.

Don’t Lose Heart

Jani: And then finally, I just want to encourage our listeners to not lose heart because sometimes we’re lonely. It could be our geographical location has put us in a place where there are not older Christian women near us. It could be that we’ve changed churches and we don’t know the women yet, or it could be that we’re in a church with everybody who is pretty much our own age. Don’t lose heart. Sometimes life is lonely and the beauty of that is that that casts us back onto God. I love what he tells us in 2 Peter 1:3. Would you read that for us?

Heidi: I’d love to.

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”

2 Peter 1:3

Jani: I love that: “all things”. Not just “some” things. He has granted us all things that pertain to life and godliness. He wants to grow us up in him. He’s not resistant to that. That’s a wonderful prayer! And how does he do it? Through the knowledge of him. If you’re hungry for a mentor and you don’t have one yet, keep spending time with the Lord in his Word. Learn more about him.

Jani: I love how Colossians 1:10 puts it:

“…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…”

Colossians 1:10

…which is what we all want to do. We want to bear fruit. That’s why we want a mentor. We want to increase in the knowledge of God.

In Summary…

Jani: So keep spending time with him. Pray, place yourself in groups where you can meet older women, think through what you’re asking specifically and then how you will approach her. Ask her out. Approach her, ask her to mentor you. And if you’re in a period where there are no women around you that you could do this with, read some good Christian biographies and spend more time with the Lord.

Heidi: That’s so helpful, Jani, thank you.

How to be a spiritual “mother” to others

Heidi: Here’s another question that kind of goes along with it. It’s from one of our listeners named Amy. She says, “Can you talk about how to be a spiritual mother to others, the practical side of that?”

Jani: That’s a good question. Wow. Well to be a mother, you have to have children, don’t you? Or else you’re infertile, and we know what that means physically, that’s very painful. We can also be infertile spiritually. We do not want that. We want to have many spiritual daughters.

Be available to younger women

Jani: Once again, I think we need to be willing to fellowship in cross generational settings. We need to be available to younger women.

Jani: Heidi, I’ve noticed in your life that there are younger women who look up to you, talk to our listeners a little bit about how you feel out who you could be a spiritual mother to.

Heidi: Often times I pray and I say, “Lord, give me eyes to see who is eager to spend time with me and who you’ve put in my life that I can kind of just put my arms on and love.” Sometimes at church there’ll be different women that approach me week after week, or ask me questions or even just ask to spend time together. I think of it in the opposite way (how you said to approach them), and there are women that approach me and I want to make time for them. I want to love on them. I can’t do a million different things, but I can love on one woman that’s asking to spend time with me. When she invites me to coffee I can say yes, and then I can try to focus on her and maybe get coffee once a month or talk about discipleship. So a lot of it is praying and asking the Lord to give me eyes to see who he has placed in my life that I can love on in that way.

Jani: Yes. That so good, Heidi. I love that about you. I admire that in you.

Mothering Relationship vs Mentoring Relationship

Jani: I think that a mothering relationship has a little bit more freedom and flow, less accountability than a mentoring relationship. If I’m asking someone to mentor me, I want to be accountable to them. But in a mothering relationship it feels more cozy.

Heidi: Oh, I like how you think about the difference, because I would have thought of them as the same. So that’s helpful, mothering versus mentoring.

Jani: I do. Do you think that’s valid?

Heidi: I think it is very valid. Yes. I think mentoring, as you’ve taught me over the years, is very specific and we’re working on something together. Or you have questions and we’re speaking into those versus a mothering that is just come under my arm and let’s spend time together and let me take care of you.

Jani: Yes, I think of it that way. I look for younger women, but I try not to think of it as a heavy duty relationship because people move and relational needs change. But you could ask God to show you a younger woman, if your heart is hungry to mother a younger woman.

A mother gives her time

Jani: Amy asked for some hints on the practical side of that. Well, you just think about what a mother does. How does a mother spend her time with her children? First of all, she gives her time. Children demand time. And so if there’s a younger woman that you’re going to mother, think about how you can spend time together. Maybe you would suggest, “Oh, could we get together once a month or could I set up a weekly 15 minute phone date with you?”

Jani: There’s a younger woman in our church right now who I’m mothering and we text each other three or four times a week. We don’t always get to talk and we don’t see each other except just passing through church, but every once in awhile we’ll do something together. We went out to lunch recently. You don’t need to think of it as a blood relationship, is what I’m saying. This is a spiritual mothering. What does a mother do? She gives of her time. So try to think of how you can show this younger person that you’re willing to give your time.

A mother helps

Jani: Another thing a mother does is she helps. She helps her daughter! What might your spiritual daughter need practically? Does she need a babysitter sometimes or a night off? Does she need help with cooking or some easy recipes that you used when your children were little? Does she need exercise? Maybe you could suggest walking together. You help her, you lift some of her burden by doing it with her.

A mother encourages

Jani: A mother also encourages her little ones. Oh, we need that mother encouragement from an older woman, don’t we? How can you speak her love language? What is meaningful to her: time, words of affirmation or little gifts? How can you best encourage her? Even look for scripture verses that might encourage her.

A mother guides

Jani: A mother also guides her daughter. Sometimes with women I’m mothering I’ll say, “You know, this used to work for me when I was in your stage of life. What do you think about it? Does that make any sense, or is that not appropriate anymore?”

A mother provides

Jani: A mother also provides. Usually, in my stage of life, I have more ready resources than younger women have. Sometimes I can slip a little cash to someone or a meal or a night out or tickets to the symphony. A mother likes to provide. You can do that as a spiritual mother and it can encourage.

A mother prays

Jani: But the most important thing a mother does is pray for her daughters. Pray for your spiritual daughter. Know what to pray for. Ask her, how can I pray for you and then check up on her. Invest in her life this way. Let her know that you care about her spiritually.

Clarify Expectations

Jani: Finally, I would just encourage you to ask her, “What would you like from this relationship? How can I love you as a spiritual mother?”

Jani: Well, we’ve been talking about relationships today, haven’t we, Heidi?

Heidi: Yes, a lot about relationships.

A thank you to our listeners

Jani: Yes. There’s been such a positive response to these podcasts. I’m just overwhelmed and grateful to our listeners, Oh my goodness! Thank you, dear listener, for the relationship you’re developing with us and we’re trying to develop with you.

Heidi: Yes, thank you so much. We really feel like we have a relationship with each and every one of you, and you all mean a lot to us.

Jani: Yes. You’ve given us so many positive responses. You’ve been spreading the word and we’ve seen that on social media. Thank you. Heidi and I feel that we are growing through this process. We’re not quite as scared when we come to record, and we’re growing closer together as an older woman and a younger woman, along with our listeners. We’re learning from you through your questions as you send them in and through your comments. So we thank you. We’re all growing together as we turn to God and ask him, “Lord, would you restore all of our souls? We need you.”

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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About The Podcast

He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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