Amy Ihde writes from Rainier Hills Young Life:
A couple years ago I gathered a few friends in their 20s and 30s to attend a women’s retreat. Our group was small, so we were paired in a cabin with another group of ladies, mostly in their 50s and 60s. That first day, we younger women surmised our two groups would likely split for “cabin time” discussions at the day’s end. After all, those older women were all friends and we were strangers to them. And, surely, they would not want to dialogue with women half their age about life and spirituality.
What did we know about retirement or marriages older than us? We were barely surviving our own lives full of toddlers or post-college career hunting. We felt we had nothing of value to offer them.
However, as we gathered that evening, the older women invited us to sit in their circle and we youngers looked at one another and shrugged. Discussion revealed that just as we younger women presumed the older group would not want much to do with us, the older women presumed we would not want much to do with them. Their stage of life was so different and wouldn’t we see them as obsolete versions of ourselves, chronologically irrelevant on any issue we were facing?
There was a catch: we had each come to the retreat to grow in our relationship with Christ. You see, Jesus ran around gathering up average guys to hang out with him, to learn from him. Those average fellows (who became “disciples” – a learner who becomes a teacher) were confused half the time, barely grasping what he was attempting to impart, acting like idiots more often than not. And yet, he still pursued them. He didn’t give up on them. They ate together, traveled together and ended up doing some awesome things (like healing people) together. In short, Jesus mentored them.
Don’t we all have a deep longing for someone to step into our lives and show us the way? Jesus did that for those disciple-fools and then, like the hero he was, went and died for them. It must have been a lesson that stuck because after he resurrected, each of that ragtag bunch became a teacher himself and, to a man, each of them went to his death proclaiming Jesus as his answer. They had watched Christ long enough to know he was the real deal so they bet their lives on him.
Strangely, I’m not sure the disciples started following Jesus expecting a hero from the outset. I bet they just thought he had something to offer them – and, sure enough, he had more to offer than they could have imagined. Funny how the people we expect to be heroes often turn out to be just average people, while the average people who let us in –for better or for worse to their real, sometimes-boring lives – end up looking a whole lot like heroes.
Back at the retreat in Canada, that weekend of cross-generational cabin times became the most beautiful of experiences. In the safety of relationship, we laid bare our insecurities. The older women confessed to feeling ignored or dismissed by younger generations. They shared their fears of rejection were they to reach across the gap to a younger woman. We youngers confessed hopeless feelings that anyone would even want to come walk beside us in the relative chaos of our preschooler-messes or amateur adult-ing. My brave friend shared how, during a difficult season of mothering while she lived across the country from any relatives, older women from her church came –uninvited even – and helped carry her load of housework and feeding newborn twins. Vulnerable and tearfully authentic, no hint of joking, she said, “Without those women, either me or my kids might not be alive.”
No one laughed and no one judged. We silently held her tender confession and recognized the power of stepping in. That’s what love does.
Susan Hunt, in her book “Spiritual Mothering” on the Titus 2 model of mentorship, says this: “Is God your reference point? Does He have supremacy in your life? If so, you have much to offer a younger woman. Begin praying for an opportunity. Also, seek out an older woman who displays this kind of focus in her life and learn from her.” No further requirements. No special programs or skills. Just stepping in.
I grieve that our culture often separates generations in schools and social clubs and even in churches. I think we’re missing God’s beautiful design of mentorship (otherwise known as “discipleship”). Do you think it’s because we are presuming the other party would not really want us in their life? Is it because we assume we need to meet certain criteria before offering our lives to one another?
In my experience, the best kind of mentors, male or female, have not been concerned about labels or steps. They just kind of make themselves available, gently arriving at the right moment, without agenda, carrying an extra piece of pie or Thermos of tea, hands that can fold a fitted sheet or change the oil, a brain that knows how to can green beans, prune my unruly dogwood tree or help me with my taxes. A wise mentor relentlessly sends invitations into these ordinary moments because he knows these ordinary moments are magic. She knows she might slowly, in the small increments and without even really trying, become a hero. And it will be worth it.