I once knew a family who thought of people like investments. They would “pour their lives out” for others, but didn’t know how to just be-friend them. It never felt safe or genuine with them.
There were others in my life, however, who nourished me in every way thinkable. But they were just my friends. Older, wiser folks who let me walk alongside of them, camp out at their kitchen table and listen to them teach their children, sort through my issues, and told me about their’s. There was authenticity, vulnerability, and simple, roadside, Deuteronomy 6:6-7 kind-of teaching. I don’t know if they really thought about the fact that they were discipling me, but they were.
It took me a long while to understand how to be on the giving end of the relationship. We moved to Ohio, leaving our long list of mentors on the West Coast, and I lamented. I feel ill-equipped to stand on my own two feet. I was whining to God one day about the lack of older, wiser folks we could lay eyes on, and the Lord spoke to me, saying “I didn’t feed you so you’d get fat. I fed you so you would give it away.” Ahhh! I understood (or so I thought). Discipleship isn’t an isolated relationship. It is both giving and receiving. It is a link in a chain between spiritual generations. We ought to have folks pouring their wisdom into us, so we can pour ours into those younger than us.
It’s interesting how the same water has cycled the planet since the beginning of time. It evaporates, soaks the clouds, pours back onto earth, then evaporates all over again. Maybe it’s like that with wisdom. It goes from one mouth, one example, one soul to another, until the end of time.
After realizing I needed to not just be a consumer in this journey of discipleship, I began searching ravenously for people who wanted to learn all the stuff I had learned from those I had revered as mentors in my own life. The problem is, no one wants you to push your agenda on them. Even if your agenda is to help them grow. That feels condescending, like you see yourself as teacher and them as student. Have you ever noticed that most teachers don’t even let students speak unless they raise their hand? Like the teacher has nothing to learn from the student. The relationship feels like a one-way street, where you’ll get pulled over if you go the wrong direction.
A wise friend told me, as I was wrestling between hearing from God about my need to disciple others, and discovering what that looked like, that “People don’t look for people to mentor. People who want mentored look for people they want to emulate, then start following them.” This was the wisdom I needed. I just needed to get it right between me and God. I needed to grow into the kind of woman that could be an example for others, then let God sort out the details of whatever He was calling me into.
The awkward thing about discipleship relationships is that there’s always a teacher and a student. Someone whose usually lived longer, or especially walked with Jesus longer, and someone who hasn’t, yet wants to grow in the wisdom this older brother or sister possesses. I used to have a big problem with this, because as I passed from not only student, but also teacher (although a wise person will never stop being a student). I didn’t know what to do with that. It felt like pride, to think I might have wisdom that someone else has yet to learn.
I still struggle a little with admitting it out loud when I find myself in these kinds of relationships. I also struggled for the longest time with knowing how to just say “Thank you” when someone gave me a compliment. Maybe you don’t have these issues, but I do. And I am still growing in this regard.
But what I’ve learned, that has freed me to embrace the roles I find myself in, is that having wisdom and age doesn’t make you any better. No one is more or less precious in the Kingdom of Heaven. First of all, I didn’t choose to be born when I was, nor did my friends who are older or younger choose their birth year. There is something about age, especially when it comes to how long you’ve been walking with Jesus, that grants wisdom. I didn’t even choose my life circumstances, and they have taught me a whole, whole lot of wisdom. I don’t get credit for loving the Bible, or even for loving the Lord. That’s also a gift of grace. In fact, when you boil the fat off, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). If I have anything good to offer and I think that somehow makes me better than someone, that’s pride. I am trying to take credit for grace. But simply acknowledging that I have learned some things that someone else may benefit from, and I’d like to be-friend them, help draw out their gifts, talents, and shape them in wisdom: That’s called love. And acknowledging that I still have things to learn, and people to learn them from: That’s wisdom.
I have a younger sister (spiritually speaking), who we will call “Mary”, because I haven’t gotten her permission to write about her yet, and also because she is learning to be like Mary of Bethany, who had such rich intimacy with Christ! She and I spend a lot of time together. I see things in her that are so vibrant and glorious. She has wrestled through some of the same faulty views about God that I have. When we first began meeting, she was still really wrestling. A year later and I see so much freedom in her. She is walking fuller, brighter, more awakened, and more ready to use her gifts than ever before. When I saw her, I didn’t see a project. I saw beauty to awaken, and I wanted to take part in God’s display of majesty in her life. So I asked her if we could be friends. If we could spend time together. What a gift our time and conversations have been! But this is friendship, which is give and take. Sometimes she teaches me things. Sometimes she cooks me dinner. I don’t see her as any less than me, just because I’ve lived longer and learned things that put me on the other side of some of her struggles (that she is thankfully on the other side of as well, now). Instead, I saw someone longing to know the things I had learned, and was joyfully willing to sacrifice the time to teach them to her. Along the way, I think God used her to grow me just as much, even if it was simply due to externally processing the things God has spent the last couple of decades teaching me. If I ever get this book published, and you happen to read it, much of what is written was also what Mary and I sat on the porch swing talking about.
There’s no shame in embracing these kinds of relationships. Only beauty. They are vital. This is how we keep the wisdom cycling until the end of the ages. We must live with hands open to both giving and receiving. At the very end of Jesus’ time on the planet, He tells His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). He doesn’t say “Make converts”. He says “disciples” because discipleship means we co-journey together, passing wisdom and delight back and forth. We share our spiritual resources, passing them from one generation to the next, until the end of time. I have been so blessed with people who took the time to teach me what it means to sojourn with Christ, and now I have the sacred privilege of sharing that wisdom with those coming up behind me in this race.
They call people like me “middle-aged”. I straddle the middle of the road and see the need for every generation. We need the zeal of the younger and the wisdom of the older, the innocence of youth and the knowing of age, the agility and the steadfastness, the passion and the peace. I am a link in a chain, bound for Glory! I rejoice that God would see fit to place me in community to both give and receive. To disciple and be discipled.
I continue to seek out relationships with those who are older (or at least wiser) than I am. Like my friend Tawn who weeps whenever she talks to Jesus. I don’t even have to ask her for wisdom. She wears the wisdom of intimacy on her face, and in her prayers. Or Vicki, who knows the beauty of stillness, and who makes my heart still when I sit on her porch. She teaches me how to listen, and doesn’t teach me with words so much as her example. She has simple, precious contentment, and in the context of our friendship, I have been transformed simply by spending time with her. My mother, who embodies graciousness. My aunt who lives contentment, pushing deeper into Christ as she adjusts to widowhood and an upheaved life. Shari, who has always taught me how to live and love with the joy of a child, full of wonder and a deep delight in Grace. Larry, who doesn’t complain. Ron, who doesn’t either. And their wives who love them like gentle, faithful warriors. Greg and Ruthann, who steady the hand to serve well. Dave and Sandy who are watering the earth around them as they suffer courageously and contentedly. John and Phyllis, who would adopt the world if they were able. Missy who opens her table like it belongs to anyone who happens to be sitting at it. Monte who always points me to the perfect, obscure Verse that will save my life, and who is always a safe person to be a complete disaster in front of. Meade and Rosemary, who have shown the whole lot of us younger folks what faithfulness looks like, and how to love the Church until the end of time.
The Church is the best place to find saints who will lead and guide us into the deepening places of Christ, and the wisdom of a transformed life. I have a whole cartload of wiser friends (too many to remember everyone) who show me how to adopt any and everyone within reach, the value of simple, pure, childlike faith in the Word of God, and the preciousness of being with Him. They teach me how to live generosity that affects generations. I am a student at the feet of spiritual giants, who have no titles of accolades and are known by very few, but deeply known by the One who matters most! It is these folks who water my soul, and enable me to water the souls of others. Because the Living Water must keep cycling the earth until the end of time!