Because I’m teaching confirmation right now, I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of mentors in our lives and in the church. Often when we talk about mentorship- we are talking to adults about being present in the lives of children. We mention training up children in the way they should go, so that they will not depart from it. We mention being examples for the next generation of believers. And none of those things are bad things. But it has been troubling my heart lately that this is often the end of the conversation. And when we end here, when mentorship and the need for spiritual examples end at graduation- I think we are selling short this beautiful opportunity to be the beloved community of faith.
We tell the adults in Children and Youth ministries to be very careful about how they live because young people are watching them. But I am 31 years old (not that young) and if we’re being very honest- I am still watching. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate this crazy life we’re all living.
I’m watching the parents of the little kids in my ministry area, I’m in awe of how they balance, how they make time, how they teach their little people and raise them through even the toughest stuff, how they pour out patience, how they keep it real, how they are vulnerable and authentic. I am watching these amazing men and women only one step ahead of me in life stage, and I am grabbing up every lesson I can about how to faithfully live through the crazy of “new parenthood” and how to be the kind of parent that I want to be some day. And so even in the moments when they aren’t winning, when the #parentingfails are stacking up, I am cheering for them, I am praying for them, and when the opportunity arises- I am ALWAYS ready to speak affirmation over them. They are invaluable teachers.
But it’s not just them I’m watching, I’m also watching the parents of the older kids, the ones who have been in the game a little longer. I’m watching how they guide their kids through teenage decisions and drama, how they have solidified their family units, how they teach their kids who they are, and who they’re not, and how they’ve stayed true to themselves. They haven’t lost themselves in parenthood, and as they’ve gained more time and stability- I watch them use it to dream new dreams, to have big vision, to grow interesting things, and to build community anew. I watch them, I gather all those lessons up, and I tuck them in a box labelled “before you know it.”
And I’m watching my parents, and the people their age in this new season of life and family, with their kids grown. I watching them reinvent themselves, reconnect with old friends, explore new places and interests, and rediscover who they had been before they were constantly driving around their 2.5 children. I’m watching them delight in becoming grandparents and learning a new way to embody love. And this, this commitment to not tapping out, to continual growth and learning- I’m watching that too. And I’m in love with it, and so it’s getting packed away and marked “some day”
Finally, I am blessed to be part of a community that puts me in close proximity (and a good view) to many people who have retired. I watch them love life. I watch them pour out generously to the community around them. They run soup kitchens, they do altar guild, they plug in with kid ministry, they hang whiteboards and build wheelchair ramps, they are everyone’s grandparent and they have time for coffee and a chat. They teach me about building marriages that last decades. They teach me about slowing down. They teach me about how to know what’s most important. They teach me about not getting so lost in the hustle that you lose yourself. They teach me about asking for help when you need it. I do not have a week go by where I do not find myself thinking, “I hope when I’m that age, I’m still as funny/sharp/kind/present/in love as …….” and so I gather up all the lessons from them, and I put them in a box labeled “I hope..”
And so I watch all these people go about their daily lives, living them as best they can, as faithfully as they can, and I learn from them. Too often when we talk about mentorship, we talk about giving advice, or telling people (kids) what to do. My deep love of adult mentorship has taught me that no one wants advice, because talk is cheap and advice is often inauthentic. It is an expression of what we WISH we had done, or what we think this person should do- instead of the vulnerable truth lived out. In our best mentoring relationships, we learn from the people who will share their lives with us, who spend time with us, who work alongside us, who will let us see them struggle, who will cheer us on without judgement when we struggle, and when the world tries to crush us, or break us down, who will encourage us and speak words of affirmation over us.
Kids need that. We all need that. No matter who you are, or which stage you’re in, don’t tap out. Don’t turn away. Don’t unplug from the community of faith. We still need you. We become a better community with you. You have things to teach just by being here. So be here, and know, we’re still watching…
“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” – 1 Thessalonians 2:8