(This was written from the National Pastors Convention in San Diego)
I'm not sure if I'll even publish this, but I think I need to write it anyway to get it out.
I nearly cried just now.
I signed up when I got here to meet with one of the "sages" that they have at the convention. Eugene Peterson and his wife and Stuart Briscoe. Stuart had an opening that fit for me, so I grabbed it. To borrow some language from John Eldredge, I think the time was "part of my story."
Being in San Diego occasionally brings things up for me. Dad things. It's where I grew up, and where my dad, with whom I have not spoken in 5 or so years lives. A nutshell kind of explanation for that is that relationship has never been real important to my dad, leastwise not relationship with me. When we couldn't get him to come to our wedding, when he didn't call when my first child (or second for that matter) was born, I made the decision that I just needed to stop hoping. All that was getting me was slightly more hurt at every missed life event, every milestone, every day that went by without communication from him. I just had to cut him loose from any expectation that he would ever do or say or be anything for or to me.
I dealt largely with the pain of that through the birth of my son Jack. I found (and find) great healing in doing for him what I wish had been done for me.
But I'm finding that that dynamic, which has worked well in terms of dadness has worked less well in terms of mentor. I realize the two are intricately connected, and yet I'm also coming to realize that I can partially heal one by being Dad to my son, but the other...
Another odd dynamic in my life is that whether through the internet or in real life, I have these people who are seeking me out. It's not overwhelming (though I apologize if you've sent me an email with some questions in it about life in ministry/church stuff and I haven't gotten back to you. I put those in the "to answer" folder with the best of intentions), but it is noticeable.
And I'm happy to give a shot to mentoring and coaching others. In fact, long term, I feel as though it's what God has shaped me for. I think in 20 years, I'll be primarily a pastor of pastors, and I'm very much looking forward to that.
But if the feeling of needing dad has been lessened through the dynamic of having a son, the feeling of needing a mentor... well, that's a different story.
I was thinking some of these thoughts before meeting with Stuart, wondering if it was really something I wanted to get into, somewhere I really wanted to go.
I'm not sure I had a choice, really.
Ruth Haley Barton today said "What is under the surface matters, and solitude helps us name it" and I'm realizing that this convention, with all these people and for all the noise and activity, genuinely represents an experience of solitude for me, being for me a stepping out of my routine, a chance to slow down and think. But that's another post...
So, I went there with him. I described the feeling I have in this area that I have recently named again for the first time in years: that God is thwarting me. That as I have traveled from place to place to place, from ministry situation to ministry situation, always looking for a mentor that God was always and in all ways saying no. That He was willing to give me every good gift except two- a mentor and an explanation why.
And Stuart, God bless 'im, became part of the story. He told me that "mentor" really isn't a biblical term and I should lower my expectations/ideals in this area.
He had some really good things to say, all with good solid biblical thining behind it, but the long and short of it was that he told me to give up.
And I thought, "Of course. How could he possibly have said anything else?"
We talked some more, a bit about ministry and marriage and he continued to give me good, sound wisdom and in doing so completely undid everything he had said earlier by giving me the smallest taste, the briefest glimpse of what it's like to have a mentor. Someone who has walked the same path already, someone who has made all the mistakes and cares enough to share wisdom, to ask questions and to not expect any mutuality... to ask nothing in return.
I smiled, I nodded, I tried hard to keep from tearing up.
I went to shake his hand and he gripped mine very tightly in both of his and prayed for me.
I was so close to losing it I nearly ran out.
So... I sit here wondering "How long, oh Lord?"... and renewed in my determination that if someone thinks I have something to offer them, that if they think I'm that worthy of seeking out, I need to treat that as a gift and honor it with whatever I can- with whatever I have to give. Not all of me, certainly- most of that is reserved for others and for Other. But something.
And maybe, just maybe, if I pay it forward enough...