Jun 30, 2010 by Laura Flanders | 0 Comments
Each June, one of my clematis vines bursts forth a community of beautiful purple flowers. The vine itself is over six years old, and I studied it for many years to learn its way, to learn to lean into its natural growth. At the end of each season, many gardeners cut their clematis vine to the ground, and for two years, I followed this pattern. But for this variety, that was a mistake. Sure, new shoots faithfully emerged from the soil the following spring, but the growth was neither cumulative nor prolific.
In my trial, error, and practice, I learned that this particular clematis requires the gardener to allow the vine to go dormant. The old wood needs to cling to the fence through the long, cold winter months. When the weather warms in spring, new growth will emerge from the dormant wood of last year’s vine. With time, I learned that my vine preferred to be left intact; its old wood desired to be understood and experienced for its life. So, I stopped cutting it back. I allowed the vine its needed rest through the winter months. To my delight the following spring, it brought forth branches and blooms that I would have never imagined.
I am drawn to my backyard garden. Its seasonal life cycle uncovers rich metaphors that help me to navigate the journey to love and serve others so we might become more fully human.* You see, mentors grow weary. Yes, I am afraid it is true. The same is true of teachers, pastors, CEOs, and parents. There are days when we find ourselves on the verge of losing heart. We are called to serve as we come alongside the people God gives to us, and last time I heard, being a servant is hard work.
My most treasured verse in scripture comes from the book of Hebrews, as the author expresses deep desire for the readers of the letter. My years in pastoral ministry give me a sharp empathy for the author’s angst as he calls the church to remain in fellowship with Jesus and with one another. On the flipside, because of the suffering I have experienced in my life as a Christian, I can feel some of the fear of the recipients as well. With Nero’s impending persecution toward these new Christians, I can’t blame them for wanting to return to the safety of their previous lives. These raw emotions spill across the pages of Hebrews. In chapter 12, we find these words:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
Now, I realize that the challenges of mentoring do not correlate to the lives of these 1st century people. Our mentoring does not involve this level of persecution and extreme opposition from sinful people. While the task of mentoring in our day and age brings great joy and many gifts, we will nonetheless encounter seasons of fatigue and jaded perspective. Let’s be honest: mentoring includes pain, a few setbacks, and even occasions of deep disappointment. There will be days when our mentee turns away from our perspective, does not listen to sound advice, and simply rejects our mentoring. In these seasons, we must consider the vine.
The Bible is filled with metaphors for Christ, and I love the picture painted in John 15: Christ tells us that He is the vine and we are the branches that grow from this vine. When mentoring becomes most difficult, I sometimes wonder if Christ is even aware of the situation. Sometimes I compare him to the dormant clematis vine—I want to forge my own plan and reclaim control. Just like I question my backyard climber, I question Christ’s own presence in my mentee’s struggle. I see no evidence of growth and life. Admittedly, I find myself crying out, “Where are you, O Lord!?” But if I wait, if I let winter settle in, with its harsh winds, bitter cold, and darkness, then I find that yes, indeed the vine – the Christ – is life. He has never ceased to be life, and He will forever be The Life. When I wait, new growth will appear in my mentee— perhaps years ahead, but the growth will occur. Branches become and flowers bloom. I only needed to wait and tend to the new growth around and within.
Mentoring is most assuredly hard work, and I experience this especially as I mentor my children–now both young adults. As our nest is nearly empty, my husband and I feel overwhelmed with gratefulness to God for the lives of Ryan (21) and Jenna (18). Yet, in the midst of the delight, we are so tired. It has been hard work to raise two whipper-snappers into adults who desire to receive love, give love, and reach out to those in need. We have begged God for wisdom, mercy, and grace as we aimed to help each of our children become more fully human.
Parenting and mentoring is servant work, and the servant must pay attention to the vine. Let us consider Jesus so that we do not give in to the weariness. Let us continue to have hope for growth within our mentees and within ourselves. If we remain in the vine, together as mentors and mentees, we will continue to grow into the fully flourishing human beings God intends.*
*For a great read this summer, I suggest N. T. Wright’s new book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. In this book, Wright presents a wonderful thesis that Jesus came to launch God’s new creation, and with it he brought a new way of being human. God’s vision for our fully human life is a vitally important “first step” in any mentoring process.