In college, I had not one but two academic advisors who helped me successfully navigate the convoluted world of higher education. When I took charge of a high school classroom at the ripe age of 22, several older and much wiser lead teachers were there to show me the ropes, and those wonderful ladies saved me from myself on more than one occasion during that trying year. But spiritual mentors, people who can give me the unbiased advice I need to grow in my faith, have been a little harder to come by.
To my family, I’m like Mary Poppins, “practically perfect in every way.” However, that kind of blind affirmation at this point in my life is more handicap than help. Instead of an amen corner, I need people who are willing to speak God’s truth to me—without the spoonful of sugar. Why? Because that argument with my husband just might have been my fault. Because the guilt I’m carrying needs to go. Because there are days when I struggle to read the Bible, much less apply it.
When I was 15 and learning to drive, a worst-case scenario happened: A tire blew as I was traveling 55 mph down a busy road. But my father didn’t panic. He leaned over, put his hand on my shoulder, and talked me through it. I didn’t know how to ask for help in that terrifying and dangerous moment, but Dad knew how to give it. That day, a piece of his wisdom became mine. This is what my spiritual life is sorely lacking these days—a knowledgeable hand on the tiller, a person who’s made the journey before and can teach me to navigate by the stars.
Amadou Hampâté Bâ, a Malian writer and ethnologist, once said, “In Africa, when an old man dies, it’s a library burning.” The meaning is plain. When a person who has lived life well (and has the knowledge to prove it) passes, all that hard-won enlightenment goes with him or her. This is especially true of “seasoned citizens” in the faith, and I for one would gladly accept what they’ve learned. So, elders, look to those of us in younger generations, the ones muddling through as best we can, and have pity. We may look calm and collected, but we’re floundering and sure could use your help. For this reason alone, you are more valuable than you know.
Illustration by Jeff Gregory