I am about to teach a course on mentoring for BGST (Biblical Graduate School of Theology). Originally planned for the end of 2019, this will now take place in the first half of 2020. In preparation for the course I asked some of those I had the privilege to mentor, to share what aspects of my mentoring worked for them. One wrote that the mentoring meet ups were “oases in the desert” that refreshed him and helped him clarify his vocation. Another wrote that it was my empathy that really touched him, empathy born out of the many painful things that happened to me. It was the following feedback that really blew me away:
In a different mentoring group: halfway through the year, I stepped into your home. I was shocked by your haggard appearance. You were lying on the couch. Depressed. On Lithium. Muttering about the sadness and the melancholy of Rivendell and Lothlorien. You told us: “If you think I’m not fit to mentor you, I totally understand. You don’t have to come back for future sessions.” We saw you at your lowest. Your life was in pieces. And even then you still loved Jesus and you still loved us. So we came back. That was the most powerful small group I’ve been in. We don’t look for perfect mentors. I’ve seen you grumpy. God uses grumpy people too.
One factual error: I wasn’t on lithium. I was on Zoloft (sertraline). And I can’t remember this encounter. But I do remember the depression. I spent most of the days lying down on the couch. I was in so much emotional pain I called my psychiatrist every working day (Monday to Friday), and he always answered my calls even though he was busy with his patients. He helped me with a combination of medication and counselling and told me I would be over the worst of it in six months. It was the toughest six months of my life. And then there was the guilt.
There were many ministry engagements I had to cancel because I just didn’t have the heart nor the strength to do them. So in addition to my depression I felt so guilty that I was failing people. Of course people understood, well at least some of them did. But that didn’t help me to feel any better. Hence I can fully believe the above incident that my friend mentioned.
When I read my friend’s account, the word grace came to mind. There was the grace of God who still chose to minister through me in my brokenness. And there was the grace of my friend and the others in that mentoring group, who allowed me to continue to walk with them.
We usually minister from our strengths and that is right. But maybe we should be clear that in ministry we use the gifts that God has given us but we trust in the Giver not in the gifts themselves. It’s not always easy to make this distinction, so maybe there are times when the Lord allows us to crash and burn to remind us that we can only live and serve depending on Him. Paul learnt this lesson the hard way, and perhaps this is the only way we can learn this lesson:
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:7b–9 NIV)
We shouldn’t be surprised that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Good Friday is around the corner, a reminder that we follow a Lord who did His best work suffering and dying on a cross. Sometimes we do our best work when we are broken. And who isn’t?