How to Do the Hard and Holy Work of Faithful Friendship

“So who’s mentoring whom here?” my friend asked with a mischievous grin.
Good question!
When friends challenge one another with shared books, Scripture reading, and transparent prayer, everyone is sharpened and restored in a way that uniquely shows the love of God. Janice Peterson calls this “spiritual friendship,” and has reached back into her long memory for the purpose of sharing her friend Gertrude, the woman who poured lemonade and listened to Jan’s teen-age thoughts and dreams.

Being seen and valued by a friend who was “always present, always caring,” set Peterson on a course to be that person for others, to live given, and to love well. In Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith, Jan remembers lemonade on the porch and shares her deep conviction that friendships can be life-altering in all the best ways.

A spiritual friendship differs from mentoring in that no one takes the lead. There’s no resident expert or hierarchy at work. Instead, spiritual friendship is characterized by an unstructured giving and receiving, “appreciating the gifts individuals have to offer. It’s being willing to share when you need to share and learn when you need to learn. It’s caring for the well-being of the other person, and letting her care for you as well.” (xviii)

Ministering alongside her husband, author and pastor Eugene Peterson, Janice seized the life-enriching opportunities that her role as a pastor’s wife provided for investing in relationships. With rich insights lifted from Romans 12, she has distilled for her readers five elements that have infused her most formative relationships:

Caring

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” (Romans 12:1 MSG)

We become caring people with practice, strengthening our awareness of others like a muscle. The author witnessed this outward focus modeled in her long-ago friend Gertrude and has concluded that regardless of gifting and personality, anyone can choose to put others first and pay attention to the needs of others.

As she matured, Peterson found her own caring heart drawn to the larger world. She began to serve on the Fair Housing Committee in her area and to practice cooking and eating habits that demonstrated her concern for the challenge of world hunger.

To become more caring:

  • Pay attention to those who are doing it well and copy them.
  • Push down your pride and receive unselfish caring from others.
  • Take note of the needs of the people God has placed right in front of your eyes.

Acceptance

“Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (Romans 12:2 MSG)

Peterson warns, “A spiritual friend is someone you enjoy being with, but you may not always find the friendship simple or straightforward.” (30) As a “classic extrovert,” Janice finds it easy to take others at face value, but connecting with those who are more challenging to love can take the special effort of seeking to see the world from their perspective. Ironically, the first step in accepting others may be the task of self-acceptance.

To become more accepting of others:

  • Connect with them by participating in the things that interest them.
  • Spend time connecting with God to learn His heart of acceptance for you and for others.

Service

“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.” (Romans 12:11, 12 MSG)

Living her way into God’s calling upon her life, Janice Peterson swam upstream in the 1960’s when other women were leaving their homes in droves to seek employment. Called to be a pastor’s wife and a mother, she has served and loved in her own unique way, motivating others to do likewise by her example.

To serve well:

  • Be ready to spring into action, loving your community in concrete ways.
  • Serve courageously when God points out a need that you are able to meet.

Hospitality

Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. . . Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:13, 16 MSG)

Hospitality puts into practice the caring, serving, and accepting that friendship requires. Taking time to rightly align her readers’ understanding of the term, Peterson defines hospitality through a biblical lens: “the welcoming reception and treatment of guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” (67) The welcome of hospitality is a bridge to wholeness as we generously receive others and let them know us, warts and all.

To become more hospitable:

  • Forget about “entertaining” guests and just enjoy them, feed them, and listen to them.
  • Start with your family and move in ever widening circles.

Encouragement

“Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:14-16 MSG)

The church provides the perfect backdrop for mutual encouragement as believers motivate one another to acts of service, use of God-given gifts, and a continual focus on God and His faithfulness. Reorienting one another gently toward an others-orientation, we discover the truest and most healthy version of ourselves, and then offer that up as a gift to God. In the process, we also become a gift to others, a spiritual friend, putting on display the caring, accepting, serving, hospitable, encouraging heart of our relational God.

Many thanks to NavPress for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thank you for the visit,

michele signature[1]


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Coming Alongside as a Way of Life

Joanne’s kitchen table was an uncontrollable force in her life, always covered with an assortment of books, mail, loaves of bread, and magazines.  It became a joke between us that she was always in the process of clearing it.

Fortunately for me, another uncontrollable force in her life was the power of God.  She had an ongoing relationship with Him that continually pushed her outside her comfort zone, and even though the word “mentor” wasn’t being thrown around back in the seventies, that’s certainly what she was to me.  We pulled chairs up to that defiant horizontal surface, pushed the butter dish out of the way, and opened our Bibles together. Her whole-hearted pressing on to know the Lord marked me in ways that I’m still discovering nearly forty years later.

Table Mentoring is a matter of coming alongside another person, and Sue Moore Donaldson has Scriptural backing for her assertion:

“God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”  ~I Corinthians 1:3,4

Our natural inclination when it comes to mentoring is to play the unqualified card.  “Who, me?  I’m too [fill in the blank].  Too young, too old, too inexperienced, too busy, too over-committed, too introverted, too tired, too ignorant . . .

Quietly, Sue pulls her chair up beside mine and shares these two objection -silencing considerations:

  1. God is the primary Mentor, and the first qualification for mentoring another is having first been mentored by God.  It is not my own holy perfection or infallible wisdom that is being required.  However, “as we experience God’s ‘alongsideness’ in our up’s and down’s, joys and sorrows, we can more naturally share His overflow with someone who is where we have been.” (8)
  2. The second qualification for mentoring another is a willingness to take on the risk of relationship.  The vulnerable sharing of our own lives is an open door. Furthermore, the experiences God has custom-designed and the thin slice of knowledge I may possess may be exactly the gift someone else is waiting to receive.

Sue’s simple guide to coming alongside moves quickly from theory to practice. She has developed worksheets which can be implemented for structuring a mentor meeting time, for quiet time inspiration, prayer, and beginning Bible study.  They can also be printed in 8 ½ by 11 size at her Welcome Heart website.

As I read, I found myself putting together an agenda for an imaginary future mentor meeting that looks something like this:

I.  Goal setting.  Ask:  “What would you like to get out of our time together?”

II.  Getting to know you.  Ask questions about family, work, current challenges.

III.  Strengthening one another’s walk with God.  This is where fine-tuning becomes important.  Will the mentoring relationship look like a Bible study?  There is great benefit to be found in simply reading the Bible together and pooling questions and insights.  Will you read a book together and discuss it in your meetings?  Sue uses a Personal Growth Plan (available here) to discern the needs and concerns of her learner.

Chapter 5 of Table Mentoring quieted my racing heart with some very important details:

  • Decide ahead of time how long you will meet and how frequently.  Sue suggests twice a month for three months.  This is very reasonable, and if a sunset is put in place at the beginning, no one will feel as if they are embarking upon a life sentence.
  • Time limits are a reasonable concern.  It may be best to go to someone’s home so that you can set the limit. (“Whoops! Looks like I’ll need to run!”)
  • Both participants will demonstrate their commitment by putting the meetings on a calendar.  My experience is that if I do not write it down, it does not happen.

Sue’s writing style is unique, and I continually found myself underlining encouraging statements.  In keeping with the table theme, let’s call these Sue’s Mini-Muffins of Wisdom:

“Not feeling adequate shows that you are more ready than you think.”

“I don’t have anything worth passing on to another if I’m not regularly working on my personal relationship with God.”

“If you know one promise in God’s Word, you are ready to mentor that one promise.  Ask God for someone to share it with today.”

“You and I are blessed to be a blessing.”

My reading of Table Mentoring felt like a specific invitation to move forward into this challenge.  Therefore, I have begun praying for an open heart and for the right person at the right time.  I am also praying to be BECOMING the right person to come alongside a sister who is looking for a welcoming heart, to offer the gift and the accountability of a side-by-side seeking after God.

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This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

And . . .. . . this Thursday will be the first virtual meeting of our book discussion group around Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion, and you’re invited!

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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Sisterhood is Eternal

Unbelieving, I held the phone to my ear.
Joanne?
Sick?
We had always talked by phone every few weeks, but wait . . . how long had it been?
And now a call from her husband with tears in his voice.
I could feel the conversation moving in a direction that I could not absorb:
Hospital
Organ failure
Death
The easy, relaxed freedom of our ties suddenly appeared to have been foolhardy. Although Joanne had been in her seventies, I truly had thought that she would live forever – or at least until we were both “caught up together with Him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

(We spoke of it often.)

Now she was already there, and I hadn’t even given her a proper send off.

Homeschooled sons, a toddler, a baby, and a five-hour drive make for some challenging funeral logistics, but the patient husband and I managed to attend somehow, because I had been asked to share words about Joanne and our friendship — an incredible gift to me in processing the beauty and the loss.

But it was not what helped the most.

Morbid as it sounds, the empty shell of her; the sick body looking so wrong and so hollow pierced the grieving just enough to make room for thanksgiving that God had allowed her to fly free of it. Here’s where the theology gets fuzzy, but “absent from the body, present with the Lord” superseded the void she had left behind, and with Holy-Spirit-fueled certainty, I knew that something stronger than heredity had been passed along to me during our decades-long sisterhood, a genealogy of spirit stronger than blood that came to me through:

Shared ministry in which we lost ourselves in the communication of Truth;
Witnessing her determination to be ordained during her retirement years;
Hours spent in prayer at a messy kitchen table;
Arguments over obscure Scripture passages when I was a headstrong teenager;
Her unshakeable conviction that God had plans for me.
Although it is untraceable from a practical standpoint, still, I ponder this concept:

A genealogy of Spirit – a sharing of faith and calling that runs back through all my known spiritual influences and beyond memory to the time of Christ.

Capture

I’m pondering the eternal sisterhood over at SheLoves Magazine today, and I hope you’ll join me there to read the rest of this post.  And while you’re there, be sure to read the thoughts of others on this month’s topic:  sisterhood.

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An Open Letter to My First Mentor

Happy Birthday, Joanne!

Do people in heaven celebrate birthdays?  Probably not, but more important for you (and tragic for me) is that this is the tenth time you have celebrated a birthday in heaven.  Another thing I’m not absolutely clear on is whether you are aware of this birthday greeting; whether you are privy to some of the milestones, triumphs, and failures I’ve missed sharing with you over the past ten years.  I’ve gotten used to thinking of you as a member of my “cloud of witnesses.”  I hope I’m right.

One of the reasons that I’m ok about admitting my uncertainties (that I have not yet developed a theology-of-everything) is that from the time I was sixteen years old, I witnessed your questioning spirit, your curious mind, and your whole-hearted  “pressing on to know the Lord.”   I wanted to know Him, too, so I trailed along behind you.   In fact, I wish I could ask you now if you ever thought of yourself as my “mentor.”  Evangelicals weren’t throwing that word around in the seventies.  However, they were throwing a lot of other words around, and you were curious about all of them.  Journaling, conversational prayer, the role of women in the church — you shared your books with me, we wondered out loud together,  and something stronger than heredity was passed along.  As we talked, you were teaching me how to think about faith, but I picked up other things as well.   When I clean out a mixing bowl, my spatula “chases the batter into the pan,” just like yours did.  I wouldn’t be caught dead without a supply of English muffins in my freezer so that when a crowd of teens lands on my doorstep, I can feed them “pizza babies.”

Crucially, from you, I learned to love the Word of God, because of Who it points to and because of the very sound of it.

When I asked how you happened to be quoting Psalm 8 from memory in a devotional, your reply was stunning to me:  “I liked it, so I wanted to memorize it.”

“Huh, why not?”  I said, and I am still saying it.  Whenever I review Philippians 2, I can hear your voice saying it with me over the engine of a VW Rabbit.

When we prayed together, I believed that God was listening.  Eventually, I began to believe that He would listen when I came to Him alone.

From you, I learned not to take myself too seriously.  Your daughter’s wedding in the apple orchard yielded some amazing black and white photos.  For instance, the bridal party and guests with heads bowed in prayer at ceremony’s end, barefoot brides maids in the tall grass, and the mother-of-the-bride with her head thrown back, eyes closed, apparently in deep, thoughtful meditation.   “Wow, that was some prayer time, ” I observed.

“I was just trying to keep my nose from running, ” you said.

Another uncontrollable force in your life was the kitchen table, always covered with an assortment of books, mail, loaves of bread, and magazines.  Whenever we talked on the phone, you were cleaning off the table.  ALWAYS.   Here’s what I’ve realized about that:

Like me, you had a husband and four kids. Like me, you were very active in your church.   Unlike me, you had a career outside the home.

I will never know what sacrifices you made to spend time with me.  So now, on your birthday, I want to remember what I have received so that when the opportunity arises, I will choose availability over “me-time”; vulnerability over “image management”; relationships over the elusive merit-badge in housekeeping.

I have not even begun to build into the lives of others in the way that you did, but thank you for showing me that it can be done, and that the Great Commission is not always fulfilled with a passport and a suitcase.  Sometimes two people sit at a messy kitchen table, and the Spirit is there, and disciples are made.


Linking up today with Leah Adams and a great group of writers and thinkers at The Loft.