Today I learned a truth about discipleship from my infant son.
He loves to walk, but refuses to do so without holding on to something, usually my index finger. When we’re outside in the crisp morning air, rarely does he want to sit and watch the dew sparkle. No, he wants to walk barefoot on the gravel. I call him my all-terrain baby because of his love of new textures beneath his feet.
So, almost without thought, I slipped my shoes off and we walked. As I felt the granite chunks on my heels, a thought invaded: “this is the way to walk through life with someone: shoe-less, so you can feel the road and pick a less rocky path.”
As with most metaphors, I knew this one would be limited. Vulnerability is a tricky thing, and you must step into it much more gingerly than I was treading those stones. But the image of our shadows walking shoe-less, side by side, brought some clarity about discipleship, or mentoring, if you will.
1. It means more to someone that you identify with them emotionally than that you “know what they’re going through.” Just because you can picture it in your mind doesn't mean you can have compassion. In fact, that phrase is the single quickest platitude to infuriate someone who is hurting. It is so much better to find that memory of pain in your heart and feel it freshly with them and hurt together and say, “we can make it through this.” See the difference? One is you looking down on them from a superior and exterior position, and one is you two in it together, fighting as brothers.
2. In dealing with sin, you don’t have to endure the ravages of the same evil in order to identify with someone’s struggle. We all have the same core weaknesses: pride and idolatry. We either give ourselves, someone, or something more pull in our hearts than God’s amazing love. That rebellious core expresses itself differently as it twists what was made to serve God into a self-serving mess. So, if you are mentoring someone with a drug problem, don’t go do drugs in order to feel it. Ask God to identify and release you of crutches you use to escape reality. When that favorite television show has to go, you will be feeling just a hint of what your brother is going through, and you can meet him there and walk with him.
3. This is probably connected to the sentiment Christ was expressing when He said:
“Why do you stare from without at the very small particle that is in your brother’s eye but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye,’ when there is the beam of timber in your own eye? You hypocrite, first get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5 AMP).
When we choose to mentor and be mentored by others (since we all should find ourselves in both roles in the body of believers), we must seek for God to change our hearts first. Otherwise, we find ourselves in a sick cycle of pointing fingers and acting superior, all the while walking around blinded to our own faults. When we’re caught in this cycle, we often say things like, “if my spouse would just do this” or “Why can’t they stop doing that?” The point in those statements is that you want someone else to modify their behavior to suit your whims. That is nothing like what Christ wanted. He wants us to relinquish ourselves and our desires to His love and allow Him to mold us according to His likeness. We can submit to that process together, focused on Him, or we can refuse to submit and instead mold others into our own likeness out of selfish pride. It’s our choice to make.
So, when we go about shoe-less discipleship in our mentoring relationships, our small groups, our parenting, and our friendships, hopefully that vulnerability will produce patience, gentleness, compassion, and…well, this list is starting to look like the Fruit of the Spirit.
And maybe there is a good reason for that. Christ Himself, when He came, didn't simply speak in the clouds that He knows what we’re going through and we need to repent and stop doing those bad things. Instead, He condescended to live a life of poverty and model to His disciples what Kingdom-focused living was all about. Sure, He taught. Teaching is great! But He also walked, wept, and even died in our place. He accepted us as brothers and journey-mates, and when we do the same for others, the product should be Christlike-ness, the Fruit of the Spirit, and a closer walk with the Father as we are molded into His image, as we were made to be.