23 May 2017

The slow cooker approach to life, and why we all need mentors

I have never quite seen it in this light before.

In my mind, I am the one who craves collaboration. I was giving in, trying to negotiate and seeking to submit, as a wife.

But lately I realised that I may have been a tad wrong about myself and too harsh on my spouse.

Since turning fifty, I have developed this inclination to think of my parents who have gone on ahead to Paradise. I also think of my growing years with more distance and objectivity.

As a young adult, there is a certain fierce  protection of who we are becoming and the stories we tell ourselves are all valour and glory.

The time we stood up to the teacher
That moment we got the grade we worked for
The dream job we missed but the other one that worked well enough
All the things we will still do and places we will go!

But now, I am more open to being wrong, even about myself. And this realisation cements for me two values I have held dear and tried to pursue:

1. The critical importance of an honest community/mentor
2. Within the marriage, the critical importance of a growth fertiliser, such as a date night.

As I grew up in a large household with parents who are busy making ends meet and siblings who are all neck-deep in their own growth and struggles, I have developed the habit of thinking things up and making my own way through life.

This self-reliance is great in so many ways. It gave me a sense of confidence and filled my life with possibilities (the range thankfully curtailed by my faith foundations).

Yet, like all youths, I needed guidance and the presence of someone older and kind who would believe in me and allow me once in a while to stand on their shoulders to gaze further into the horizon. That I did not find. My extroversion and leadership capabilities created an impression that I was always okay. In a telling moment, a slightly younger person once came up to me and asked me why I was always so cheery. I knew I wasn’t always cheery. I wrestled with whether I was being hypocritical and was satisfied that I wasn’t. I am basically positive and hopeful in my outlook.

So my need went undetected.

No one saw it. I did not feel it.

Much of my learning and mentoring happened with books. Books are great. They mentor us in the world of truths and ideas. But now I see that they are not adequate. The authors never saw me and certainly will never witness my life to be able to speak specifically into it. That is the work of a personal mentor, or friend who loves your soul and wants the best for you.

This I lacked.

Thankfully in God's Providence, the wisdom of the books shored up my intellect and my soul.

Over the years, my abilities and capacities deepened and enlarged as the opportunities continued to come. I led teams and on the whole did a good job. But one thing about leadership always bothered me: the decision making process. More often than not, opinions are sought and the decision is usually one person's prerogative. The world after all, feeds us a model of leadership that is largely the superhero zeitgeist. I have gone to enough leadership conferences to hear 'the buck stops here' and 'it's lonely at the top' repeated ad nauseam. Well, the whole subject of how decisions are made requires another post, but we get the idea. (In the church, however, we are all living stones God is putting together and we all have the same Holy Spirit within us. So the superhero model (or dream CEO model) is not a good one for us). Very few of us have the privilege of being guided lovingly in our choices and decisions. Yet how our lives turn out, rests upon key decisions we make.

Now if thinking is largely done alone and in one's head and heart, no wonder we find it tricky in marriage for decisions happen all the time over matters small and big.

This is why I puzzle over what other couples speak or write of when they use: “we decided….”.  How did they arrive at their decision? Do they both believe it equally? How long did they pray and was it necessary to study the Scripture too?

Of course, there is no one way, and it is plain naivete to think that a good, godly decision agreed upon will lead to perfect, desired outcomes. Life is just far too complex for that.

But I hear too much frustration and feel it enough myself to know that for most of us, this is an area that needs some rethinking. Like me, perhaps you also have the need to be listened to, to be challenged, to collaborate, and to make decisions well with another soul.

Actually, this takes a slow cooker process of knowing our values and percolating through what consequences we are ready to live with,  and what we believe is the direction God is setting us on. Alas, it is more likely, with city living, that we microwave our thoughts and pan-fry our decisions, only to be left wondering afterwards….

Seven years ago I asked my husband to begin date nights. We took a long time to get around to it. Initially our daily irritations would keep creeping into our times and take all the wind out of our sails. We were bobbing in waters and seemed to be going nowhere fun. It was easy to give up. But we returned to it. We do it more regularly now. Often, we still apply the microwave mode, hoping to have fizz, fun, romance all happen, plus spiritual substance to boot. It’s a good thing we are getting older I guess. We realise that the slow cooker mode works better. So much less stress, just keep the current going and let the things break down themselves and get all gooey and stick together and let all the wonderful nutrients seep into the broth.

There is a serious parallel here with our spiritual life too.

We want a spiritual high.

God wants us to go slow and steady and for the long haul, right into eternity (yes, I know that's not length as such).

Perhaps like me, your strength of being fiercely able and independent can work against what is truly good for you.

A strength needs to be noticed, nurtured and directed to release its true potential.

I advocate that all young people have some form of mentoring.
That community be authentic enough for us to learn to listen to each other.

This will require what we take a slow cooker approach to life a bit more.

Especially with our soul mates.

Folks, we have a desperate need to slow down, cultivate stillness and silence, and learn to listen and communicate.

We need to be slow enough to notice our souls and hear our own needs.
We need to seek out mentors, and risk being told hard stuff we need to hear.
We need to slow down to listen enough so we hear the soul of another, not just the words.
We need to communicate that we care for their needs, even if we may not be able to do anything about it. 

So much is at stake with all our speed.

What is one way you can slow down in the coming month?

images credit: https://www.extremetech.com/extreme/202924-the-25-best-images-from-the-hubble-telescopes-25-years-in-space

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