So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you’re already doing this; just keep on doing it. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11, MSG
Encourage each other every day while you have the opportunity. If you do this, none of you will be deceived by sin and become stubborn. ~ Hebrews 3:13, GW
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. ~ Proverbs 27:17, NIV
In 2002, when the excitement of Rick Warren’s THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE first came on the scene, I can remember a fellow Christian servant saying dismissively, “There’s nothing new in there. It did nothing for me.” I, on the other hand, felt quite the opposite. The book may have revealed what was under our noses the whole time, but it did it in a fresh and energizing way. I would credit much of my early education in ministry to that book, which I was privileged to study with an intimate group of girlfriends.
I often tell people that THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE gave me the profound gift of removing the regret for who I am. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel ashamed that I am talkative and gregarious. I realized there was no disgrace in wearing my feelings on my sleeve nor in being unable to handle my life’s troubles on my own. Rick Warren peeled back what God really had to say about those things. The voices of my past were shown to be voices of ignorance and heavy-handed misjudgment.
Those who have read this book (and I recommend everyone do so) know that in it, Warren details five core purposes for human life that he has gleaned from Scripture. These five include being planned for God’s pleasure (worship), being formed for God’s family (fellowship), being created to become like Christ (discipleship), being shaped to serve God (ministry), and being made for a mission(evangelism). In my estimation, the parent of a child with special needs has the amazing opportunity to fulfill all five of these purposes in one place when they are engaging in the model of mentoring.
In his book, Warren makes the excellent case that worship is far more than warming a pew on Sunday or merely lifting our hands to inspiring music. He maintains that any time we are doing what God made us to do, it is pleasing to Him. Those things can and are our spiritual act of worship. (See Romans 12:1) When parents are accomplishing what God has assigned for them to do, doing it with joy and humility, guiding others along the way, this is worship. “Doing life together,” an apt description of mentoring, is truly God-honoring.
We also live out our purpose with gusto when we refuse to buy into the societal lie that we are to “pick ourselves up by our bootstraps.” The realization that God never made us to walk through life’s struggles alone should be tremendously comforting to all of us. The ability to identify with another person who has similar circumstances is a a great gift in mentoring. I like to joke with people, “We are limping to the finish line together, arm in arm.” That can be a good visual image during the times when we feel like it’s us against the world.
No person grows in a vacuum either. Mentoring gives us unique opportunities to become more like Christ. Our character is shaped by one another. We learn from each other. And in fact, Christ himself used mentoring to shape the lives of those twelve spiritually clumsy, short-sighted men for three years. If the Maker of the Universe found this model to be effective, it certainly should be for the rest of us.
Mentoring also transforms parents who are discouraged or humiliated because they cannot give back. I see this all too often in my work. Couples who are raised to be hard workers, giving individuals and generous in charity find themselves crushed and belittled by constantly being on the receiving end. Giving back or service is just a natural outpouring of gratitude. When a parent of a child with special needs mentors another on the same journey, they are in their “sweet spot” of service. It is an act of giving for which God has uniquely fashioned them.
Finally, we are all called to share the Good News of what God has done and is doing in our lives. This doesn’t mean we necessarily need to travel across the world or even across the country to do so. Being a mentor to another parent who may be weary, downtrodden or hopeless is an exciting chance for a special need parent to share the reason for their peace. When people see that we have joy, contentment and hope in the midst of difficult circumstances, they naturally want to know how we got there and how they can get there too. As one of my colleagues notes, this is “low hanging fruit” for evangelization.
What a tremendous gift to come to the realization that my life, along with all its challenging circumstances, has immense purpose! I want to share that gift with every parent of a child with special needs that I can. I am passionate about showing these dear people that there is incredible richness and joy for us and our children, even though we appear to have lost life’s lottery. Our griefs are really gifts in disguise. We just need someone to walk along side us to help our eyes unwrap them.