There is a lot we can learn about mentoring from observing the dormant wood on a clematis vine. Mentors grow weary. Yes, I am afraid it is true. So do teachers, pastors, CEOs and parents. There are days when we all find ourselves on the verge of losing heart. Coming alongside the people God gives is a call to be a servant. And last time I heard, being a servant is hard work. That is why I am drawn to my backyard garden. It is there I often discover rich metaphors that help me better navigate the call to love and serve others so that they and I might become more fully human.*
One of my clematis vines grows a community of beautiful purple flowers in June. The vine itself is over six years old. At the end of each season many gardeners cut their clematis vine to the ground, which for some varieties is a mistake. It took many years of my studying this particular vine to know about its way. For the first two years I cut it to the ground at the end of each summer. For certain, new shoots would emerge from the soil the following spring, but the growth was not cumulative nor was it prolific.
Yet, this particular clematis is of a variety that requires that the gardener allow the vine to go dormant and the old wood to cling to the fence over the winter months. Come spring, when the weather warms, new growth will emerge from the dormant wood of last year’s vine. Through trial and error, I learned that my vine preferred to be left intact; desired that its old wood be understood and experienced for its life. So I stopped cutting it back. I allowed the vine to be as it wanted over the winter months. And in the spring it brought forth branches and blooms in ways I would have never imagined.
My most treasured verse in scripture comes from the book of Hebrews. The author of this letter expresses deep desire for the readers. Having served in pastoral ministry for many years, I can feel the author’s angst as he calls out for the church to remain in fellowship with Jesus and with one another. And, because of my own “mini sufferings” due to being a Christian, I can feel a tad of the fear the recipients of this letter must have had. With Nero’s persecution impeding, who wouldn’t want to return to the safety of their previous lives?! The raw emotions are spilled out across the pages of Hebrews. In chapter 12 we find these words:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
I realize that being a mentor does not correlate to the life of these 1st century people. Our mentoring does not involve this level of persecution and extreme opposition from sinful people. But, while the task of mentoring in our day and age brings great joy and many gifts, we can become a tad jaded. Lets be honest mentoring can include pain, a few setbacks and on occasion, a deep disappointment. And when this happens, we must consider the vine.
In John 15, Christ tells us that He is the vine and that we are the branches. I love Jesus for many reasons; one being that I love him for giving me this metaphor for himself and for us. He is the vine. We are the branches that grow from this vine. When mentoring becomes overly difficult I sometimes wonder if Christ is even aware of the situation. I sometimes experience him like the dormant clematis vine that I want to mess with and cut back. I question my backyard climber as I question Christ’s own life (can I admit this?). I find myself crying out, “Where are you O Lord!?” But if I let winter be winter and if I wait, I find that yes, indeed the vine – the Christ – is life, has never ceased being life and will forever be THE life. New growth does appear. Branches become and flowers bloom. I just had to wait and tend to what was brought forth.
Yes, mentoring is hard work. Let us consider Jesus so that we do not give in to the weariness. Let us continue to have hope; hope that growth in us and in our mentees will come. If we remain in the vine, we as mentors and they as mentees, will continue to grow towards the fully flourishing human beings God intends for us to be.
*For a great read this summer, I suggest N.T. Wright’s new book, After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. In this book Wright presents a wonderful thesis that Jesus came to launch God’s new creation, and with it a new way of being human. Grasping God’s vision for our fully human life is a vitally important “first step” in any mentoring process.