Originally published Thursday, 24 March 2016.
Last week, I turned thirty-three. Still young enough to not know what I don’t know, I suppose.
Yet, lately, I’m feeling oddly old-ly. (It’s not a word; don’t look it up. It just sounded nice as an adverb.) It’s a time of closing some chapters and opening some new ones. For instance, at The Bridge, the ministry is officially moving beyond us; we suddenly have a younger staff, and it’s put us in a position of mentoring and training. Gulp. Not to mention, we have middle-schoolers. Two of them.
So here we are in this awkward dance of raising up the next generation of leaders.
Have you ever looked around and realized you’re the supposedly the mature one in the group? The result is a bizarre mix of responsibility, humor, and horror.
It's that point in time when you’d like to join in with the group of young’uns, full of passion and ideas, but that pesky voice of experience keeps mumbling remarks in your head like, “well, that’ll never work,” and “tried that already,” and “seriously, did he just say that?” and “boy, does she have a lot to learn.” You start to quote familiar monologues about making good choices and taking responsibility and walking uphill both ways in the snow carrying books and a lunch pail. These mini-sermons (which can be easily expanded to full-length, depending on how often they are punctured with eye-rolling) used to make you want to slam doors and stump away but suddenly they are your friend, a perfect script for diagnosing all societal ills.
And before you know it, you've become the dreaded the nay-sayer, commissioned with the crushing of dreams for the sake of order and rightness and whatever else is good and sane in this world.
Recently, a new realization jarred me away from my chumming with Team Cynical. Thankfully. I was in a meeting with two others around my age. We’d all been involved in the founding of The Bridge. A few gray hairs ago, we were the crazy young ones unleashing visions and hopes like no other, half-listening to the voices of experience and the monologues. In those days, we didn’t think through insurance or liability or long-terms; we just laid it all out there and went for it 110%.
But that particular day, we had to discuss some policies and procedures to corral these newbies, like a sheep dog nipping at the sheep’s heels in attempt to alter their course before they wandered to the edge of a great cliff. Ironically, it seemed like just last week that we were the sheep - the sheep who were fond of great cliffs, in fact. We looked at each other in a moment of responsibility, humor, and horror, and we aged. We had to hammer out the very handbooks that we would’ve rebelled against years ago. That’s when I knew:
It was time to pass the baton of daring dreamer to another and then accept the role of responsible guide instead.
We had to. Not because we wanted to, but because it’s part of growing up and holding the ground that we’ve been given by God's grace. To do otherwise would be detrimental to our maturing and the mentoring of those around us. It means we’ve not just learned hard lessons but also that we aim to leverage them for the betterment of the souls who come behind us.
And, I’ve come to believe this: Dreamers and visionaries who fail to pass this baton end up steeped in pessimism, captains of Team Critical. Why? Because for each of us, the voice of experience amplifies with age. If it’s not channeled toward a fulfilling work, like mentoring new leaders, this voice ends up blaring at our own dreams (as well as all those around it).
Young people possess a certain innocence in their visions, a purity that is inevitably and sadly muffled by age. But they need the wisdom of experienced older people in order to carry these dreams into fruition. Without this partnership, we can become frivolous with our heads in the clouds. On the other hand, more mature individuals need the dreams and visions of young people in order to give purpose to their voice of experience. Without this, we can become cynical and just plain stuck in the mud.
In other words, friends, if our voice of experience doesn't find purpose in the grounding of a dreamer, it will simply grind us deeper into the mud of how it’s always been. If that's you, go find a young visionary and invest there. You have words to share and experiences to pass on. You may have to pull the head out of the clouds first though. Do it gently; it's worth it.
Or, to my fellow visionaries: if our dreams do not find necessary gravity in the experiences of others, we will sail aimlessly and rarely hit the intended target. If that's you, go find a more mature mentor. Look for some wrinkles and gray hairs. Leave your phone at home, go sit together, ask questions, and listen well. You may have to pull them out of the mud first though. Do it gently; it's worth it.
And the beauty is that simultaneously we’re newbies and mentors as we journey through life, in every season. Can we learn to see the potential of another's dreams? Can we choose to see the value of another's experiences? The complementary nature of such a partnership is echoed throughout Scripture, a picture of yielding to one another in love and esteem as we labor for God’s glory.
“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master." Matthew 10:24
“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35
Basically, cloud-stuck or mud-stuck, we need each other - and God gets the glory.