Getting into someone’s life can be messy, but mentoring provides a front row seat to God’s redeeming power.
Last night I did.
It happened while I was driving my friend Lena to her house. Lena is a high school senior and 10 years younger than me, but we’re still friends.
I didn’t set out to disciple someone, but when I met Lena five years ago something clicked. God put her on my heart. We began getting together once a week to work out at the Y and then go to Starbucks to replace every calorie.
After a year, we quit the Y but continued our weekly visits to Starbucks. Over white chocolate mochas, we talk about school, friends, family — and God.
One time we got carried away talking about my new shoes and her chemistry class and cute guys and we sort of forgot about the Creator of the Universe.
“We didn’t talk about God tonight,” Lena noted as we pulled into her driveway. “We always talk about God.” So we talked about Him then — how He seemed scary and confusing and not present in the daily happenings of public high school.
Lena believes in God. But she’s not ready to follow Him completely. She’s afraid doing that would be the end of her fun and exciting life. We can talk about youth group and God’s love, but when we start talking about obedience, Lena squirms and says she has to use the bathroom.
I am the classic goody-goody. My parents are Christians. As a child, I memorized large portions of Scripture. And, I was home schooled. My worst sins consisted of lying to my parents, lashing out at siblings and sneaking ice cream from the outside freezer. Of course, I was always very repentant.
Lena, on the other hand, does things I never would have even thought about doing — things discouraged by youth leaders everywhere. Lena was adopted into a Christian family when she was 7. Her parents divorced several years later and her dad remarried. She’s a survivor — independent and stubborn.
At first I thought Lena just needed to grow in her faith, so we did a Bible study on the basics of the Christian life: reading the Bible, praying, witnessing. I soon realized it wasn’t that she was uneducated in the basics, she just didn’t want to do them.
Now we just talk about God. Lena asks me questions, and I answer them the best I can, using my pocket Bible when I get stuck.
Sometimes I get discouraged. I don’t know how I can help someone so different from me. How can I be relevant to her life when I never experienced what she’s going through?
Satan wants me to feel inadequate and give up.
God wants me to feel inadequate and run to Him for power. When I do, I think He smiles, rolls up his sleeves and goes straight to work. Who’s to say that He didn’t choose me, in my relative wholeness, to model for Lena a life she’s never known but desperately wants — a life only found in Jesus Christ.
On the short walk from Starbucks to the car, I sometimes feel like a priest. I don’t know what triggers it — the darkness, the cool night air or the caffeine — but the sins of that week (at least the mentionable ones) come pouring out.
“You’re going to be disappointed in me.”
“I smoked a pack yesterday.”
I know smoking is just a symptom of a deeper problem.
“You should quit.”
“I will,” she says.
“I know you will.”
I believe Lena will quit, when she sets her mind to it. She’s a good student and works at a fast food place nearly 40 hours a week, saving what she doesn’t spend on cigarettes for college. I know when she commits to Jesus — fully commits — she’ll be a powerful force. That’s why Satan is battling so hard for her.
I recently asked her why she wasn’t trying harder at her relationship with God. “I don’t want to know more about Him, because then I’ll feel all guilty about stuff.”
I think she already feels guilty.
“I feel bad,” she said.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because in the whole time we’ve been meeting, I’ve never really had a good relationship with God.”
“But you’ve had a relationship with Him,” I said. “And He’s obviously talking to you. Otherwise you wouldn’t feel guilty.”
“Oh, I don’t feel guilty,” she said quickly.
“No. I don’t give a care.”
“I think you do, or you wouldn’t bring it up.”
She looked out the window. “It just feels like I’m going down two roads, and I want to just be on one — living for God. You know?”
“I know. “
Last year I began the habit of praying for Lena each night before I dropped her off. I pray for her pressing needs, like supernatural brainpower for her upcoming Spanish final, but I also petition God for her heart. I ask Him to reveal Himself to her in new ways — to show her His plans for her.
Sometimes Lena prays for me, too. Her prayers sound stiff and formal, like she’s talking to her high school principal, but they’re honest. And she remembers to ask how I’m doing the next time we meet.
One night we pulled into the driveway and I was distracted because I needed to be somewhere. Prayer could wait until next week.
“Are we going to pray?” she asked.
When I asked what she needed prayer for, the floodgate opened. My previous engagement was forgotten as I witnessed God’s Spirit rushing in, convicting, probing, calling. It was a holy time.
I know this kind of breakthrough makes the enemy hopping mad. Almost without fail something happens to disrupt prayer time. My cell phone rings. The car becomes unbearably stuffy. A stream of noisy cars pass. Prayer is powerful. And Satan wants to stop it.
Most weeks, on the ride home, we listen to Nirvana.
Kurt Cobain grew up in my town, so I know his story — raised in a Christian home, became the insanely talented, angst-ridden lead singer of Nirvana, shot himself when life got too bad. The welcome sign to my town is a tribute: “Come As You Are.” Interesting that Cobain’s lyrics mirror the message of Christ. Where did he go so wrong?
Until I met Lena, I never really listened to Nirvana, except for one song my Bible college professor played as an example of nihilism. I like Nirvana. They have a good sound. Their lyrics express in a creative way the hopelessness people feel. Nirvana lyrics have been the catalyst for great conversations between Lena and me.
Last night, instead of Nirvana, she brought Marilyn.
“He’s not what I expected,” she says.
I decide to listen to see if he’s what I expected — the embodiment of pure evil.
She lets me listen to about 15 seconds of half a dozen songs. Not really enough to get a feel, except that he sounds angry.
“What do you like about his music?” I ask.
“It’s cool,” she says. “And it’s not as anti-God as I expected. He just talks about how bad things are.”
She gives me an example — some of her favorite lyrics from another Manson CD: “We’ll just cut our wrists like cheap coupons and say that death is on sale today.”
“Pretty crazy, huh?” she asks.
I nod as my throat drops into my stomach. She likes the power of the metaphor. It is powerful — and disturbing — a self- destructive message straight from the enemy. I tell her that this guy obviously understands how desperate people feel, “but he doesn’t offer any answers.”
She squirms a little.
“I think it’s really sad,” I say.
“That he doesn’t know God. That he doesn’t know Jesus overcame death.”
She picks at her black nail polish.
After our conversation, we pray. I ask God to give Lena courage to get to know Him better this year. I pray that she will be the one to offer others the hope they so desperately need.
For three weeks I’ve been encouraging Lena to go to a Christian apologetics conference with me. For three weeks she’s been fighting it, saying she can’t take off work. After we pray, she says, “I think I need to go to that conference with you.” She says it with the same level of enthusiasm as, “I think I need a root canal.” I give her a hug and tell her how glad I am.
On the drive home I thank God for pursuing Lena and allowing me to be a part of what He’s doing. How arrogant of me to think that by saying the right things, I could somehow change Lena. In my greatest moments of inadequacy, God shows Himself strongest.
Later, I’m writing a note. I often write notes to Lena. They contain all the words I couldn’t think to say. I write: “I know it’s scary to give your life to someone, but God wants you, Lena. When you give your life to Him, He will give you something so much better than anything He takes away.”
When that happens, I’m glad I’ll be there to watch.
Copyright 2005 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is a freelance writer and editor. She graduated from Multnomah University with a degree in journalism and biblical theology. She lives in California with her husband, Kevin, who is a family pastor, and her four young children: Josiah, Sadie, Amelia and Jackson. When she’s not hanging out with her kids, Suzanne loves a good cup of coffee, conversation with friends, musical theater and a trip to the beautiful California coast.