Commentary: THE ONES WHO CHANGE US by Sheila Gilmore

By Sheila Gilmore

Throughout the course of our lives, many things have a hand in changing us:  circumstances, our location, education, other people. 

As a matter of fact, as we look back at what made the biggest impact on who we have become, we may realize that certain specific relationships made the most difference for the better  — mentors who spoke profoundly into our lives.

Mark Hamby of Lamplighter Publishing says, “You are the people you meet and the books you read.”  In other words, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17).  Not just anyone you meet on the street will build your life.  Only those that become as intimate and readable as a book or who are close enough to you to shave off the rough edges.

The people who really change us are the ones that are truly present in our lives.  Those willing to hang out with us and have those long conversations of an evening (as opposed to watching TV or tapping on a smart phone).  Those that seek us out or become available when we are seeking a sounding board. Those that really care about our wholeness and internal (and eternal) life. Those that give unsolicited advice because they are that close a friend; and that close a friend that is willing to risk that friendship to tell us the truth.

When I was a young mom, I became acquainted with a mother whose youngest was the same age as my oldest.  She was about 10 years older than me and at least that much wiser (probably more). 

She welcomed me to her house with my entourage of children and included me in her family dinners.  Her teens would play with my little toddlers and babysit my baby.  And she and I would have talks about parenthood, God, life and children that sometimes lasted well into the early morning hours.  Much of who I am today is a result of those long conversations and my relationship with her and her family.

Later, when my kids were a little older, another family came to live with us.  Again, the mom was a little older and they had four kids.  Our boys would play together and became like brothers and my girls became like her son’s little sisters. 

She taught me a lot about cooking, sewing and gardening.  We would talk about all kinds of things as we prepared the evening meal for 14 in our large kitchen.  Our discussions would range from physical health to spiritual well-being and from how to make a good soup to how to discipline a wayward child.  Our exchange of ideas and perusal of each other’s thoughts caused a renaissance of productivity and education for both of us.

There is a lot of talk today about role models.  Everyone and his dog is advised to be a good role model and make sure that they are a good example to the young people who might look up to them. Yet, good models only last as long as their image, and as soon as the real person shows, all of the benefit of being that good role model is gone. 

Hannah Montana was great until she became Miley Cyrus.  Bill Clinton was ok until he became that liar; Jerry Falwell was pretty awesome until he became that adulterer; and Bill Cosby’s comedy will never be the same. Now, we remember them as less than stellar; and the only impact they made on us was to assure us of the tenuous position of balancing on a pedestal.

Admirable role models are a myth.  Anyone can be a role model if he or she works on an image, put on a mask every day and never let anyone see the real person underneath.  That means appearing in public only when being prepared and only in the right places, keeping to oneself, and never letting anyone see you behind your closed door. 

As a role model, one might have some slight impact from a distance on the people crossing one’s path.  But the amount of effort necessary to keep up appearances would rival Michael Jackson’s marketing team.  Forget it!

What we all need more in our playground are mentors.  We need someone to come alongside us and teach us more about ourselves, point out our insecurities, help smooth out our rough edges because we cannot handle ourselves with objectivity. Instead of avoiding any criticism behind our foolish facade, we need to know how others really see us. Ideally the ones that point out our imperfections should be the ones that care about us most deeply.  They have to become as vulnerable as ourselves.

Being a mentor is almost exactly the opposite of a “role model”.  It is opening yourself to allow someone else to see the real you.  It is working on your own character even when no one is watching because when you have that long conversation into the late evening, your true colors will show through and you want them to be mostly pretty.

 It is allowing others to interrupt your life and invade your space because you care about their thoughts and ideas.  A mentor is willing to admit to his mistakes and turn them into lessons for himself or herself and others rather than making ridiculous justifications and silly excuses.

Ahhhh…and now we come down to why we need more mentors in this world.  Many would rather wear the transparent disguise and pretend that they have arrived than show any weakness or fault in themselves. 

Some of us have actually begun to believe the little lies we tell ourselves and have become used to wearing the hood.  At the other extreme, some of us may have just flipped the bird to the world and said “If you don’t like me the way I am, I don’t need you!” and continued to keep our distance.  Both reactions are an avoidance of the need to change and grow.

So we come to the real choice for each of us … if we really have a choice.  Will we be mentors or just distant role models?  Will we press on toward a chance to grow and become more than we are now or will we just take the supposedly easier road and keep our distance from the others in our lives?

Let me give it to you straight. If you are a parent, you don’t have a choice.  You need to be a mentor and not just a role model.  You need to be in the trenches getting real and choosing to be present in your child’s life. And I mean not just there but really there — listening, reacting, interacting, forgiving, confessing, loving, focusing, and being vulnerable to your kids.  If you want to build and shape their lives for the better, you have to be deliberate and realize your role as a mentor.

If you aren’t a parent right now, you can still choose to be a mentor, but it’s not easy or comfortable.  Although you may have a choice to press in or back away, let’s face it: most will see right through the mask you might hide behind.  When they see the real you and you don’t own it, you will have lost the credibility to be even a good role model.

As we start this New Year , I am challenging myself to choose the harder road to become someone better.  I will need others who care about me to help shape me.  I will need a mentor.  More important, if I really want to grow, I must humble myself and become one.