HORSES, WATER, AND SACRED SERVICE
“You can lead a horse to water…”
Well, you know the rest.
I was never easily led to water, or anywhere else for that matter. I have always been cautious about what the water had really done for the one seeking to lead me. If it appeared that the proverbial water had done something beneficial for you, I may well follow you and take a drink. If you speak about the water as being helpful in one way, yet how you live exhibits something entirely different, I am not interested in being led. Not by you. Not by anyone. It does not matter how many others may be sipping or gulping. I want to literally test the waters before I will follow the lead. And most certainly before I take a taste.
And so, I have never been a follower or certainly not a devotee. I am not claiming that this is right. It has just been the way I have walked my particular path. I have had many great teachers. I have had a few heroes. I had a great therapist, and a wonderful spiritual director. I have never really had a mentor. Not a consistent one. Looking back, I can see the limitations that this has imposed. I can see the struggles that could have been lessened had I had such a companion. With all the great teachers I still learned a painful amount through good old trial and error.
At around twenty years into active ministry I began to feel the call to assist and mentor people who were being drawn to lives of fulltime sacred service. Not all of these folks would call the vocation ministry per se. But I was aware of people in my sphere who were working jobs to support themselves yet were being urged forward to live lives that would be in service of supporting others. They felt the centrifugal force of their lives was pulling them to use their gifts and aptitudes for purposes greater than just their own selves. For most of these people there was some level of trepidation around how they would move from where they were to where they were being called to be.
I related to this dilemma. I had gone through a similar transition. When I found myself at a startling crossroads in my life, out of it came the call that was to become the pull of my life. I prayed and I prayed into that call. I knew that I had to financially support myself, and I had no idea how those two factors were going to come together. At that point I had no therapist, no spiritual director, and certainly no mentor.
And so, I took each wobbly step forward on my own. I prayed deeply and listened fervently. I sometimes fought and more often fumbled. But I kept moving forward. The next right thing fell into place. I did not let fear stop me. In fact, I let fear propel me forward. I knew what I was meant to do, even though I often believed I did not have the personality to do it.
I wince as I recall the number of mistakes I made. I cringe as I realize the number of mistakes I am still making. I sometimes wistfully wish I had had that mentor. I wish a horse whisperer had come along to lead me to the water for which I was thirsting.
That was not the way I was to be led. I guess deep down I know I would not have listened.
That deep down knowing did not clearly reveal itself until I acted upon my guidance to offer mentorship to others who might be facing a similar scary trail to what I had tread. My heart wanted to be for others the mentor I never had. I wanted to help seekers avoid the many pitfalls I had encountered when I was scared and mostly alone. I genuinely felt it was time in my life and in my ministry to help usher in the next generation of helpers. It felt as if this mentoring would be a piece of legacy I could leave that would make use of my own fumbling yet deeply sincere journey to a life of service.
You can lead a horse to water…
I marvel that after the path that I have personally trod I thought that others might eagerly want me to lead them to the waters of their own calling. I wince at my own arrogance in thinking anyone would be drawn to listen to me and to follow my council. It is a humbling lesson in learning what I did not know I did not know. I guess more than ever I needed a mentor to show me how to mentor.
I am learning that you cannot lead those who do not wish to be led. Not even if they say that they do. You cannot guide those who think they already know. You cannot teach ones who are not yet teachable. And that is exactly as it is meant to be. The lesson in this was clearly for me, and not for them.
Maybe this wonderful small herd did not resonate with what the water had done for me. Maybe they, like me, need to go it alone and make their own mistakes on the path of their independent contributions. Maybe I was kidding myself that my now twenty-five years of full-time ministry had given me some insight that might be valuable for others. Maybe the path I was showing was simply not the path for them. So many maybes. Each valuable lessons. For me.
I remember a retreat day a decade or more ago when I had the realization that I felt I no longer needed to be needed. Maybe that is the lesson that is being reinforced now. Have I fallen into the trap of needing to be needed? Was I trying to pull horses in directions that they did not want to go? Did I not listen closely enough behind the calls for mentorship? Was I blinded by my own lens of what I thought people needed? Did I enter into mentorship with attachments or expectations?
I guess I was the horse that was led to the water and it was me that needed to drink.
I needed to know that my path is the path that is right for me, and only me. That I will continue each day to serve as I am inspired to serve, and to release the inevitable attachments to how it is received. I will continue to help if asked and know that what I offer may or may not be employed. I do not, and cannot, know what is best for others. I often am mistaken in what is even best for me. I am as expanded as I am humbled. I am grateful beyond measure. I now know what I didn’t know.
After all this time I know that life can lead this horse to water, and I am finally free to drink.