The road to life is a disciplined life; ignore correction and you’re lost for good. Proverbs 10:17 (The Message)
I recently attended a workshop for our worship team at my church. We do three of them a year, and often speakers are brought in to develop and hone our skills. This last one included a session by Scott Bullman who is on the faculty of Liberty University.
He gave ten points which would be important for members of the worship team, whether they be musicians, singers or the media folks who are so important (if there are no words to a song on the screen, then there’s a big problem).
One thing he said was a summation: “The best gift of worshippers is to be the best you that you can be. It takes continual growth, and you have to be a student always.” I think that advice is not just for members of a worship team, but for every believer regardless of how their gifts are used in the body. You should strive to be the best that you can be at what you do.
In a way, that’s what a mentor does with his charges. He helps them figure out what they are good at, and then he helps figure out what is needed to make the mentee the best he can be. It might be encouragement, or helping suggest possible training or education. It might be helping them get experience or connections to help the mentee get started. It might mean just being there to consider what options are available and dialogue the pros and cons of each.
Among other things that Scott said was that you need to develop your craft. For a singer, that means working on your voice and practice. For instrumentalists, it means that you need to practice and get better. You must be willing to be stretched, and develop the courage and confidence in your abilities.
I struggled a little when Scott Bullman said that, at age 52, he had gone to a voice instructor because his voice had “changed”. I started singing without any formal training at age 71, although I had a musical background. I can’t tell any “change” since I’ve never sung before.
I played the piano as a child, and then switched to the bass violin. That’s not an instrument that is easily carried around. I probably should have switched to bass guitar in high school – at least it has frets and is easily transported. That’s what I call an “if only” moment: “if only” I had continued with piano or a bass guitar.
But that’s a statement of “if only”, not a “what if”. You see, the phrase “if only” is used when looking at life in hindsight. It often reflects a regret what you may have missed a big opportunity for some reason or another. “What if”, on the other hand, is forward thinking.
Scott then mentioned a book that I am now reading which is intriguing. It is entitled “If: Trading Your ‘If Only’ Regrets for God’s ‘What If’ Possibilities” by Mark Betterson. I had not heard of Betterson before, but when Scott Bullman quoted from the book at our session, I knew I liked the plain writing style. It is a book to be savored. A chapter a day, in fact. No speed reading allowed.
I recall using some of Betterson’s logic when my son was having trouble at a boarding school near Boston in 1986. He came home for Thanksgiving vacation in his second year, and admitted that he had been so miserable that he had skipped going to class for the previous week. Over the next few days, we spent time together talking through his challenges. As a parent, I wanted to find out the “why” of his misery. Only then could I understand how to help.
What emerged from our talks was that he felt he was an outsider – he didn’t have a group of friends that had his interests, so he felt socially out of water. I found this hard to believe because he has such a sunny disposition that everyone at his previous school liked him. Yet here he was 700 miles away in an environment that was cold and unwelcoming.
We then talked about his options – he was 17 at the time. I wanted him to be part of the decision process. I wanted him to make the best decision for himself at the time, but I wanted him to understand the consequences of each option. One of those options, of course, was to pull him out from Andover and return him to a school in Raleigh. Another would have been to find another private school that was more suitable. His mother and I said that whatever path he chose, we would support him.
As we talked through his options, I used my “if only” comment. I told him that whatever decision he made – either to stay, or go somewhere else – I wanted him to be sure that he would never regret a decision to leave and say “if only” I had stayed. I also told him that if he chose to stay, it would take courage. Going back to an environment that had seemed hostile was not an easy way out. Plus, he would be facing exams having missed an entire week of classes.
Another day passed, and he started thinking about returning – perhaps only for the rest of the semester which would be over in a couple of weeks. I was concerned that if he returned to his misery and didn’t have any resources to help him, he would be in trouble and it might not end well.
I asked him if there was any teacher that he liked or felt he could lean on if needed. He thought about it and said that Mr. Wennik, his German teacher, was someone he could connect with. So, I called Mr. Wennik and described the plight of my son. His reaction was interesting. He said “I would love to help your son. You see, I have just gone through the same issue with my own daughter, and I think I know how to help him through this rough spot.”
Another thing Mr. Wennik said in our phone call amazes me to this day. He told me that he was surprised that I took the initiative to call him to help my son. As incredulous as that sounds, he continued by saying that most parents wouldn’t have done what I did. I am astonished that any parent wouldn’t reach out to help one of their children through a struggle.
The rest is, of course, now history. My son returned to school, and with Mr. Wennik’s help and mentoring, he was guided to a group of students that my son identified with – creative students who loved music and drama. He bonded with them. His misery turned into happiness over time.
On his tenth reunion in 1998, my son flew back to Andover with his sister, who had also attended Andover and graduated with him. On the airplane trip, he told her that he wanted his children to have the opportunity of going to Andover. Now, this was the school that he once hated and was miserable.
I look back on this story as a turning point in his life. He faced adversity returning to a boarding school away from home. With help from a mentor, Mr. Wennik, he stuck it out and was able to graduate the next year. His grades (and his attitude) improved from that point on. It wasn’t his intellect that was holding him back from being the best he could be. It was the environment of being alone away from home and not having any friends.
There are two takeaways here. First, when life puts you in tough spots, seek out a mentor who can help you navigate the difficulties. Mr. Wennik was a god-send who reached out and took my son under his wing. He did something that I couldn’t do because I could not be present for my son when he needed immediate help.
The second takeaway, and perhaps just as important, is to think about the difference of “what if” in your analysis of a decision. “What if” really is the idea of thinking about the possibilities that come from taking a certain action. I used the flip side of that by talking to my son about the “if only” analyses: I wanted him to look at his decision from a longer perspective so that he could look back on it and not have any regrets for his decision. It worked for him and he made a courageous but correct decision.
Our challenge is twofold. The first is to be available as a mentor when an opportunity arises. You can be the Mr. Wennik to someone else’s child. The second lesson is that a mentor (or even a parent) needs to help his protégé make their own decisions. That’s a growth experience. The mentors job is to help the mentee consider all options and then think through “what if” I took this path instead of another one. It’s fun to watch when it turns out well, as it did for my son.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: The next generation is screaming at the older generation to get involved in their lives so they can have someone with experience to talk through their challenges. You can help them find a way to convert an “if only” regret into a “what if” opportunity.
FURTHER STUDY: Read “IF: Trading your ‘If Only’ Regrets for God’s ‘What If’ Possibilities” by Mark Betterson is available from Amazon.
WORSHIP: Listen to Michael W. Smith sing Draw Me Close:
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