Let me tell you about a little boy’s trip to his favorite place on earth – the Ocean City, NJ boardwalk. If you have ever been to this boardwalk in the summer you know the extent of the crowds of people – it can be both exhilarating and overwhelming. For five-year-old Little Walker, with amusement rides and snacks and so many people, a night spent on the boardwalk was his most favorite thing to do. All day long he told everyone he encountered “I am going to the boardwalk tonight!” So when dinner was done and the dishes were all washed and dried, he headed up to the boards with his parents and little sister, his aunt and uncle. Little Walker could barely contain himself as he entered the scene: Ferris wheels and boogie boards and flashing billboards, skateboards and strollers, Steel’s fudge and Mack & Manco’s pizza and Shriver’s saltwater taffy, the sounds of the ocean in the background, and wave upon wave upon wave of people. Absolutely wonderful!
But when he spotted the Johnson Caramel Popcorn shop (his dad’s favorite) and excitedly looked back for his dad and could not find him, the whole scene turned on Little Walker. The lights, the noises, the smells, and the faces all began to press in upon him, and terrify him. The excitement was gone. Little Walker was lost. He began to quietly cry as he searched the crowd for his family. Face after face, big and small, young and old, missed him and his desperate situation. Not one of them focused any sort of sustained attention on him. Everything and everyone raced by the boy in a collective overlooking, until out of the crowd, one familiar face stood out. The moment for Little Walker was not when he saw his uncle’s face but when his uncle’s face rested on him. What a wonderful face looking at and moving toward him through the hurried mob of people. His uncle ran over and hoisted him up into his arms. Little Walker began to cry harder and harder as his uncle carried him back to the rest of the family. His uncle had found him! The panic was over.
There are many people in our church communities today who relate to Little Walker’s experience on the boardwalk. For them the church has been such a good place in their lives, one in which they learned to trust God and serve their neighbor and find friendship in the world. But then somewhere along the way—a job loss, a betrayal, a rejection, a criticism, an illness—some event in their life has triggered a recognition, “a turn” of sorts, and they have begun to look around and realize how alone and unsure they actually feel. They wonder if they have somehow lost their way in the midst of that place that has in the past been so instrumental in helping them find their way.
We desperately need people who in simple and unspectacular ways play the role of the uncle for the many little walkers in our midst. Men and women who pay attention and really listen and patiently give space for others’ questions, confusions, frustrations, and wonderings provide a powerful presence in our communities. Thankfully, many of you are playing that role in your communities.
This morning I find myself wondering in particular about those of you who have been uncles and aunts for years in your communities, but now, in the season you find yourselves, you are beginning to identify or feel more like Little Walker, a bit lost and overlooked in the crowd. This realization can be profoundly disillusioning. I obviously don’t know the dynamics and circumstances of where you are, but I do wonder: who is paying attention and listening and making space for you? Who might begin to provide a presence that helps you sort out your current set of feelings and thoughts? We never grow out of our need for spiritual companions and mentors. During this season on the journey, may you have the courage to invite someone else to join you in prayerfully paying attention to the Spirit’s work in your life.
• Reflection & Conversation: Who or what are you identifying with in this boardwalk story?
• Join us for our upcoming webinar, this Tuesday evening 8-9 CST—Demystifying Spiritual Mentoring. Learn More…