I have the honor of mentoring an amazing young man we’ll call “A”. We met four years ago when he was in first grade. Because he had just moved from Africa and didn’t speak or understand English, we spent most of our time each week playing with Legos and Play-dough and repeating English words for different things. I fell in love with his huge eyes and gentle spirit immediately and it wasn’t very long before I knew his heart was as beautiful as his smile. He teaches me and reminds me of what is important. His grace towards me when I’ve failed to show up has taught me more about God’s grace than many things or people in my life. He has also taught me the ministry of showing up. Something I need to be reminded of often.
One of our favorite games is Connect Four. We’ve played it regularly for the past three years and it is cool to see how much he has learned in the past year or two about strategy. It used to be that I would have to work to lose. Not anymore. Now I have to work to win.
But there is one thing about losing that I’ve learned during our endless matches. There is something that almost always guarantees a loss. He and I are both guilty of it and we never notice it until it is too late.
We always lose when we are only paying attention to our own plays.
I’m dropping in red checkers and I have a vision of how I’m going to make four in a row happen. That’s all I see. And then I notice A. looking at me and laughing. That is the cue that I’ve lost. I look back to the board and only for the first time do I see his yellow checkers – 1, 2, 3, … dang. I was so busy focused on my plan to notice his plan. And so I lost.
A. has done it too and we both realize why. You don’t play the game alone. You have to pay attention to the movements of the other person. When you do that, your odds of winning increase dramatically.
It made me think about my life and how I win or lose at loving people. Hear me out – I don’t view life or loving others as a game. I’m not seeking to win anything or anyone but I do want to succeed at loving others well. Loving others the way Jesus loves.
I usually fail at loving others when I’m only paying attention to my plays.
What do they think of me. What are they needing from me. What am I do achieve here. What am I needing or wanting from them. I’m dropping in “my” stuff and I have a vision of how this relationship, conversation, experience is going to go. I’m so busy focusing on my plays rather than focusing on others that I lose. I lose an opportunity to love well. I lose a chance to really be Jesus to them. I lose a chance to just be with them.
I’m going to work on paying attention to A’s plays – both in Connect Four and in our weekly conversations. That is a relationship I definitely don’t want to lose in. I’m also going to work on paying attention with other people that God places in my life and what God himself is up to. I have no doubt I’ve missed several moments with God because I was focused on my own plays. But is a completely different blog post.
And, as usual, A. teaches me more than I ever will teach him. It is truly debatable who is mentor and who is mentee.