The yard was entirely overgrown as I stood on the curb of an inner-city home with Charlotte, a woman I barely knew. We’d frantically exchanged e-mails the day before—tying up loose ends to a local mission project for our church’s community groups. Other than those e-mails, I knew little of her. But for the moment, our joint purpose was to keep a woman from being fined for violating metro codes.
It wasn’t until the next morning at church that we had a real conversation. She piped in, “Listen, I’m praying for you. I’m praying for your work situation.” I wondered how she knew that I was in the interview process or that work was a matter of prayer in my life. Standing there talking to Charlotte, I began to think, I wish I were that in tune with the Holy Spirit. I wish I were less self-absorbed and more aware of other people’s needs. At that moment I decided I needed to know more of Charlotte.
See, I’ve had a couple mentors over the years, and honestly, I have a pattern. Usually the people who mentor me have qualities that I admire, qualities I’d like others to see in me. My hope has always been that their qualities would rub off on me, and their life experiences would somehow benefit me. (Yes, it’s selfish.)
The Gut-Spilling Begins
Charlotte had a reputation for being prayerful. I knew this because we took a spiritual gifts test on a church leadership retreat. Three people’s top spiritual gift was prayer. Charlotte was one of them. Prayer wasn’t even in my top 10.
Considering all, I decided to ask Charlotte if we could get together some time, just to talk. If she was going to pray for me, I wanted her to know me well enough to know how to pray for me. She took me up on that offer, and the following Saturday morning I found myself sitting on Charlotte’s couch spilling my guts—28 years worth of gut-spilling. (I tend to be an open book, which helps speed up the get-to-know-you process.)
We decided to start meeting on Saturday mornings at her house. Sitting in her living room, my new friend didn’t hold back. Charlotte asked hard questions—the kind that make you think about what’s really going on, the kind she wished someone had asked her at my age.
When I talked about my parents’ divorce, she asked how it affected my relationship with God. When I shared frustrations about friends who were at odds, she questioned if it was because I was uncomfortable or because the situation was displeasing to God. For the most part I think she knew how I’d respond; she only asked so that I’d hear myself come to an answer.
I rattled on, pouring out the details of my life—dealing with my mom’s remarrying, working toward a promotion, and trying to find a new roommate. She posed more questions and shared her perspective as a woman who has been through divorce, remarriage, and job change.
A Mutual Admiration
Many conversations, e-mails, and months later, Charlotte’s still teaching me to pray. She models it. I watch.
And it turns out, the relationship isn’t just one-sided. It’s reciprocal, which I wasn’t exactly expecting. Initially I thought of Charlotte as a counselor, someone who was going to let me dump out all my questions and thoughts. But she’s invited me to walk through life with her, and I’m learning a lot more than prayer. I hear about the challenges she faces—what it’s like to have a child in college, to be a stepmother, to face health issues, to have aging parents.
My passions for missions and social justice are also rubbing off on Charlotte. I talk to her about our roles as Christians regarding issues like the AIDS crisis and human trafficking. We help each other with daily life too. I encourage her to be healthy by drinking more water, and she reminds me to slow down and stop overextending myself.
Lately my life’s been a lot like that inner-city yard where I met Charlotte—overgrown and a little more than I can handle. On tough days I’m particularly grateful that I know my friend. She helps me clean up the mess. She’s wise counsel. She’s the voice of experience. She’s safe. She’s the perspective I can’t find because I’m too close to my life.