by Ryan Thurman
In my early twenties I learned a lesson that marked the trajectory of my life. Like most meaningful lessons, pain was essential. I was broken and confused by my duplicity. I loved God, or at least I wanted to love Him. I was effective in Christian ministry but I was lacking in character. The cry of my heart was for wholeness in my life.
I knew that if I stayed where I was, I could easily hide behind gifting and competency and avoid the need for healing and maturing, at least for a while, so I packed up my truck and left my family, community and city. I took six months off to drive across the country to visiti friends and family. The majority of my time was living in a small town in Michigan with my grandparents. Their love for God and for each other provided the environment needed to allow God to begin in me a deep work of healing. I was in awe of their simple yet profound faith. Each day I joined them for morning prayer. You can learn a lot about someone by being invited into their conversation with God. I learned from their prayers and by watching their lives what they had discovered, in their many years, to be the most important things in life.
God used my time with them to be a corrective in how I viewed older people. I was malformed by our society that places ultimate value upon physical beauty, strength and productivity. Because older people generally do not have this in abundance they are greatly undervalued, unappreciated, and to our collective shame, even at times treated as burdens. We've got is so wrong! They are treasures that have so much to offer. This is especially true for those who have navigated life's hardships and have not given into the temptation to 'lose heart.' Who have not become hardened and cynical, but in glaring contrast, with God's help, have grown in grace, wisdom and beauty.
The Cry for Spiritual Parents
We live in a time that has a shortage of healthy families with healthy parents. We have a generation of young people crying out for parents in their life. Many have broken lives and have experienced more rejection and pain than most of us can imagine. They come from all walks of life, and they’re desperate for a nurturing spiritual parent, someone to really care and help them find their identity and life in Christ.
The good news is that when we come into relationship with God we gain a new family, a spiritual family. Jesus promises this in Mark 10:29
My time with my grandparents taught me the importance of honoring and learning from those who have gone before me and I have made it a priority to have older people in my life that I can follow. Not to try to become them but to learn the habits and convictions that have contributed to them becoming like Jesus.
Once again I have had to unlearn the patterns of this world that tells us we need to find our own way, to be our own persons. It was Frank Sinatra who exemplified this many years ago when he sang, "I did it my way"
But the biblical instruction is that we learn from others who have gone before us in the faith: Paul writes, I urge you to imitate me. (1 Corinthians 4:16) And later writes, Join one another in following my example, brothers, and carefully observe those who live according to the pattern we set for you. (Philippians 3:17)
This is what spiritual parents offer us. They help us become all that God has for us. It is that uncomplicated and that profound. It is simply helping someone take the next step ahead in their life as they learn to become more like Jesus.
The Bible is full of this language and understanding. Job referred to himself as a father to the needy (Job 29:16). Peter referred to Mark as his son (I Peter 5:13). John continually referred to those he was writing to as his children (I John 2:1). Paul wrote, "Even if you had ten thousand guardians in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel." (I Corinthians 4:15)
God has provided for me a many spiritual parents. I want to highlight George and Hanna Miley and give a brief overview of how our relationship developed and what it looks like.
The Call to become Spiritual Parents: to become the Father
For about twenty years I have been captivated by Rembrandt's painting of the Prodigal Son, and it was Henri Nouwen who helped me pay attention to the centrality of the Father. Nouwen writes, But what of the father? Why pay so much attention to the sons when it is the father who is in the center and when it is the father with whom I am to identify? Why talk so much about being like the sons when the real question is: Are you interested in being like the father? It feels somehow good to be able to say: “These sons are like me.” It gives a sense of being understood. But how does it feel to say: “The father is like me”? Do I want to be like the father? Do I want to be not just the one who is being forgiven, but also the one who forgives; not just the one who is being welcomed home, but also the one who welcomes home; not just the one who receives compassion, but the one who offers it as well?
The call of spiritual parents is too bless, extend mercy and love, even when, like our Heavenly Father, we may be unappreciated, taken advantage of, and even rejected
The call is for spiritual children to to come as they are to spiritual parents and allow them to become channels of God’s mercy and blessing
Parents need their children and children need their parents. This is just as true of our biological families as it is with our spiritual families