I have a wonderful father.
He is handsome and funny. He is strong and was such a good provider for our little family, even though he was hurt in a horrible accident when I was barely five years old. That accident took his hands and left him scarred more than physically. Despite the setback, he endured the re-learning of life skills, loss of friendship and identity, and financial hardship. Through it all, he and my mother managed to raise two children who work hard, love others and do their best to be good people. Yes, my father is definitely a man to look up to - a giant in my mind.
However, he was not my spiritual leader. He didn't insist on his family going to a house of worship. Oh sure, we talked about G-d and His constant provision on occasion. We said grace before eating the festive meals and I know my parents prayed...a lot; we just didn't pray as a family on a regular basis. I had a bible available to me, but it never occurred to me to actually read it, nor was it suggested or required. For whatever reason, I didn't have the spiritual leading or training that I now know is so beneficial and needed for young people growing up in a hard world.
I wonder if I had always been looking for spiritual leadership.
When I had my first baby, I knew, without doubt, that we needed to be someplace where she could grow up in a religious environment and also a place where I could learn. My husband was supportive, but not interested in participating in any way. I, however, was desperate to learn. Hungry, even. I knew G-d, believed wholeheartedly without question, but was looking for direction, teaching, mentoring. Shepherding.
We ended up in the back row of a large congregation. Me and my baby in an infant carrier sitting and observing. Listening, Praying. For many years we attended, actively seeking to serve, worship and learn. When the time came to leave, it was obvious to me that I was not being mentored but preached to...or at. It left me empty and seeking. We, (by now I had three babies), came home to wait for direction; I decided I wasn't going to go anywhere without being spiritually led. So I prayed and waited.
I didn't have to wait for long. It was only a few months before I had direction...and a voice coming through the stereo speakers of my vehicle. That recorded voice was a teacher. A gifted and passionate teacher, one who had studied and was eager to share that knowledge and wisdom with others; with me and anyone else who wanted to learn. I drove, alone, just to listen...and absorb. I popped in one tape, devoured it, then popped in another. Over a hundred of them I listened to, repeatedly and non-stop until I had digested and understood this new way of thinking, of teaching...of living.
Taught by one that lived it himself. He, his family and a congregation, all living this lifestyle of passionately following the Scriptures. Seeking to learn and following the commands. At last, I had found a shepherd. A spiritual man, a father-figure I could look up to, respect and learn from - and boy, did I learn. I learned and my kids learned. I diligently sought to serve, worship and continue to learn the ways of keeping Torah.
I was finally blessed with a spiritual mentor. I couldn't believe my good fortune, and let me tell you, I didn't take it for granted. I poured my life into that congregation, to serve my LORD and to please this mentor and teacher the LORD had provided. Bonds of friendship formed in that place; I was thrilled and thankful. My family belonged and I felt needed and wanted...for a while, anyway.
Good things rarely last, and neither did our time in that congregation. We were there for eight years and it's been a year since we left. Sadly, I am still wondering why I'm so grieved that it ended so poorly. And after pondering and meditating on the whys and hows, I'm left with one conclusion.
We all need a 'father', a spiritual father, to teach and lead. To care and shepherd. To guide and defend. To keep us grounded and involved. Sure, HaShem is our ultimate Father, and Yeshua is the Good Shepherd, of course; but it is the biblical model, and the Jewish model, to be mentored and lead by an active shepherd in our lives. If our natural parent doesn't step into that role, we will seek until we find them. That mentor that will lovingly and willingly take us under their wing and share. Share their faith, their lives, their dreams, their knowledge and G-d-given wisdom. That is how we learn - one to another, the older to the younger, the teacher to the student. In the absence of that kind of mentor, we will continue to seek...or to grieve.
Are you a spiritual leader? If so, I do hope you take your responsibilities seriously. Those responsibilities were given by the LORD and you are acting in His stead. Always guard your heart, continue to persevere in your studies, and give compassion lavishly to those under your care. That is your charge, hard as it may be. You must and can only do it through the power of the Holy One. Pray diligently, seek wisdom and gather support around you, for your task is so important. And, when you fall (and you will), seek repentance quickly and ask for forgiveness humbly. The risk is great and damage can be costly for leaders who take this task lightly. For "leadership is an opportunity to serve; it is not a trumpet call to self-importance." (~J. Donald Walters)
Spiritual leaders. So very important in our lives as believers.
Don't take them for granted,
lovingly support them in service,
and constantly lift them up in prayer.
And if you have a wonderful spiritual leader, tell them how much you appreciate them.
They may need to hear it.