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Thirty years ago when I was a middle manager in operations with an interstate natural gas pipeline company I had a vice president who intimidated me to no end.  He didn’t do it intentionally, rather it was my pride, and perhaps lack of confidence, that permitted the anxiety I felt whenever I had to meet with or give a presentation to him.

His name was Theopolis (which I didn’t realize until I looked up the etymology of that name a few minutes ago that it means “Loved by God”).  Theo was actually a kind man, a faith-filled man, soft spoken, and he usually wore a smile on his face and had a gleam in his eye.  And he was intelligent – super intelligent – and experienced.  He had worked his way up through the ranks, had previously been in my position and knew everything there was to know about my role and those of the engineers who reported to me.

It was impossible to slide something new past Theo, or to hide some mistake.  He knew the ropes.  In a regulated and safety conscious industry, there was little leeway to color outside the lines.  But, he wasn’t averse to one doing so if there was a good reason and a good plan for improving something.  His method of determining whether one’s intentions were good enough, or to get to the bottom of something that didn’t go as expected, was to gently question the poor unfortunate soul to see if they had thoroughly thought through the process.  When the root cause of a problem or the glitch in a plan eventually surfaced, Theo would smile and say, “What we have here is a teachable moment.”  He would then help you realize what could have been done differently or better based on his knowledge and experience.  

Theo passed away ten years or so ago and I probably haven’t thought about him since I retired six years ago….until this morning when I read and meditated on today’s Gospel passage, John 6:16-21.  This morning I saw him as not always being critical of what I did, but as a mentor and teacher.

After feeding the five thousand, Jesus went up the mountain to pray and the Apostles got in their boat and set out across the sea to Capernaum.  On the way, the wind and seas picked up causing the crew to have some heightened anxiety.  Jesus, foreseeing their fears, then came to them walking on the water, which, to the crew of experienced fishermen, may have been an embarrassment before their master and teacher.  Jesus, told them, “It is I. Do not be afraid”.

Whether you’re a young engineer and middle manager or an experienced fisherman, it’s good to have someone who’s been there and done that, who can help you through the rough times.  Someone who can see beyond the immediate situation and find “teachable moments” to ease the tension and dispel the anxiety.

It’s a beautiful thing to learn from the experiences of those who have gone before us, from their mistakes and successes.  The Apostles and early Christians were, in a sense, just trying to figure things out.  They pioneered the New Way with Jesus as their leader.  They had no prior experience or self-study history books on which to fall back.  Their’s was a new learning experience every day.  And, Jesus, as their mentor, found “teachable moments” around every corner, especially when his followers, in their anxiety, needed to be told, “Do not fear.”

We still struggle with anxiety born from trying to do everything on our own.  We forget that Jesus is with us always, even in the midst of life’s storms.  We are fortunate in our faith, however, that the lessons learned by the Apostles and the early Christians have been captured for us in Scripture and in the sacred writings of the saints.  We need to remember that every time we pick up and read from our Bible or the spiritual writings of the saints, we are in the middle of a “teachable moment”.

Even then, trying to learn under our own power can be difficult and frustrating.  As Catholics, we are also fortunate to have available to us Spiritual Mentors who will walk with us on our journey of living a Holy life.  Spiritual Mentors are trained to ask questions that help us see what we can’t see for ourselves, and to gently provide “teachable moments” that help us steer around the difficulties of life.  

If you are interested in learning more about spiritual mentorship, or receiving spiritual mentorship from a trained mentor, or interested in becoming a Spiritual Mentor yourself, please leave me a comment, and I’ll be happy to help you.

“Lord Jesus, too often do I try to navigate rough waters on my own, forgetting that You are always with me.  In my times of prayer, Lord, give me the grace to realize Your presence, be attentive to Your gentle guidance, and learn from those “teachable moments”.  Help me also, Lord, as a Spiritual Mentor of other men, to help them find peace in their lives by relying on Your help. Amen.”

(Teachable Moments was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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