I’ve been thinking a lot about the loss of loved ones. This year at Northaven we’ve experienced the deaths of several key leaders. First, there was Charles Delphenis, who was known for welcoming visitors for years and years. There was Mike Pybas, who was “Mr. Volunteer” at several Dallas nonprofits. Bill Warrick, our head usher for 35 years, who never missed a Sunday, died suddenly. And, finally, there was the Rev. Bill McElvaney, our emeritus pastor and my friend and mentor.
That’s a lot of losses in our congregation. And they’ve moved us all into a season of both mourning their passing and giving thanks for their gifts
For the past several months I’ve been reflecting on the important lessons that each of these men taught me. But even more than what I’ve learned from them, I’ve been reflecting on the whole idea of mentors and teachers. No matter who we are, no matter how much we grow or how old we become, we need them.
On the first Sunday of November, many churches celebrate All Saints Sunday. For some, it’s a time to look back at the genuine saints of the Christian tradition. For others, it’s a time to celebrate, give thanks and remember the saints of our personal lives.
None of us are “self-made.” That phrase is perhaps the most unrealistic description of a human being ever penned. Rather, all of us are dependent upon parents, teachers, coaches, clergy, neighbors and others. We begin life as babies — little more than helpless loaves of bread — and we would never make it into adulthood without the constant guidance, help and support of others.
Doctors and nurses we will never know cared for us when we were infants. Teachers and neighbors who are distant memories watched over us through early childhood. Coaches, scout leaders and clergy helped us navigate our teen years. And even as adults, those who have already walked our path — whether that path is business, civic or family leadership — continue to give us guidance and light our way.
Therefore, the idea that we become who we are purely on our own merits is nonsense. Everyone is the beneficiary of “saints” and mentors who shepherd them along the way. Only the greatest of fools believe they’ve achieved everything purely on their own skill and wisdom. Conversely, truly great leaders understand their weaknesses and seek out the guidance of others throughout their lives.
“Communion of saints” might be too theological or sectarian a term for some. Another image for this comes from author Joyce Landorf Heatherley in her book “Balcony People.” Heatherley encourages us to imagine that our lives are lived on a stage with a large upper balcony. Perhaps like the Majestic Theatre downtown.
She says all of us have people in that “balcony” who cheer us on as we move through each stage of our lives. Some are living. Some are dead. Some are great historical figures. But all of them make possible the lives that we have.
Whether you celebrate All Saints in your faith tradition or not, spend some time this fall reflecting on your own balcony people. For those of them who are still alive, perhaps it’s time to write them a note or tell them what they have meant to you. Or maybe you are at a season of life where you are a mentor to others, and the question is: Who shall I be a light and help to in the next generation?
Give thanks for your personal saints and balcony people. They help to make you who you are today.