Mentoring, and an Elm in Autumn

One Limb Remains

Reflections by Barry Whatley on mentoring at the foot of an Elm tree.

I am at a Jesuit retreat center on the Island of Montreal, standing in front of what fifteen years ago was a magnificent Elm. Only one of the major limbs remains and even its foliage is sparse. At first I thought it was the wrong tree, but I realize it is the very elm that so inspired me back in the 90s when I enjoyed semi-regular personal retreats here.

The magnificent grounds are marked by towering Maples, Weeping Willows, and a few Elms. This one was the most remarkable, its huge trunk riveted into the ground like a massive bolt, its five heavy limbs reaching far and wide. Anchored in life, it kept its foliage well into November when all the other trees were long barren. It often spoke to me of vitality, fruitfulness, strength, and stubborn resistance to the onslaught of Montreal winter.

Now it is a shock to see it so pared down and diminished, its one remaining limb barely hanging on. The other limbs have been severed over the years, to enable the remaining limbs to receive what was left of its waning vitality.

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I know that the Lord has a lesson for me this autumn day. I too will one day diminish. Some recent heart issues, high cholesterol, a close call with a chainsaw, are all reminders of my frailty. The limbs of my fruitful ministry will in time be lopped off. How can I carry all of my responsibilities forever?

So then comes the hard question: what should my “limb” be? The answer comes soon: my investment in younger leaders, my mentoring relationships—these are closest to my heart. If all else must eventually go I want these relationships and my impact in these younger lives to remain.

This came home to me with particular force a few short months ago as I gathered with a group of sixty other mentees for the 100th birthday of Evon Hedley, my mentor and theirs. Tears of joy and gratefulness flowed as one after another we celebrated his impact on our lives.

And so my prayer is to be like Evon, like that old Elm.

Lord, whatever else may be pared away, may my mentoring relationships remain.

Barry Whatley recently joined with MaryKate Morse as part of our LFM mentoring team training session with Indian leaders. He is an educator and mentor (coach) with Outreach Canada, an international ministry committed to providing resources to Christian leaders and churches. He lives with his wife Laurie in Hudson, Quebec, a community outside of Montreal.

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