FM Eldering

For me, eldering is all about relationships: my relationship with Spirit and my relationship with others. Eldering is about knowing that of God within me and letting it guide me to see and connect with that of God in others. It is about us helping one another grow into the perfect self that God created each of us to be. It is not about chiding or censoring but about loving, seeing, inviting, and naming.

I have been the recipient of powerful eldering. The first time was when I was a baby Quaker of 32. I was attending a solemn social justice event with a bunch of folks in the peace and justice community, including Friends. As a stay-at-home mom with small children, every occasion like this felt like a rare opportunity for socializing and I was treating the event like a party. One of the founders of our meeting, a Formidable Quaker Woman, took me aside and basically said I was acting frivolously and needed to weighty up. I could have gotten my feelings hurt. But I trusted her and I knew she was right.

Another experience of being eldered happened when I was in the School of the Spirit’s Spiritual Nurturer program. Each participant had a committee to support and anchor them to their home meeting while they went through the program. I hand-picked my committee, choosing individuals I knew would hold me accountable to my intentions. Part-way through the program, I was experiencing some stuck-ness around the project I’d undertaken and was avoiding doing the inner work I needed to do to get unstuck. I was meeting with my committee in my house with my 9 year old son in attendance and gave a report on what I had (not) accomplished. One of the members of my committee, a decade younger than me but with the bullshit detector of a wise one, called me out. He said that I’d committed to taking the program seriously and was not. He said I was wasting his time and he didn’t appreciate it one bit and if I didn’t start following through on my stated intentions, he couldn’t continue to support me. It was hard but absolutely what I needed to hear. I remain awed and grateful for his wisdom and the courage it took to state it.

Other ways I have been eldered over my nearly 30 years as a Friend have included active mentoring, encouragement, invitations to committees or roles, discernment about leadings, and spiritual friendships. Whenever anyone has named a gift I carried or provided opportunities for me to exercise a gift, they were eldering me.

I have also been given leadings to elder. One particularly challenging time involved a Friend who was engaging in habitual behavior that was harmful to the Quaker community we shared. Those of us who had known X for years had become accustomed to the behavior and had learned to avoid them during times when the behavior was triggered. We all rolled our eyes and said “That’s just X being X.” But then some new people joined our community who didn’t know X and didn’t understand that the behavior was X’s unhealthy way of coping with stress. These newcomers experienced X’s behavior as hurtful. One of the newcomers approached me and shared how X’s behavior made them feel. Then another did the same. I saw the behavior with new eyes and realized how truly harmful it was to our community and the individuals in it. God laid it on me to talk with X. But I wanted no part of that. In truth, I was afraid of X’s response and couldn’t imagine confronting them. I began looking for others who might have the conversation with X. I talked to several people who listened carefully, affirmed the need to talk with X, but felt clear it was not theirs to do. After several months of avoiding it, I came to understand that this really, really hard thing was mine to do. I prayed and prayed and slowly God gave me the words and then the opportunity. I sat down with X and let my love for X and for our community and for the newcomers flow through me. X listened thoughtfully and told me that another person they loved and respected had said a very similar thing recently. Shortly thereafter, X began therapy to deal with the troubling behavior. Truly, it felt like a miracle.
This was one of the hardest things I have ever been guided to do and I would never have done it if it hadn’t been clear to me that God wanted to work through me. I think it was only successful because X and I had a respectful and caring relationship so that X trusted me and I trusted God.

What eldering is not:

  • Challenging someone’s theology
  • Disagreeing with a message
  • Enforcing a cultural norm
  • Dictating how things should be done
  • Requiring adherence to tradition

Eldering is not tearing down. It is never done to shame or punish. Eldering is building up, even when it is done to redirect harmful behavior. Eldering is about potential and growth. Eldering should always be done with humility and love. This may sound kind of woo-woo but for me, eldering is looking beyond my limited vision so I can see others with God’s eyes.

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