Reading Your Life’s Story, Keith R. Anderson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
Summary: An exploration of the work of spiritual mentoring using the idea of attentive listening to the Holy Spirit and a person to “read” one’s life, with practical instruction on the mentoring process from beginning to ending.
It is not uncommon to speak of one’s life story. The challenge is seeing the story line when you are the one within that story and life appears to be simply a series of relationships and events, and perhaps accomplishments. What Keith R. Anderson proposes is that often it is in the company of another person joining one in listening to the Holy Spirit that the threads of the narrative, or the dots in the picture are connected in a way that makes sense of our lives, and the unique ways in which God may be working in and through them. Anderson calls this “reading.” Here is how he writes about this in his first chapter, “Reading with a Consecrated Purpose”:
“We live in what we have built. The stories of our life become a house we inhabit with its
limitations, eccentricities, mistakes, hidden meanings, and crafted beauty. In this book I hope to offer ways to help us all read the story of our life through the centuries-deep practice of spiritual mentoring. Stories are a way to find coherence and meaning in what seems random, episodic, or even chaotic.”
The first part of this book develops the idea of spiritual mentoring. He differentiates spiritual mentoring from either spiritual direction or spiritual friendship as “an intentional, planned, repeated and focused set of conversations about the life of the mentee in the presence of the Holy Spirit.” After introducing this idea, in successive chapters he writes about God as the author of our stories, about our lives as the text and the different ways we read stories, about mentors as coreaders, and the importance of spiritual friendship in the mentoring process. Finally he speaks of spiritual mentors as imperfect people, and that it is in our authentic vulnerability as great sinners who depend on the mercy of God, that we do our work. He writes, “Effective mentors are honest about their own brokenness and the holes within.”
The second part of the book traces the movements of the spiritual mentoring relationship from beginning to ending. I found the chapter on ending especially helpful, because he focuses on ending well, even if a mentoring relationship hasn’t gone well. It is a bring of closure, and what will happen next. It is not just ending but sending, which he describes as “s/ending.” Other chapters focus on starting well with practical helps on the initial interview for mentor and mentee. He charts what a mentoring session might look like. He talks about the practice of wisdom in helping people begin to understand that the life of faith is a long walk. He talks about the pacing of the mentoring relationship and how mentees can prepare for each session and he addresses accountability.
One of features of this book is that each chapter ends with a brief reflection focused around either a metaphor for spiritual mentoring or some useful resource or concept. Metaphors include hospitality, farming, ecology, prayer, and geography. He describes the “core curriculum” mentoring and the work of spiritual mentoring as “disillusionment,” that is the casting aside of our illusions to embrace truth. These short reflections both stand alone, and round out the framework Anderson gives us in this book and were a highlight of the book for me.
The book concludes with a “Mentor’s Library” and several appendices on lectio divina, how spiritual mentors deal with transference and countertransference, discernment questions for choosing a mentor, and dealing with differences between mentor and mentee. The appendix on transference and countertransference seemed to me especially important in dealing with realities other counselors encounter, and the importance for spiritual mentors to have their own mentors and accountability.
In this book, Anderson gives us an account at once practical and yet not prosaic. He helps us understand this deeply human and yet spiritual relationship, and offers wisdom that comes out of a lifetime of being mentored and mentoring. This is a valuable book both for those who mentor and those who seek mentoring.