Vincent van Gogh said, “The best way to know God is to love many things.” While this is indeed true, we can only love God through many things if we love God and the many things in the right order. Saint Augustine understood this when he wrote in his confessions:
“Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new; late have I loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely created things which you made.”
To disciple, mentor, and teach well is to show the world we love the created things God has blessed us with but not for themselves, rather for the revelation of God provided through them. The purpose of discipleship is to allow one to explore the mystery of God himself. If one teaches others to love created things above everything else they introduce them to the sin of idolatry. Christian discipleship teaches people to love creation as a means to worship, adore, and know God. It’s when the order of love is reversed; loving creature above creator, that what we embrace in this world draws us away from God. Yet, when approaching creation while loving God above everything else the created things we enjoy become conduits to knowing God more deeply. The role of the Christian mentor is to teach disciples how to properly love the things God has provided. This also applies to what we do for a living. We must not make work an idol, even if it’s something as highly regarded as ministry. In an ancient 4th century Christian document called, The Apostolic Constitutions the proper ordering of love between God and one’s trade is described like this:
“Follow your trades as secondary, as something necessary for earning a livelihood. However, make the worship of God your main business.”
A Christian mentor takes this one step further making worldly engagement a type of worship and means for knowing and loving God. As a spiritual director I ask those working with me to ponder these questions: Are you wrongfully denying yourself the blessings of creation living stoic uninvolved lives unlike the life of Christ? Are you overindulging in the good things in life ignoring the virtues of temperance and moderation thus destroying your spiritual self?
These types of questions help the disciple think about creation in a more sacramental/incarnational way. If someone wants to love well, intentionally loving God first and all things after, the groundwork for a strong spiritual life can develop. Is God pleased when we are pleased? A loving Father finds joy in his children’s pleasure but is disappointed in the child’s overindulgence and misuse of the gifts he gives them. By helping others maintain the proper order of Love Christian mentors, teachers, and Spiritual Directors can help them find joy in this life as a prefigured sense of eternal joy in the next.