By Karen O’Connor
The woman with the soft white hair and twinkly blue eyes closed our meeting with her usual farewell. “When you leave here tonight, take what you received and then check in with the Holy Spirit. He’ll guide you. Some of what you learned may be for now, and some may be for years from now.”
With those words in my mind and heart, I left the weekly discipleship class until the following Wednesday. As a new Christian in my early 40s I had much to learn and absorb, and Dr. Grace Robley was the perfect mentor at that time of my life. I have never known anyone before or since who so clearly emulated the character of Christ—and yet was so altogether human at the same time. She struggled with weight and faced challenges in her relationship with an adult daughter. But no matter what, she kept her eyes on Christ. To this day I treasure the wisdom Grace shared and thank God for putting her on my path when I most needed what she had to offer.
From Religion to Relationship
As a child I learned some fancy words relating to God such as omniscient, omnipresent, and immutable. They were over my head at the time and stayed there until I grew up. But when Dr. Robley taught me about the character traits of God in Christ, the words she chose were part of my vocabulary. I could relate to them, and even attempt to apply them to my life—words like, good, loving, merciful, forgiving, and patient, to name a few. I began moving then from religion to view Christ as my Savior and Lord, no longer an abstract God of judgment and punishment.
Then I learned in the Bible that God is love (1 John 4: 8). That became the attribute I clung to. I realized that if I really loved others, then I would more easily be wise, good, merciful, patient, and forgiving.
When I think about emulating Christ’s character today, I don’t assign myself an impossible list of things to do or be. I focus on loving others as Christ loves me. Many people in my life have shown that kind of love. Some, without knowing it, have affected me profoundly throughout my adult life.
As I renew my personal commitment to become more like Christ, I want to acknowledge those individuals who showed me Christ’s character, rather than merely talking about it. You probably can point to men and women in your life who have done the same for you. I hope you’ll want to take a moment to think about them and be reminded of how they helped form the character of Christ in your life.
My Kindergarten Teacher
“He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:3).
Sister Mary St. Felician taught kindergarten and first grade in the parochial school I attended. What I most remember about her was her wisdom in dealing with wiggly 5-year-olds. When she called us to the front of the room for reading groups, we each received a lollipop. No one was left out—regardless of his or her reading ability. She never shamed or judged. She simply loved us and told us over and over that God loved us. I believed her.
My Fourth Grade Teacher
“That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose
leaf does not wither––whatever they do prospers” (Psalm 1:3).
A pint-sized woman with a face full of wrinkles, Sister Pius stood only as tall as the tallest 9-year-old in our class. She smiled at the students from the moment we walked in until the bell rang at three o’clock. She told us stories from her childhood to illustrate history, English, and social studies. She encouraged us as we struggled with fractions, history dates, and science formulas. She was key to my becoming a published writer decades later. I’ll never forget the day she called me to her desk after I had turned in a story. I watched her paste a gold start on top of it, and listened as she told me someday I would see one of my books on a library shelf. She was right! Here I am, the author of over 70 published books. That dear teacher believed in me and the talent God had given me. “Write the words God gives you,” she said. And I have.
My Aunt Betts
“But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful” (Psalm 68:3).
Beautiful, tall, slender Aunt Betty, who preferred to be called “Betts,” lived in California while I was growing up in the Chicago area. So when she came to town, my sister and I were almost more excited than we were on Christmas morning. Betts’s visits always included ice cream sundaes, manicures, board games, talking and laughter, bedtime stories, and gentle backrubs. I was never so loved, encouraged, and appreciated as I was during those delicious summer visits with dear Aunt Betts. I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was with her, it was easy to be more like Christ because she showed me how without so much as a word.
My Friend Fran
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6, New International Version, 1984).
Thirty years my senior at the time we met, Fran was one of those solid people who displayed the character of Christ in word and deed. She was quick to listen, slow to advise (except when I asked), and reliable when it came to pointing me to God’s Word for everything I needed. Her wisdom and humble guidance stuck to my ribs—like a good oatmeal breakfast––and lasted the whole day. I heard the love of Christ in her words when she helped me with marital woes, in my relationship with my adult kids, and in how to get along with a cranky neighbor. After I poured out my heart to Fran, she filled it up with love. Then I could go out and spread that love to everyone I met: the clerk at the dry cleaners, the teller at the bank, my family, my students, and everyone in between.
I ask myself now, “Can we really become more like Christ?” Absolutely! It starts and ends with love. With a few good people to encourage us, the Word of God to guide us, and the desire to remain faithful, we can’t fail. It’s a matter of just doing it—starting today.
Karen O’Connor is a freelance winner in Watsonville, California.
List Your Mentors
1. Think back on your life so far, and identify three to five people who’ve helped deepen your faith.
2. Ask God to help you continue living out the lessons they taught you.
3. Write a paragraph or two (or more) about each person, talking about your relationship and what you learned from them.
4. Choose a Scripture verse that represents the godly lessons they taught you.
5. Share what you’ve written with your spouse or close friends. Express your appreciation for those who’ve helped you.
6. Share what you have written with the people you listed. They’ll be glad to realize they’ve had an impact on your life.
7. Keep your list in a place where you see it often. When you see it, thank God for the people on your list and ask him to make you that type of person for someone else.