I’ve been thinking about the time Moses’ father-in-law comes to visit him in the desert. It’s such a beautiful account in Exodus 18. It actually offers great insight into how to interact with both adult children and younger people who might look to you for wisdom. Here’s what I noticed:
In verse 8, we read how Moses “told his father-in-law about everything the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake and about all the hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.” Jethro listens with delight (v. 9) and then celebrates with Moses (10-12). What a caring and loving conversation! Can you imagine how wonderful it must have felt for Moses to give this account and celebrate?
What I notice next is something so astonishingly vital: Jethro observes Moses in his actual work and speaks words of wisdom to help Moses unburden himself. Jethro makes key observations about how hard Moses is working and says, “What you are doing is not good. . the work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. Listen now to me and I will give you some advice. . .”
Of course, Jethro helps Moses establish a much-needed system of delegating leadership to help him “stand the strain” and “satisfy the people.” Moses listens to Jethro and does everything he advises at this point.
I think about the order of events here–the listening, the celebrating, the observing, and then the advising. I think we reverse this order or leave out the listening and celebrating all together. I think about acting more like Jethro with my family, students, and neighbors. Before I step into to offer advice about anything, I think about Jethro and all the time he took to listen, celebrate, and observe Moses before saying a word. As I approach my older daughters, I think about this order. Then I can step in and tell them when I think they are working too hard, when I think they should stop certain stressful activities, or when I think they’ve over-scheduled themselves. I have conversations like this with my Penn State honors students all the time!
We all need a Jethro, and we all need to listen to the wisdom of older people like Moses. I remember the day an older Cru staff team member called to tell me that what I was doing was “not good” because I had 19 speaking events in one month! She told me I would soon need a chief-of-staff person to schedule my life if I kept overbooking myself. She told me with wise words that I needed to protect my energy, to pause and evaluate for signs of burnout, and to listen better to the Holy Spirit about what to agree to. She was a Jethro, and I was the Moses. I never had a overbooked month like that again.
Sometimes you’re Jethro, and sometimes you’re Moses!