Someone To Lean On.

Someone To Lean On.
by Stu Weber

If it hadn’t been for Stevie McDonald, I don’t know if l would have made it. Trauma tumbled in upon trauma. Adversity heaped upon adversity. obstacle stacked upon obstacle. Test piled upon test. It was way too much for one soldier to handle.

Especially a little soldier. It wasn’t just the tense teachers and emotional moms that got to me. There were lines. Mats. Desks. Rules. Orders. Explanations. Expectations. And girls-more girls
than I’d ever seen in one place.

But somehow, on that first terrifying of kindergarten, Stevie and I found each other and huddled together like a couple of lost puppies. Together, we survived the stress. We even traded snacks! That may have been the first time I experienced the soul-buttressing impact of what I call “mutual mentoring.” But it wasn’t the last.

Years later, in 1967, a grizzled old noncom at Fort Benning, Ga., taught the same principle-in a different way-to a formation of ramrod-straight troops: “Never go into battle alone!” The war in Vietnam was building to its peak, and one stop for young army officers ,as the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning. The venerable, steely-eyed veteran told us the next nine weeks would test our mettle as it had never been tested.


The sergeant said many wouldn’t make the grade-it was just too tough. (Turned out he was right. Of 287 in the formation that day only 110 finished the nine weeks.)

I can still hear that raspy voice cutting through the morning humidity like a serrated blade. “We are here to save your lives,” he preached. “We’re going to see to it that you overcome all your natural fears–especially of height and water. We’re going to show you just how much incredible stress the human mind and body can endure. And when we’re finished with you, you will be the U.S. Army’s best. You will not only survive in combat, you will accomplish your mission!”

Then, before he dismissed the formation, the hardened Ranger sergeant announced our first assignment. We’d steeled ourselves for something really tough-running 10 miles in full battle gear or rappelling down a sheer cliff. So the noncom’s first order caught us off guard.

He told us to find a buddy. Some of us would have preferred the cliff. “This is step one,” he growled. “You need to find yourself a Ranger buddy. You will stick together. You will never leave each other. You will encourage each other, and, as necessary, you will carry each other.”

It was the Army’s way of saying, Difficult assignments require a friend. Together is better You need someone to help you accomplish the tough course ahead.

My Ranger buddy was Lou Francis, and one exercise required us to cross the cold waters of the Yellow River in the swamps of the Florida panhandle. With the temperature hovering at 27 degrees, we eased ourselves into the freezing stream. We were quickly overwhelmed by the angry, swollen current. We hung on to each other as we were swept downstream, fearing we were about to lose our lives. We called up every last bit of energy left in our exhausted bones, and then we finally crawled upon the opposite bank.

We’d done it! We’d stayed alive!

Now think through some of the tough spots you have faced. What difference have friends made in those tight comers and dark valleys? What difference might they have made?

Stevie McDonald became my “Ranger buddy” that first day of kindergarten. We stuck together all year. And we grew we could hardly wait for the next challenge. First grade was going to be a piece of cake!

What Stevie and I discovered in kindergarten, and what the U.S. Army insisted upon in Ranger school, were just the childhood and military versions of Promise Keepers’ promise No. 2:

A Promise Keeper is committed to pursuing vital relationships with a few other men, understanding that he needs brothers to help him keep his promises.

But long before my discovery in kindergarten, long before that Ranger school formation, and long before Promise Keeper’s seven promises, the Bible made God’s intention absolutely clear: Men weren’t made to walk alone. We need a buddy, a fellow soldier, a mentor to walk beside us in the swift flowing challenges of life.


Jesus Himself reinforced this truth when He sent His guys on one of their early missions: “After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them …’Do not take a purse or bag or sandals…… (Luke 10:1,4).

It was Jesus’ way of saying, “Never go into battle alone. You don’t need a lot of money or equipment, but you do need your friend.” He knew that spiritual survival in this world is tough-akin to living as “lambs among wolves.” He didn’t want His men trying to go it alone.

Think through the life of another dominant figure in the New Testament. What do these names mean to you: John Mark. Titus. Stephanas. Timothy. Fortunatus. Silas. Epaphroditus. Luke. Barnabas. Epaphras. See any connection? A first-century World Cup soccer team, maybe? The front row of oarsmen in a slave galley? As a matter of fact, they were a team of sorts. And they were certainly slaves of one Master. But what else did they have in common?

Each had a vital relationship with a scrappy missionary-warrior named Paul.

Even a man of the apostle Paul’s enormous stature refused to walk alone! In fact, at one point in his career, he actually walked away from an extraordinary open door of ministry because he missed his buddy “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind because I did not find brother Titus there.

So I said good-bye to them and went on to Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). This singular man of the New Testament truly was a giant-but seldom single. He was always with a friend. The list of his buddies seems never to quit. And his darkest moments of ministry came when a Roman dungeon separated him from his fellow gospel soldiers.

Your need is no different. Whoever you are, you’re no stronger than the apostle Paul! You need a few mutually mentoring friends, too.
Every pilot needs his wingman. Every soldier needs his Ranger buddy. Every man needs his friends. Do you have yours?


How do you find such a friend, a Ranger buddy? Take a look at promise No. 2 again.

The main verb is pursue.

You get the idea. Chase. Seek. Go after.

You go for it. You get after it. You swallow hard and pick up the phone. You stretch out your hand. You take an interest in someone. You kick aside that natural reserve and open your heart a little. You choke back that lying pride and admit a couple of needs in your life. And you stay at it until you get it done. Eventually, you’ll find a man who wants such a friendship as much as you do.

When that Ranger noncom at Fort Benning dismissed our formation to allow us to find our Ranger buddy, there were some awkward moments. Believe me, most of us men would rather have jumped out of an airplane than practice a little vulnerability. We’d rather have crawled on our bellies with live ammo zinging over our heads than look someone eyeball to eyeball and suggest a friendship.

In Ranger school, however, we didn’t have any choice. That tough sergeant made us do it. So we did. But no one’s giving us orders now-or is He? When you stop to think about it, our Lord Jesus has a lot more authority than that noncom. And He says you need a friend. It’s not really optional.

Let’s translate some of this stuff into everyday life. When you need-really need-something you know to be good for you, what do you do? Where do you start? How about on your knees?


It’s a radical concept, but why not give prayer a shot? “Lord, I know I need a friend. You’ve even told me I need one. But if I’m ever going to find this spiritual Ranger buddy, I’m going to need Your help.” He who knows how to give good gifts loves to do so.


Draw up a list of potential mentoring candidates. You might not even get the names right. You might have to write, “The bald guy who drives the blue Dodge Ram,” “The fellow in church with the squirmy kids,” or “The man at the men’s breakfast with the Chicago Bulls cap.” Bring the names of a few guys before the Lord, and ask for His help. Sometimes the easiest first step is to ask several men to form a group with you.


Next, your pursuit shifts into passing gear. You know yourself, and you know what it would take for you to really get rolling. For my part, I think a direct approach works best. One technique might be to hand your potential friend this magazine article. Tell him you’re interested in forming the kind of relationship it describes. If he’s willing, schedule a time to get together and talk it through. Just do it! Refuse to be discouraged if the first few attempts misfire. You’ve lost nothing-and you’ve got everything to gain.


Agree specifically on your meeting schedule. A face-to-face time once a week is key Decide when and how. On top of the regular meetings, shake loose now and then and call each other spontaneously with no agenda. It’s amazing how encouraging such a call can be! Refuse to be intimidated by setbacks or let downs. Pursue, pursue, pursue.


Let me explain a simple structure called the “4 As”:

Acceptance means for each to take the other exactly as he is. That’s the way Jesus accepts you.

Affirmation involves encouraging one another by accentuating each other’s positive attributes. We men need and crave respect. And a man cannot affirm himself. Do it for each other.

Accountability grows over time. As our relationship and confidence in one another develop, and as your acceptance and affirmation take root, you earn the right to ask the hard questions. Free of anything resembling an accusatory spirit, you probe a little deeper below the surface to areas where your friend may really be struggling. Strengthen one another as David and Jonathan did. “And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself’ (I Samuel 20:17).

Authority speaks of mutual submission to the standards and values of God’s Word. We submit our lives to one another in Jesus. Sound tough? It is tough, but well worth it. It may save your promises, your family, your faith and your very life.


How about you? Are you giving yourself to a mentoring relationship? Are you opening up to a male friend or two? Do any of your fellow soldiers know where the chinks in your armor might be? Are you locking arms with a soul mate, a Ranger buddy? Some dark day when your knees are weak, the current swift, and the water cold, you’ll be glad you did.

Stu Weber author of Locking Arms and a . pastor in Gresham, Ore., is one of a dozen contributors to Go the Distance, from which this article is adapted. If you would like to request a copy of this new book published by Focus on the Family, please see the center spread.