The Know-it-all Generation
August 17, 2011
Just the act of being born ensures that you, like every person who ever lived, are in for a fight. Because after being born, you have to deal with those not-so-little hurdles called family, school, adolescence (aka “the ugly years”), fashion, love (or lack thereof), faith, doubt, work, money, traffic, diapers, war, natural disasters, illness, aging, taxes and death.
Thankfully, God has provided various help for us when we encounter physical, emotional and spiritual life hurdles. He has given us inductive minds, common sense, conscience, the arts and sciences, the Holy Scriptures, the teaching of Godly men and women. And of course, there’s Google for everything else.
And yet, sometimes we get stuck; we lose ourselves, and for some reason no amount of thought, prayer or Scripture searching brings us to the resolution we seek. You’ve been there and I’ve been there: when the trusted lamp goes dim, when your map fades into a puzzle, when your powers of discernment fail. You thought you knew it all—but you still don’t know enough.
Who then can help us navigate the foggy paths of uncertainty in those seemingly upside-down moments of life when relationships disintegrate, options are unclear or expectations are dashed?
Very often it has been the kind wisdom of mentors that has helped me find my way forward. No voice is as welcome as the sound of a trusted counselor speaking honesty, encouragement and practical wisdom into our stormy hearts.
What Is a Mentor?
The word "mentor" dates all the way back to Homer’s Odyssey. Without going into all the epic details, the character of Mentor (Athena in disguise) took on the responsibility of helping Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, traverse some very challenging (albeit fictional) situations while his father was away. Mentor came alongside the hero’s family in a time of need and helped a young man make some hard decisions. And, essentially, that’s exactly what a modern mentor does as well—comes alongside a younger protege in order to help them navigate the obstacles of this life. They are guides; fellow travelers willing to help us on our journey forward.
In practical terms, a mentor is someone wiser than a peer, someone more objective than a family member and yet, someone intentionally committed to the belief in your highest potential as a child of God.
In a world increasingly “connected” through digital means, a mentor represents the “life-on-life” discipleship Jesus modeled during His time on Earth.
Ideally, a mentor is older than his/her protege, for the simple reason that they are further down the road of life. It’s their enrollment in the school of life that qualifies them to mentor. They may not have their “PhD” yet—but they’re always working toward it.
Mentors are visionaries; they see potential in raw materials and work in building it up.
How Do I Find One?
As an adult seeking a mentor, more than likely you’re going to have to have to initiate first contact. Of course, you could reach out to an acquaintance or stranger with, “So I’m looking for a mentor and thought you would be great”—but that’s probably not your best strategy.
Finding a mentor will start with taking stock of the people in your life who you already know and, most importantly, who you trust and respect. Right now there are people in your church who are longing to share their wisdom and experience with a younger person. At your job, or school or in your family, there is someone—believe it or not—who knows more about this mortal coil of life than you do. Start there.
A mentor relationship can begin as casually as, “Hey, would you want to grab coffee?” Feel free to vet several candidates—there is no harm in extending your sphere of mature contacts until you find a relationship that clicks. When considering someone as a mentor, remember these two things: 1) All relationships take time; be patient and invest in the long term, and 2) any mentor (like any protégé) is a fallible human wrestling with the hard parts of life. Have hopeful but realistic expectations during the whole process.
When my wife was a freshman in college, she joined a ministry-led backpacking trip through the great Northwest. Along with a passion for “roughing it” in the woods, she picked up an invaluable gift on that trip: a mentor. There was a natural connection between my wife and her group leader, an organic and easy rapport. Although the two’s relationship was rooted in their shared experience on the trip, their mentor/protégé dynamic blossomed after they got home. First, there was an intentional “Will you mentor me?” conversation. The cost was considered and a commitment was made. Over the next several years, their relationship was challenging, messy at times, but ultimately life-giving. The mature perspective my wife gleaned from her mentor during those years forever benefited her understanding of faith, family, marriage and friendship. More than anything else, the fact that an older woman (outside her family) took the time to really listen to and know my wife was an enormous blessing. Her mentor stood in the gap with her at a time when she faced the daunting unknowns of her future.
What Does a Mentor Do?
You’ve found a worthy mentor—so now what? What can you expect from this relationship?
One thing I have never forgotten from my Young Life volunteer training years ago was “half of relationships is just showing up.” Mentors invest time, energy, resources, expertise and friendship into others by making themselves available. There may be no greater defining quality of a truly invested mentor than dependability.
Jesus was and is the best at this—“the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). His disciples may not have always known what He would say or where He might take them, but they always knew He could be trusted—that they could recline on His chest. In that same spirit, mentors are safe; not judges, but advocates.
In announcing the creation of National Mentoring Month in 2010, President Obama wrote, “[A mentor’s] impact fulfills critical local needs that often elude public services.” There are so many needs in this world. Mentors recognize this and step in where they can. Christian mentors accept the mantle of mentoring as part of their role in ministering the love of God to others: loving the widows, the orphans and the college students stuck in a rut.
The beauty of engaging with someone as a mentor is not only that it builds wisdom and guidance into your life, but that it also paves the way for you to build into others. Any mentor worth their salt knows every master is also a student, no matter where they are in life. Get as much wisdom as you can so you can give it away—so you can pour into others what has been poured into you.
Mentoring is discipleship. Whether exercised in a secular or sacred context, mentors pour out what they have to give: business expertise, marriage advice or help with your taxes. Ultimately, mentoring isn’t community service—it’s the Great Commission.
For opportunities on how you can learn more about and get involved in mentoring check out these organizations:
Young Life :: younglife.org
The Boys & Girls Club of America :: bgca.org
The Mentoring Project :: thementoringproject.org
National Mentoring Partnership :: mentoring.org