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
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
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
This article originally appeared on RELEVANTmagazine.com.