During my first few years out of college, I worked as a campus pastor for university students. On the first day of my internship, I met Jessica.
She was already a full-time pastor on campus, and she was fast-talking and friendly, showing me the ins and outs of the house we would share (along with 13 other women!) and helping me navigate the intern manual. That first week, she was formally assigned to be my mentor, a role that involved meeting together weekly for support, accountability and advice.
The (at first) weird and (ultimately) wonderful thing about having Jess as a mentor is that we were also friends.
I’d had mentors before, but these had all been people either older than I was or an authority figure. But with Jess, the lines were blurred. She was my friend-tor, a peer who was also interested in helping me grow, both personally and professionally.
This sort of spiritual friendship and mentorship was new to me—and it was powerful. My friendship with Jess lead me to four important realizations.
Explicit Commitments Contribute to Growth
I have a lot of friends. Some I catch up with at happy hour or ultimate frisbee games, others live far away and I have to call if I want to connect. Our family has small group friends we only see on Sundays and work friends we see socially on occasion.
In most of our relationships, the level of interaction we have with someone in a given month is determined either by happenstance or in reaction to whatever else we’ve packed our schedules with that.
But what if we made growing in and through friendship a priority?
Scheduling an hour a week or every other week to meet with a friend for the purpose of sharing joys and challenges, giving and receiving advice, and joining together in prayer could change your life.
Imagine knowing that someone you admire, respect and enjoy is making space to know and love you well—regularly. That thought delights me and gives me hope.
It might feel scary to ask a someone to make this kind of commitment. But brave things are often scary.
And worth it.
Friends Can Mentor You. And You Can Mentor Your Friends.
Mentors don’t have to be older (or even wiser) than you, although those kinds of mentors are great if you can find one. But everyone around us has a gift to offer the world.
Maybe you are bad at organization and have a friend with a knack for using rubbermaid containers in beautiful ways. Ask her to show you the way! Or maybe you really admire the way your buddy is navigating his career. Talking about your own challenges and asking how he makes professional decisions can lead to your own development.
Finding a mentoring relationship means putting yourself in a position to learn from someone else, which can feel strange in a friendship. But by being direct about what you see in someone else’s skill set and how you hope to grow together, you can create a space to be friend-tors.
Friendships Often Last for a Season
Jess and I are no longer housemates. We don’t even live in the same state. And though I’m grateful that we have one of those lovely relationships that is able to spring back to life when we’re reunited, our season of mentoring friendship is over for now.
And that’s OK.
Sometimes geography changes friendships, or life stages or time commitments. Sometimes, in our own development, we outgrow certain relationships. Whatever the reason, it’s important to be able to move on and forge new connections with people without comparing or being stuck in the past.
After a recent cross-country move, I asked the pastor at our church for a recommendation of someone to develop a mentoring relationship with—and that has turned into a beautiful friendship over these past few months. But it hasn’t always been that easy. Sometimes finding the right person for the right season takes time.
And that’s OK, too.
Deep Friendship Requires Vulnerability
This is the hardest part. If we want relationships that support us in our weaknesses and push us to develop our strengths, we have to be honest.
Honest with ourselves and with our friends.
Honest about our hopes and dreams and goals and plans.
Honest about our failures and struggles and heartache and sin.
All of our beautiful messiness becomes fair game in true friendship. And in the mess, where we experience shame and frustration and fear, God lovingly uses people to speak life and healing and hope, to pull us up and get us unstuck, to point us back to the path we wanted to walk in the first place.
Hebrews gives us this challenge: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
Living the kind of life we all want to live, a life filled with doing good things and loving people well doesn’t just happen.
We’ve got to stir it up in each other.
Lindsey Smallwood is a former pastor and teacher who works, writes and raises her babies in Boulder, Colorado. She hopes to leave a legacy of good relationships and bad dancing. Read more by Lindsey at her blog or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.