When my son was young and in school, I used to dream of being a teacher myself. But as a single mom of three boys and working long hours, there was no way to go back to school. Still, I longed for it. I remember the eventful day that dream changed, however. My young son and I were sitting at the kitchen table and I was trying to teach him to tell time. (Remember analog clocks?!) It did not go well. Tears may have been shed. He wasn’t happy either. Not only did that session change my ideals about becoming a teacher, it made me doubt myself, my son and whether I really knew how to tell time! What I said and what he received from me seemed to be two different things. I had no idea how to teach this boy. When he turned 16 and got his driver’s license, I tried to teach him to drive a stick shift. These were hard days, people.
What I realized is that all the things I tried to teach my kids: kindness, the Golden Rule, the love of Jesus, fractions…. I was teaching them the way I would want to learn them, not the way they could easily learn them. In particular, when it came to growing into young men with the strength and confidence of becoming adults, no teaching from me was going to do it. I realized that mentoring and accomplishment were the ways my boys were going to come into their own. My kids were still in elementary school when Shea and I married. He let them get under the hood of a car and help change spark plugs. He apologized to them after an argument that had unnecessary words in it. He let them try things, do them badly, then help them correct it patiently and with praise. This is mentoring.
Mentoring is more than just teaching. It’s modeling, encouragement, problem solving together, coming alongside. It’s not solving someone else’s problems, it’s helping them work through them beside them. Mentoring a child or an adult should feel like support to the mentee. It should feel empowering, encouraging and give them a sense that they can solve the issue at hand or make an idea happen. When it’s done well, mentoring is a beautiful and organic thing.
When done poorly, mentoring is the worst thing that can happen to a person who is vulnerable and ready to be led. It tears down. It is judgmental and full of ridicule. It conveys disapproval and condescension. It is not beside someone, it is over them. The fact is, most people using this kind of “mentoring” don’t even realize they are doing it, but it is harmful. It can cut the growing branches off the tree entirely.
Think of someone who’s been a great mentor in your life. Were they generous? Patient? Did you walk away from them feeling better about your situation or yourself? Empowered? When you look back at the people you feel have helped you in your life, did you even realize you were being mentored at the time? Everyone loves a great mentor- it feels good. But here’s a harder question: Who have you mentored? Who have you let walk beside you and watch you and ask questions? With whom have you been patient and generous?
Jesus was a tremendous mentor. He modeled all the important things for his disciples that are hard to teach on a blackboard: Love, forgiveness, generosity, trust, prayer, when to pour into people, when to go away alone and commune with God. He modeled loyalty, teaching, follow-through, how to pray, when to get angry and when to turn away from anger. He had strength of character and was not afraid or influenced by others. He is not done mentoring these things, friend. He’s mentoring you today if you let him. Scripture lets us continue to learn from him.
If you have been yearning for a mentor, asking God to send someone your way that you can glean from, maybe you are forgetting the other part of what Jesus did. He mentored others. There is always someone who can use the mentoring you have to offer. I’ll go a step further: Maybe you are already mentoring someone, though maybe you haven’t realized it. Your kids, nieces or nephews, siblings, co-workers, small group members, neighbor. Someone who looks to you and your actions for guidance and example. Maybe ask God who he has brought into your life that needs you. Maybe you are the person God will send to someone else who has been praying for a mentor. When you participate with God in this kind of activity, you are in the sweet spot and it is amazing.
As for me, I have had the great benefit of learning from others and mentoring others, both. Both are rewarding. There are great rewards and teachings in being the mentor as well. I have received many, and I am thankful. I’m thankful for all the ways people have taught me. I’m thankful for the ways Jesus continues to mentor me. And I’m thankful for digital clocks.