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What I've Learned About Being Mentored

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.
Proverbs 13:20

They have been professors and boss's wives, fellow co-workers, church ladies, and distant relatives. They have taught me everything from how to make a chicken pot pie and balance a checkbook, to how to respect a husband, pray, and raise children, to how to say no with grace and tact. Were it not for them, I would be a very different person today.

I'm talking about my mentors. Men and women who have, usually unknowingly, taught me some of life's greatest lessons.  

I wanted to share more about mentors and the mentoring process because the lessons I've learned from them come up often in my conversations and in my writing. I wanted to dispel a few myths and speak truth about what a mentoring relationship can be and what it shouldn't be. 

1.)  A mentor is usually someone older, but doesn't always have to be. I've had a couple of mentors who are my age but who are a few seasons ahead of me in life. This means they have already walked where I am (as it pertains to things like raising children or their spiritual lives) and their stories inspire me to keep going. 

2.)  A mentoring relationship is different from the ones you have with your girlfriends ...and it should be. With a girlfriend, I share funny moments and hard times and usually get a "I know, right?" reaction out of them, some sympathy, or a "It's going to be ok" hug. We share life on a moment-to-moment basis because we're usually in the same stage of life. 

But I don't go to a girlfriend for advice on what to do with my child or where my life is going.  My mentors are wiser and can offer advice my girlfriends, as wonderful as they are, just don't have the experience for.  I walk into a mentoring relationship with a quiet mouth and an open heart. I go in humbly knowing I have very little to teach and a lot to learn. I go in knowing that they may tell me hard truths that I may not want to hear but that I need. 

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my headMy head will not refuse it
Psalm 141:5

3.)  A mentor is usually your gender, but doesn't always have to be. That said, there are certain precautions to take when interacting with mentors who are the opposite gender. When I was in high school and college, my mentors were all men (I realize now that this was because the Lord was filling in places where my dad should have stepped in and didn't). They took care to meet with their female mentorees in public places and usually in groups. They were all married, so if any of us girls had deep issues we needed to work through, these guys would have their wives handle it. In doing so, they kept themselves from becoming emotionally attached and therefore possibly romantically attached to any one of us. I didn't understand this at the time, but now I realize how wise they were being in protecting both themselves and us. 

4.)  A mentoring relationship doesn't need a label. What I mean is you don't have to have an all-out-official-sit-down with your potential mentor and sign a contract-in-blood detailing every aspect of your relationship to them. With almost all my mentors, the relationship has come about gradually and naturally. We form a friendship first, and as we talk and meet for coffee or do ministry together, a mentoring relationship develops and grows. 

5.)  A mentor may not even know they are mentoring you. Again, I think almost all the women I consider mentors don't even realize they are. We just have a friendship where we do things and have conversations and I am quietly taking mental notes about how they react to situations or how they handle pressures in their lives. Some of my mentors know they are mentors even though we've never used that term to define our relationship. They are the ones I go to when I need prayer and guidance and some more structured time together.

Although all the mentors I meet physically with are women, the male mentors in my life are writers and speakers whom I may never meet and who certainly don't realize they are mentoring me!

6.) A mentor is not forever. The one lesson I've had a tough time learning is that no relationship in life is forever. A mentor may come into our life to encourage a specific situation we are struggling with or they may stay for a few years, but eventually you both must part ways as you both change and grow. 

7.)  A mentor has a life outside of their relationship with you. Do not demand your mentor be available to you at all hours. Good mentors will know how to set boundaries with you. Please respect their time, their normal jobs, and their families. 

This also means they will probably have other people they mentor, and you should have other people who mentor you. No mentor, no matter how amazing, can answer every question or deal with every situation you have. 

8.) A mentor does not have to have the same worldview or spiritual beliefs as you. That said, since I am a Christian speaking to Christians, I believe most of our mentors should share our beliefs in order to be able to speak into our lives. But that doesn't mean we write off every soul who doesn't. I have learned important lessons about money, nutrition, charity, and health from mentors who call themselves atheist, New Age, Mormon, and homosexual. Many times experience and age can teach us a lot more than a person's label can.  

9.) A mentor doesn't have to be (and I would add, probably shouldn't be) a high-profile person. In our show-biz centered society, we idolize the people who are up-on-stage and in the spotlight. We somehow think that if we score a mentor who is popular and leads great ministries, that we'll somehow have the upper-hand. Let me tell you that if you're seeking mentors who are only in the spotlight, you will be disappointed. People like this usually already have full schedules and are in high demand by everyone. Except for rare instances, they will not have the time or energy to devote to a one-on-one mentoring relationship with you. Admire them from afar, read their books, shake their hands, but unless you already had a relationship with them before they were famous, or are pretty famous yourself, chances are a mentoring relationship with them will not happen.

And finally, and possibly most importantly...

10.) Pray your mentor in. There have been times in my life when I have gone a year or more without someone speaking into my life. Those have been some difficult times. It wasn't until a couple years ago that I learned that I could ask the Lord for a mentor.  A lot of us either because of the backgrounds we came out of or the constant moving we've done, don't have a lot of quality people around us to choose from. Ask the Lord to send some quality people to you. Ask him specifically to send you people who are where you want to be. If you want to see what a happy marriage looks like, ask him to send you mentors who are happily married. If you want to do a certain ministry one day, ask him to send you people who are already doing that and doing it well. And ask him to send people who can speak into the parts of your life that need to change and/or blindspots you can't see. Those are the mentors who have been the most influential in my life.

My whole adult life has been shaped by the mentors I've had. They have given me examples to look up to and taught me lessons about the Lord, and relationships, and being a Godly woman. They have shown me how to overcome fear and depression and discouragement. I am praying the same for each of you. May the Lord send you mentors in the most unlikely places and may you have the heart and eyes to see them and be taught by them. 

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 15:22


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