Mentoring: Giving Gifts We Don't Expect

  • Don Payne
  • Dec 1, 2008

What a delight to receive an expected gift! Whatever the gift, the source, or even the occasion, a gift that shows up unexpectedly triggers something inside us by communicating that someone was thinking of us and cares. Not to be melodramatic, but that experience touches us deeply because it's deeply human; one person transmitting a bit of humanity to another.

We can find another, less obvious, type of unexpected gift-giving that occurs when people give gifts they don't know they are giving. A member of our office staff recently purchased a small gift (a picture frame) for her husband to give at his own office Christmas party. Without his knowledge, though, and as a joke, she also included a rather unflattering picture of him in the frame before she wrapped it. He gave more than he knew!

Indeed, mentors give the gift of their time, energy, and experience, but they intend to give those gifts. Yet, many mentors discover that their mentoring gave to a mentee a gift that the mentor did not know she or he was even giving. For example, a mentor may think that a certain piece of advice was the gift a mentee needed. Maybe so, maybe not, but perhaps the gift that landed on a particularly fertile spot was the mentor's willingness to be vulnerable or simply to say "I don't know."

Mentees often speak of a mentor's influence in this manner; describing the mentor's influence or help in ways that surprise the mentor! It takes us back a bit to receive something we didn't expect. It's even more surprising to give something we didn't know we were giving! This continues to fascinate me about this wonderful ministry of mentoring. In some strange way (and in God's hands) we do more than we know we're doing.

Periodically I have the privilege of offering training and consulting about mentoring outside the Denver Seminary context. In a variety of sectors, public and private, I see people hungry for mentoring and others willing to provide it. Interestingly, though, mentors and prospective mentors will often feel quite insecure about what they have to offer. Intimidated by what they don't know or by their own fears and failures, mentors wonder how much they really have to give.

In this season when gift-giving garners an unusual amount of attention, ponder how through our mentoring God gives gifts that are much-needed but that we don't even intend to give. For example, simply taking interest in the "mundane" details of a mentee's life can send a powerful signal that God has not lost sight of those matters either. Initiating that "random" coffee conversation may lead to "Aha!" moments in which an obscure comment connects with a longstanding question or a troubling problem in a mentee's life.

I hear about this unexpected gift-giving from mentees so often that I have come to expect it, even though the specifics general surprise me! So, thanks to you for giving as a mentor more than you might even know. Be assured that God multiplies your efforts and that they are a vital part of a Denver Seminary student's journey of faith and ministry. The exponential impact of those unexpected gifts, through the life of your mentee, will only be known in the Kingdom. But, that's OK, because then we'll all have plenty of time to celebrate that harvest!