The Gift of Mentoring
Gift-giving is on all our minds this time of year. I spend a lot of time puzzling over which gifts to give my family and friends. It can be challenging to find a gift that a loved one will enjoy because of both the gift itself and the love behind it.
This seasonal gift-giving mode is a prime time to reflect on the gift of mentoring. I'm not referring to mentoring as a "spiritual gift" in the biblical sense (that is another important topic), but to what we as mentors actually give to those whom we mentor. Yes, we give them our time. We give of our experience and (hopefully!) wisdom. We give a listening ear. Yet, each of those gifts can be given in a sort of "professional" manner. We can learn to give those gifts as mentors and still not give what matters most.
You can probably tell where I'm headed with this. Drawing on the model of the Incarnation, the greatest gift of a mentor is the gift of herself or himself. That's familiar and comfortable Christian language, yet it can be rather abstract. In this era of increased specialization and professionalization, we can learn certain skills that, though helpful, allow us to keep ourselves one step removed from others. So, what is really involved in giving ourselves as mentors?
Philippians 2 always drives us back to the theme of servanthood. It still stuns me to think that our Lord served those He led. Since mentors are often viewed as those who have what mentees need or want, mentoring can quickly turn into a subtle game of power. When mentoring is a gift, however, we give ourselves as servants to those we mentor. We serve them by helping them become who God made them to be. That may include challenging, even confronting at times. Yet, a servant orientation allows a mentee's best interests to be the rudder in the relationship.
John 11 provides another poignant glimpse of how we give ourselves to others. In the account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we understandably leap forward to the resurrection part of the story. Let's park for a moment, though, in vv. 33 and 35. Jesus entered their grief. Yes, he intended to do something about it (often we're helpless to change things for those we mentor) but his genuine sharing in the brokenness of the moment was part of his gift to Lazarus' family. Sometimes we can change or "fix" things for our mentees and sometimes we can't. Sometimes it's best not to do so even if we are able! Either way, when we let down our protective shields (whatever those are) and let ourselves hurt with mentees, God's touch extends to them through us!
As we consider the gift of God's Son through the Incarnation, we can see another aspect of that gift - Jesus' knowledge of people. His ministry to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) reflected his knowledge of her life. John also mentions Jesus' knowledge of Nathanael when he called Nathanael to follow him (John 1). By whatever means Jesus acquired his knowledge of others (another interesting theological question!), he took their lives seriously. His ministry to them took into account who they were: their fears, their aspirations, their backgrounds, and all the particulars of their brokenness. It is a gift to have our lives valued like that. It is a gift because it can only come from within our person. We can learn all kinds of skills and still not give that gift of ourselves. But when we do, people know it-and they are changed.
Advent and Christmas are unusual times of the year in that we think about closing out a year while simultaneously celebrating the coming of our Lord and all the newness that promises. As mentors, this is a rich time to reflect on how God's gift of Jesus informs the gift we give others as mentors. A commitment to service, participation, and knowledge will help distinguish mentoring as an activity from mentoring as a gift-a godly gift because it is a gift of ourselves. This kind of gift evokes that beautiful response that givers want to see; pleasure in the gift integrated with delight in the love that gives it.