I have been blessed with several great mentors in my life. Obviously, by reading this blog you know of my love for my Dad and the role he played as a mentor is ever present. Some of my mentors have been for just brief periods of time, others in a small but long-term role, and others have been in and out of my life. Mentors for me have ranged from family members, coaches, pastors, and the occasional work colleague/leader. I look at the role of a mentor as a companion figure on my journey. Someone who can help guide my steps along the way. Someone who can give me an expanded perspective.
Mentoring goes beyond teaching or coaching. Teaching is the instruction of what to do and how to do it, where success is determined by the student learning the tasks. Coaching is teaching with a higher level of encouragement and inspiration, where success is applying the learning to achieve a positive outcome. As a high school football coach, I was able to teach tactics by doing repetitive drills and coach the application of those skills in game situations. The mentoring part was the way in which I did the teaching or coaching – in the right manner (respectfully) with the right purpose as an outcome (character development of the player). I love football and competing to win on the field, but the difference maker was the opportunity to model and disciple young men, as well as serve as a mentor for other coaches and staff members.
The dictionary definition of a mentor is, “an experienced and trusted adviser.” I think that is a little light on the value of a mentor. To me an advisor is someone who gives advice or guidance then leaves without owning any actions or responsibility to the outcome. Mentors build strength; strength found in capacity and the will to own the outcome. Strength and passion to go “all in,” knowing what to do when called upon. Mentors will often see or hear of the fruits of their work.
The origin of the word Mentor comes from Homer’s epic, The Odyssey. Mentor was a long time and trusted friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War, Mentor was asked to function as protector and steward of the house, including his son, Telemachus. The first recorded modern usage of the term as trusted advisor, teacher, and wise person is found in a 1699 book by the French writer Francois Fenelon, “The Adventures of Telemachus.” The book’s lead character is Mentor and the plot provides clarity to Homer’s Odyssey. It wasn’t Mentor who provided Telemachus with the guidance, it was the Greek goddess of wisdom Athena, in disguise as Mentor.
A current “aha moment”- possibly the most significant in recent years to me – is realizing that my adult children have become mentors for me. Typically, a mentor/mentee relationship works with a younger colleague or protégé – not the other way around. My daughters’ experiences in building their lives in an evolving world, specifically with racial injustice, have opened my eyes to things I was not fully immersed in based on where I am in my life’s journey. Maybe it has always been this way, but I see a current culture that is not receptive to the younger generation providing guidance, motivation, and role modeling upward to the older generation. As a result, their wisdom gets lost and we create obstacles to a more effective society.
Wisdom is seasoned by living. Mentors, having been there themselves, can add to our collection of wisdom. Experience matters. We must never be too old or set in our ways to learn new things, to see new things – to be mentored. If we stop learning, we stop growing. If we lose the desire to grow as the world evolves, we find ourselves longing for the good old days where we were comfortable. There is a forward progress to life, it flows downstream. If we fight that current to stay where we are, we tire and lose strength – allowing the current to take us wherever – without the energy to steer through the rapids.
The Old Testament book, Sirach, is a work of ethical teachings and considered a book of wisdom. The author, Ben Sira, a Jewish scribe positioned himself as a wise and experienced observer of life, a mentor, with the intention to help his contemporaries maintain religious faith and integrity through study of the books sacred to the Jewish tradition. The book reinforces an authentic Jewish understanding of wisdom and goodness. It does provide advice as an instruction manual concerning duties toward God. However, it’s lessons about humility, sincerity, justice, and the attainment of wisdom, is what builds strength.
Imagine a custom-made mentor from God. We have one, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the gift given to us as our advocate. An advocate is a counselor, supporter, protector, champion. It means, literally, “one called alongside of” to aid, exhort, and encourage. The Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity and since we have been created in God’s likeness, these characteristics of the Holy Spirit – to advocate, protect, and aid – are within all of us.
The Holy Spirit is the power responsible for the guidance of the Christian mission and the source of courage in the face of oppression. His presence will guide us on the right path, telling us which way to go, what to speak, and when to listen. “And your ears shall hear a word behind you: “This is the way; walk in it,” when you would turn to the right or the left.” (Isaiah 30: 21). “For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.” (Luke 12:12).
Mentors seed strength in others, who in turn can become mentors, repeating the cycle. To change the tide in today’s culture, we need this cycle to repeat over and over, till we reach a tipping point. We must allow ourselves to be mentored by the Holy Spirit and those He places as companions on our journey. We must also do more than just coach or teach; we must challenge ourselves to mentor others as the Holy Spirit mentors us. Now is the time to advocate, protect, and aid.