I was single. And it looked like the condition might be a permanent one. Most of my friends had married in their early 20s. Within a few years, each had a handful of children and were blissfully ensconced within the daily routine of family life. Without even a boyfriend, it seemed that my chances of ever sharing in their joy would be limited, at best. Yet it was during this time that I discovered a unique and often overlooked ministry: that of mentoring other people's children.
I admit that my first impulse was to run a mile from anything that might even vaguely be considered "mentoring." As a teenager, I had encountered more than a few adults interested in guiding me through life as I drank from the well of their vast experience. Most of them had overestimated their own knowledge and abilities and, more than once, I found myself struggling in relationships where the supposed mentor seemed to approach me more as a project than as a friend. I couldn't help sensing that these relationships had more to do with fulfilling the mentor's desire to be useful than with actually meeting my needs as a growing believer.
These experiences left a sour taste in my mouth, so while I was happy to take on the role of a youth worker, I hung back from pursuing the type of responsibility that true mentorship implied. Instead, I entered the ministry with an air of caution: determined to simply "be myself" and let God guide. I told stories, participated in the games, shared about my passions, and took time to inquire about theirs. While some of the dialogue was spiritual (it had to be, since I was teaching the lessons), a fair bit of it was just friendly conversation—people getting to know each other as they shared their hopes and dreams over fruit punch and a bag of potato chips.
Much to my surprise, it wasn't long before these casual relationships began to morph into something more. After a few weeks of regular activities, several of the youth in the group began approaching me with serious problems. The wisdom of Solomon have never been my gift, I settled into a routine that involved more listening than talking and, when I did speak, it was usually to share about similar trials in my own life.
Despite the obvious differences between the world in which I grew up and the one in which they found themselves, it was clear that our emotions and struggles were really quite similar. And, while they didn't yet know the end of their story, I already knew the end of mine. The more I shared about God's direction in my own life, the more my young friends seemed to hope they might experience similar guidance in their own.