I have mentored many people over the years, and most of those relationships have been a great experience. However, I've had a few experiences that were disasters, so I want to give a word of caution: Not every mentoring relationship works. There have been a few times I've had to pull back from a relationship that I initiated, so I've learned over the years to be much wiser.
I recently realized I had been under a legalistic perception of mentorship and service for years. Ever since I became a Christian, I have been drawn to needy people. I've taken seriously passages including Luke 12:48, "When someone has been given much, much will be required in return." Because I had a stable, nurturing childhood, it seemed the least I could do was spread the love from that childhood around. But the obsession to be involved with the extremely needy was a compulsion that hasn't always been from God.
Because neediness is what draws me in, that very need has also been what turns me away. Sometimes neediness was so all-encompassing that it acted as a vortex and sucked all life into it like a bottomless pit. All my efforts were doing nothing to quench the need—instead, I seemed to feed the beast, the need, making it more powerful.
So rather than avoid mentoring, I needed to know when to step back from such a relationship. Here are five warning signs I've come to rely upon:
1) The person is so self-centered, they can think of no one else.
If a person is so needy that they can only take and never give, that's a clear warning sign. Does the person ever ask about how you are doing, or do they only greet you each time with a litany of their woes? If the latter, then they are on the road to sucking you dry. A healthy mentoring relationship should be two-way. You should feel that a friendship is forming and not that you have to be the person's sounding board for everything she feels is constantly wrong with her life. It's okay to bring this up with the person. Perhaps she hasn't realized what she is doing. But if you bring it up, and she resents you for it or refuses to change, that's the beginning of an unhealthy and abusive relationship.1