Our society loves expert opinions. Thanks in large part to user-friendly search engines, we are now just one click away from a myriad of opinions, commentary, and authority figures. Using online resources, I have learned how to build Mario and Luigi out of Legos, gotten recommendations for a moving company, comparison-shopped between bicycles, and concocted a homemade remedy to finally beat a cough that had been nagging me for weeks. As homeschoolers, our family often seeks out professionals for insight and knowledge. From potters to geologists to dentists, we have sidled up to local experts who enthusiastically share their knowledge and passion with us. These relationships are rather easy to manage since we are mere novices and they are card-carrying professionals. (In fact, they usually have nicely framed documents on their wall attesting to their qualifications.) If only such documentation was available when checking out a person's relationship with Christ.
Called to Connect
Perhaps even more important than the experts we seek out for specific needs are the people we trust with our daily decision-making. Romans 16:17 cautions, "Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people's faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them." Knowing who to trust takes practice. This is especially important when it comes to mentoring relationships.
Our religious beliefs and our love for Christ often feel like a soft spot—a vulnerable place we would rather nurture in the comfort and privacy of our own homes. But Hebrews 10:25 urges us to meet together and "encourage one another." Proverbs 27:17 reminds us, "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend." We are called to be connected with others. Our personal relationship with Christ is strengthened by living in a community of believers. That means coming clean with others about our doubts, sins, indiscretions, hopes, faith, and future. A mentoring relationship is ideal for doing this—but first you have to find the right mentor.
Look for someone who has what you want. When it was recommended to me that I look for a spiritual mentor, I considered where I was and the direction I wanted to head. As a mom with two active young boys and a marriage that just hit a dozen years, I am knee deep in the family stage of life. I wanted to spend time with someone who loved their kids, cherished their marriage, and was just a bit further down the road than myself. I also wanted someone who knew Scripture and relied on it throughout the day because that was a goal I wanted to work on.
In a Bible study I was fortunate to meet several mothers who fit this bill, but one in particular had a confidence and calmness that really resonated with me (not to mention, a great sense of humor!). After Bible study, we would find ourselves talking and lose track of time. Seeing her became one of my favorite parts of the group study and it wasn't long before I asked her to become my mentor. By putting myself in the company of believers, I had an ideal "pool" to choose from. My mentor, Dana, has been a believer for many more years than myself and her knowledge of Scripture, her willingness to share her challenges, and her obvious love for the Lord have all been instrumental in my own growth. So much so that I have sought out additional mentors.
Wanted: Lion Tamers
Truth be told, there is a lazy, apathetic part of me that wants to slide away from the responsibilities God has entrusted me with into a warm pool of self-indulgence. Sometimes I really want to ignore the bad language my son has used, the poor manners he has displayed at the store, or the shove he just gave his brother on the playground. There are days I want to sit on the couch with a bag of chips and a box of wine and watch mindless TV for hours (or maybe a long weekend). This temptation I struggle with is no surprise to God! He warns us in 1 Peter 5:8, "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour." I've learned to seek out fellowship with lion tamers—"Mentor Mommies" who are walking the walk with me. I use these additional sets of eyes to help me see my blind spots.
A handful of women in my life know me, know my kids, and get what we're about. If any of them came to me and said, "Your family is in trouble," I would listen. (I would also probably at first become defensive, cry, and leave in a huff, swearing them off as wrong. Who wouldn't?) But I trust that our solid relationship would survive an uncomfortable conversation and my pained reaction to it. In fact, this sacred group of women and I have made a pact to speak the truth in love to one another (Ephesians 4:15). I know I have taxed the right people with this burden.
The truth is that all of us dread this reality. Speaking the truth in love should make you want to throw up a little in your mouth. You should need to pray about it. You should need to seek counsel (not gossip) from a trusted friend. It should be a conversation you don't look forward to having. All of us want each other's families to know God's love and to walk in the light. If the time comes when one of us gets off track and falls, we will be there to pick her up (Ecclesiastes 4:9–12). Because we'd rather rejoice with each other's triumphs than correct unbiblical behaviors, we purposefully invest time, energy, and love in lifting one another up. This encouragement will hopefully limit any falls.
You Need a Human, Not a Hero
Yet even with a carefully chosen one-on-one relationship or a group of like-minded followers ministering to each other, disappointment is inevitable. Mentors cannot transcend their human nature, regardless of how much they love the Lord. Your mentor likely will forget that you had a coffee date. She'll make an off-the-cuff comment that rubs you the wrong way. She will, at times, be wrong. Mentoring relationships draw us closer to God, but they do not replace him.
As someone who has been trusted to shine Jesus' love, I know that at times I've been a dim reflection of his glory when someone was hoping for more from me. My selfishness has made me unavailable, my ego has passed unfair judgment, my limited abilities have rendered me useless. We all miss the mark sometimes. When I have let someone down or when I've felt let down in a mentoring relationship, my knee-jerk reaction is that these relationships just don't work. I instinctively want to retreat to the safety of my own private spiritual oasis and just figure it out on my own. It's then that I must humble myself before the Lord (James 4:10) and trust in him with all my heart rather than relying on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). He is the cornerstone of every mentoring relationship—even the ones that hit a rough patch. By continually relying on his power, not our own, we can trust that things don't have to be perfect to be purposeful. And the mentoring relationship is among the most purposeful of his design, even when a super-hero cape isn't included.
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Helen Coronato is all about homeschooling her two boys, loving her husband, spending time with her girlfriends, and trying to become more like the person Jesus intended her to be. Check out her projects and connect at http://www.helencoronato.com.