Why am I writing about mentoring at a time like this—when we are all separated in our homes and unable to meet face to face? Mentoring doesn’t even feel like a relevant topic for surviving life in a pandemic. But I firmly believe that mentoring is absolutely necessary right now.
A few weeks ago, I woke up with Psalm 112:7 on my mind. I designed a graphic for the verse and then opened up Facebook and composed a very short post. I described how on January 17, 2000, mobs of Muslim rioters on Lombok Island, Indonesia, systematically ransacked and destroyed churches and homes belonging to Christians. To avoid the crisis, my husband and I (we were global workers at the time), along with our two young sons, evacuated at 2 a.m. on a jet boat to the neighboring island of Bali. When we finally returned to pick up our lives, we struggled to manage anxiety and panic every time a new rumor reached us of a reoccurrence. During those weeks God gave me this verse:
They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.Psalm 112:7 NIV
To my surprise, that post generated more comments and shares than my typical posts. Apparently my words met a felt need. So I propose to you that this is mentoring. Especially right now.
I have been mentoring most of my adult life. And while I could tell you all about traditional mentoring methods, these unique days of social distancing and stay-at-home orders have forced me to rethink everything. Mentoring will have to take new forms, but we still and absolutely must keep mentoring. Let me give you three reasons why:
Mentoring combats isolation and loneliness
He [Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, … I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” The Lord said to him … “anoint Elisha to succeed you as prophet …Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”1 Kings 19:14–18
Elijah worked alone and spent long periods alone. His isolation contributed to his weariness and depression and convinced him he truly was all alone, disconnected and detached. But he wasn’t really. There were actually 7000 other believers. So God gave him an assistant, a companion—a mentee. Isolation makes an easy target for the enemy. As with Elijah, we can be ripe for depression when we try to do ministry and life alone. We were made for relationship and mentoring helps to satisfy this need.
We may think we’re alone especially if we are physically alone during this pandemic. But we aren’t. We have the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. And we need to remind ourselves and each other that we also have the Body of Christ with us. Write snail mail letters. Call on the phone. Send a text. Post on social media. Have a video chat. Drive by someone’s house and drop off a basket or wave to them.
Mentoring can happen virtually. Much of my mentoring already takes place via video chat since I serve global workers. One of my mentees is a single millennial serving in Europe. We meet bi-weekly to discuss a book we are reading. We discuss, answer questions and share how it impacts us. The last time we talked, she mentioned that this time of sheltering has actually made her feel closer to her family and friends in America.
Mentoring provides a safe place to ask hard questions
During crises, people ask “Is God good? Where is God? Why do good people suffer?” Even the strongest lose heart sometimes. We can’t see what God is doing and so we become fearful and anxious.
We need a place to go with those fears and anxieties. We need a judge-free zone. I think we see this in the example of Elizabeth who provided a safe place for Mary to process God’s commission.
There was a priest named Zechariah … and his wife Elizabeth … Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old … After some time his wife Elizabeth became pregnant … In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel … to a virgin named Mary … “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” … Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.Luke 1:5–7, 11–13, 24–27 NLT
We see that the first thing that Mary does after she responds with “let it be done to me according to your word” is to go to her cousin’s home:
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea … When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit… “And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come and visit me?”Luke 1: 39–44 NLT
I know the text doesn’t specifically say this, but I believe there had to be a reason Mary ran to Elizabeth first. I think Elizabeth gave Mary space to process. She helped her young cousin interpret God’s actions and prepare to face the future. In turn, both could share the joy of their first pregnancy together.
I also don’t see Elizabeth shaming Mary. She did not doubt Mary’s story nor act suspiciously toward her. As a godly woman, she could recognize that this was of the God. Safe people don’t expect us to change or behave in a certain way or tell us what to do. They accept us, love us, and let us be ourselves.
I think Elizabeth listened to Mary. When we listen to others, we extend an incredible gift of healing. We need to talk less and listen more. Ask good questions and don’t immediately supply the answers.
And lastly, I see that Elizabeth did not compare herself to or become jealous of Mary but rather empowered her. Elizabeth did not claim first place since she had waited the longest for a child or make this about her. She was willing to recognize that Mary’s child would be greater than hers.
Another of my mentees is a local millennial who vacillates between loving Jesus and loving other things more. We meet every now and then (usually when she initiates) at a local coffee shop and I mostly listen, ask questions and gently nudge. She needs to see that a dedicated follower of Jesus can be a safe place when the church has not been that for her. I may not be able to change the outcome of her choices, but I can at least love her unconditionally and testify that Jesus is worth following.
Mentoring reminds the different generations to tell of God’s works
One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty …Ps 145:4–5a
During times of crisis, we need those who have walked with God longer than us to teach us how to navigate uncertainty. We need reminders that God is faithful, how he has provided, how to abide, how to trust, how God kept them during other trials.
This kind of mentoring happens as we live life together. We see this in the example of Naomi who taught Ruth—who did not worship Yahweh—the ways of God. As a result, Ruth chose Naomi’s God unwaveringly (Ruth 1:16–17). I think this indicates that Naomi modeled something worth following. Together, they learned how to do life especially in tough times.
But Naomi was also a transparent and honest mentor. Authentic with herself and God, she had real problems and didn’t sugar coat them.
“Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”Ruth 1:20–21
Naomi felt she had lost God’s hesed (faithful, loyal) love. We sometimes think we’ve lost God’s love in times like these. Satan feeds us lies that say, “Where is your God now?”
Testifying of God’s works doesn’t mean we don’t tell the hard stuff. Naomi let Ruth see her pain and walk with her in it. But she also didn’t remain in her sadness and depression. She also spoke out when God provided Boaz’s field as a source of food:
Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. Naomi responded “He [God] has not stopped showing his kindness [hesed love] to the living and the dead.”Ruth 2:19b–20a
Naomi’s reality helps us see what is true: life is hard, and God is good all at the same time.
This why we need inter-generational relationships. The older ones teach us about what we have coming up ahead, how to grow old gracefully, that God is worth serving, and how to suffer well. Younger relationships keep us fresh, excited, alive.
My mom, older sisters, and the ladies of my church Bible Study do this for me. Those who have walked with God longer than I have remind me how God has been faithful. I did that for others in my Facebook post. Elijah did it for Elisha, Elizabeth for Mary and Naomi for Ruth.
The sharing of life, knowledge and faith in a relational way—for that’s what mentoring is—is more important now than ever but may look very different for each of us and especially during the next few weeks and months.
Who can you mentor or be mentored by?
And what will that look like in the days ahead? Think of one way you can implement immediately and another you can add when restrictions are lifted. For example:
- Lead. Step out and lead a new group, not just participate.
- Pray. Model prayer. Tell her you pray for her.
- Write. Letters. Blogs. Notes of encouragement.
- Invite. Ask her over for a meal or go out for coffee.
- Go. Take her along with you shopping, on a getaway, vacation, holiday event etc.
- Include. Let others into your small circle of family and friends (especially holidays).
- Speak. Tell someone what they have taught you or what you “caught” from them.
What might be stopping you? How can you step toward overcoming that obstacle?
Precious Father, help us to never throw our weight around or try to come across as important, with each other or those we mentor. Teach us to not be aloof with others. Help us take each other just as they are. We never want to be patronizing, or condescending, but instead care for others the way a mother cares for her children. Teach us to love others dearly, to not be content to just pass on the Message, but to give our hearts to those we mentor. And show us how to do that in these unique days, staring with those in our homes currently and then reaching out to others. AMEN (my adaptation of I Thessalonians 2:7–8)
Sample questions to ask in a mentoring relationship:
- Where do you see God working in your life right now?
- What does God look like for you? Who is God for you?
- What is it like when God does not make sense?
- How are you experiencing God’s grace? Love? Goodness etc.?
- In what ways can you invite God into your situation?
- What are your dreams and aspirations?
- How do you believe God is asking you to pour out your life?
- Describe the state of your soul? What feelings are you noticing?
- Are you able to trust God? Why/how or why not?
- Tell me more about that. (This is for their clarification, NOT yours!!)
Questions to ask during a crisis:
- What do you think about all that is happening?
- How is this affecting you and your family?
- How does this situation make you feel (afraid, angry, confused etc.)?
- What is the most important lesson this situation is teaching you?
- What is God saying to you in the Bible?
- What are you thinking about doing?
Recommended Reading: Edwards, Sue and Barbara Neumann. 2014. Organic Mentoring: A Mentor’s Guide to Relationships with Next Generation Women. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.