Thursday, January 04, 2018

Being Cautious About Mentors

In my previous post, "Being Cautious About Authors," referring to books on marriage, I brought up several reasons not to depend on personality tests and formulas found in marriage books. Every year there are new marriage books on the market, and though many of them may have some good principles, no book is perfect, and you can't expect any book completely fit your needs.

That being stated, I do believe in keeping books for reference and research and furthering my knowledge of what is being taught. Some books are helpful, but some are not fit for the family library if they are not in keeping with certain standards.

The same can be said for choosing a mentor. Finding a mentor was foreign to many of us born in the 1940's and 1950's. I had not heard of it until recently. Confident people, raised by pioneer parents  who liked the challenge of figuring out their own problems and fixing things, didn't need mentors. My parents were in their 20's when I was very young, and throughout my life at home with them, I can't recall them ever needing anyone's help, or wanting it, in their personal lives.  Their own parents had patterned a way of life that they followed in their adult years. They loved their independence and they enjoyed finding out how to do things; how to be successful. 

With so many broken families in the last generation, young women who lack the advantage of parents and grandparents examples in life have found it necessary to find mentors who could share their knowledge with them.

When we were growing up, we were told that people, no matter how good, could always disappoint you, and while it is a blessing to have fellowship and trust and learning from each other, the final mentoring is from the word of God. It is never good to put your hopes completely in a mentor, because people can always disappoint you and let you down. 

If you treat people as friends and share good information from them, they can remain friends, but if you elevate them to the level of mentors, then there will be a real let-down when they have problems or make blunders.  Friendships can yield a lot of mentoring and still remain friendships even though they fail or have shortcomings. It is when we put others on a pedestal that we suffer so much disappointment when they fall.  

This is also something to keep in mind regarding our parents. We expected them to mentor us and guide us, and many grown children were not gracious enough to accept that their parents could not be perfect; that they had human failings, that they were growing and learning and maturing like everyone else. 

When you realize a mentor is just a person, and keep your expectations at a human  level, you won't be disappointed when you find out they are not your ideal, spiritually, created in your image. If you regard them as equal human beings, you can forgive them easily when they don't measure up or when they give faulty advice. 

Our parents cautioned us not to become peer-dependent, or enamored of anyone. They would say, 

                                                "Even they have feet of clay."

This expression came from the book of Daniel in the Bible, where King Nebuchadnezzar dreamed that he saw a statue made of gold, sliver, and brass, but with feet of clay.

Daniel interpreted the vision to mean that the clay represented the weakness of the Babylonian empire and its collapse.

Knowing that all people have feet of clay will help you become strong and less peer-dependent or mentor-dependent. In fact, mentors ought to "work themselves out of a job" by teaching you thoroughly enough to make you less dependent on them. 

I am not sure that a mentor is something the Bible speaks of, unless by mentor, people are referring to the ones God put on their lives, such as parents, the church and other types of teachers.

 In addition to being cautious about authors and books, be reasonable about mentors. We want mentors but they will never have the same kind of faultless perfection as Christ. 

It is good to know people who will lift you up and to be able to lift others up when they need it. Those are the most precious friendships, but we have to be careful not to elevate anyone so high that we become crushed when they do not live up to our expectations. 

This disappointment can be avoided when you make a decision to become that example you always wanted from someone else.


JES said...

There is so much wisdom in that last sentence!

Leslie said...

Well said!

anonymous said...

I so agree with your post, and your last bit of advice is so true. I am so thankful you had parents who had the knowledge they did to share with you because you are passing the knowledge to us. I learned things from my own mother, but I have much room for improvement.

When I was a young wife and mother I read in Titus 2 that the older women were to teach the younger women certain moral standards,disciplines, marriage behavior and child rearing. There were women in the church I was attending that weren't much older than myself who stepped forward to "mentor" younger women. Many of them were gossips, busybodies or those looking for power or fame.
I noticed one much older, humble and wise woman who had successfully raised to adulthood three children and asked her to mentor me. She declined, but I continued to watch her and ask her advice on many occasions. Eventually she started a Women's Bible Study in her home that I attended. Over the years we lost contact with her and I'm not sure she is still living on this side of eternity. I learned much from that lady and still revere her to this day.

Southern Ladye said...

Titus 2 does tell us that the older women are to teach the younger women, but I strongly feel that the best way to teach is by example. I have had to be a mentor in my profession and often times one of two things happen. 1. The person being mentored is disappointed, as you stated in your post, because the mentor isn't what they thought he or she would be. 2. The person being mentored doesn't feel they need a mentor, that what you do doesn't agree with their "style", OR they think that you are a show-off and they resent the fact that you point out areas they could improve on (which is part of your job as the mentor). Of course, in this scenario, the person being mentored didn't ask to be mentored because it is a required part of their first year teaching experience. I do not like being in the position of mentoring someone, especially when they haven't asked to be mentored. It often builds resentment and strain on a relationship. The women in my life that have shaped me into who I am didn't mentor me. We didn't have a weekly session where we discussed my "glows and grows". They simply led by example and gave me advice when I asked for it.

Lydia said...

Southern Ladye, that has been our experience too. Also sometimes the person comes with preconceived ideas of what your marriage should be like. They can turn against you if you and your husband don't have a certain type of idealized relationship.

Unknown said...


Thank you so much for this post. Young people in church are taught to look for mentors for growth, and to feel totally orphaned by God if they don't have one. I was taught this too. Usually it is called discipleship. I looked up where the word mentor came from years ago, and realized how spiritually wrong it would be to look for a mentor (someone who imparts their OWN spirit into the pupil).

It is from Greek Mythology - even just a look at two Wikipedia articles, without going further, will show where this idea comes from. I looked up "mentor" and also clicked on the link that shows where it gained popular usage in the novel by Francois Fenelon. Psychology also tells us to look for a mentor, or several mentors, in order to develop properly.

I believe the Word would describe someone we should imitate as an "example", not a mentor.

Christ is still the head of his church, and as we seek him and learn of him, he will, through the work of the Holy Spirit, change us into his image. He is responsible for our growth, once we give our lives over to him. He is also a good shepherd who does bring into our lives the people who will teach, encourage, and love us. He is the one who brings "opportunities" that we need, or sometimes allows us to go without, in order to allow us to be used for his kingdom,or teach us to look to him for what we need.

I agree that it is through coming along-side and being an example that God has asked older women to teach the younger. Also, by having the faithful counsel of God in our speech and communication.

I was so relieved to find such a friend a few years ago. I loved going to her house, watching her example, sitting down for good conversations, and thinking of what I could do to love her and show my appreciation. I didn't ask her to "be my mentor", or expect her to think deeply about what she saw in me that needed to change, or to work on me, etc. To ask that of another person is to ask for something that is very unnatural in a relationship. A terrible sense of one-sided obligation develops that can only disappoint. We should not look to try to change other people. There is no way an older woman who is working with her home and family has time for that. She enjoyed our friendship as much as I did hers, and she inspired me by being able to watch all the loving things she did for her home and family.

If I could see her often, that was wonderful. If both of us went through busy times, and couldn't see each other, we just picked back up where we left off when we got back together, and no one felt miffed by the other.

I have moved since then, so our contact is occasional now, but still just as sweet every time I hear from her. What an impression her love for her family made on me. And yes, she is just a person. A person who loves the Bible and is allowing it to work all through her life. Always looking to the Lord.

I don't have a friend like that close by right now, and I don't like that, but I will have to accept that the Lord hasn't given me that right now. I ask the Lord to bring me one or more, and I will wait and do my best to be a friend to others that I see, and ask the Lord to just use me where he put me, and, of course, love and focus on my family.

Unknown said...

And you have been that example to me. You have really helped me to keep going in the right direction over the years. I don't know what I would have done without your voice through your articles. It gave me confidence to make a home.

laura said...

If someone has something to teach it will be obvious and a Titus 2 realtionship can form organicly. No need to self-describe as mentor/mentee. That is just a box with a label on it. There shouldn't be expectations like that.