I got such a great question a few weeks ago in response to the invitation to Ask Me Anything:
How do I go about finding a spiritual mentor if I don’t really know any wonderful Christian women locally to ask?
I’ve been mulling it over. Looking back, I have been mentored by a number of different women over the years, and been a mentor to a handful too. Each of these relationships began differently, seemed to be for a slightly different purpose, and in each of them I had a different feeling of whether it was particularly beneficial. It is hard to pin down a ‘method’ for finding a mentor or establishing a good mentoring relationship. As frustrating as it may be, my answer is “it depends”.
That being said, here are the few thoughts I have on seeking out a mentor.
1. I believe mentoring relationships need to be treated as relationships. In other words, there’s something organic and almost mystical about “clicking” with someone.Even when there is an office or church program which seeks to pair people up in mentoring relationships, in my experience the success of those depends on whether those people would naturally have been drawn to each other as friends. In other words – you have to LIKE each other.
2. What distinguishes mentoring relationships from other friendships, then, is that there is an advisor-advisee dynamic at work. The mentee (for want of a better word) has specifically opened herself up to be a learner in the relationship and the mentor knows that she is free to speak openly without being regarded as offering unwanted advice.
3. Some relationships have been more formal (as in, “will you mentor me?”), whereas many of the mentoring relationships I have been in have developed out of a friendship. Sometimes I didn’t even know I was looking for a mentor, but in retrospect God used the life and words of an older woman to “do the work of mentoring” in a particular season.If you are praying for a mentor, the answer might be in a relationship you already have more informally, and God might surprise you by allowing that relationship to take on a new significance.
4. Where I have been mentored by women who are older than me, I have often found it important to specifically tell them that I welcome their stories, input and insights. Our generation has a habit of coming across as know-it-alls and unteachable. It has taken some persistence to assure older women that I really am interested in what they have to say, and to hold my tongue long enough to wait for an honor their stories. I think the default position of many potential older mentors is to assume that we aren’t interested in them or their opinions, and so they naturally draw back.
5. Ask around: if you haven’t already, ask your pastor or ministry leaders or other friends if they can recommend older women for you to befriend. They might know someone who is afraid of the label “mentor”, but would welcome getting to know you!
I have appreciated the wisdom of two online mentors who have written extensively about mentoring: Natasha Robinson has written a number of excellent articles on mentoring (including considerations about spiritual, professional, cross-cultural and inter-generational mentoring), and Anne Bogel at Modern Mrs Darcy ran a fantastic series on mentoring with easy-to-read bite-sized wisdom on the topic. In particular, I appreciated her suggestions from her Mentoring Cheat-Sheet, where she suggested three things to discuss with your mentor:
1. Here’s what I’m working on right now. Tell them where your gaze is resting and where your priorities lie at the moment, what your big picture looks like and where you see yourself in it.
2. These are my next steps. What current projects are you giving the most attention? What’s your plan for moving forward? How have you decided to deploy your resources–time, money, energy–to accomplish these things.
3. Where can you help? Tell your mentor what you’re looking for. Do you want encouragement, or critical feedback? Do you want them to introduce you to someone who can help your career, or review your essay before you submit it to the magazine? Do you need granular advice about making it through the witching hour?
I hope that helps! I remember many times feeling that I really would love some wisdom from a mentor during particular seasons, and in retrospect it is wonderful to remember how God met those needs in very surprising ways! I hope He delights and surprises you with some new and enriching friendships very soon.
Got a question you’d like to ask? I don’t have all the answers, but you’re free to ask me anything – let’s talk! Click over to the Ask Bronwyn page and drop me a note. I’ll put a virtual pot of tea on and get ready 🙂
photo credit: Laura Kronen