In Homer’s classic Greek mythological story, the Odyssey the hero Odysseus leaves his family and home to go fight the Trojan War. Before he leaves he asks his old friend, Mentor to care for and guide his beloved son, Telemachus. Mentor, often portrayed as the disguised Greek goddess Athena, makes it his task to instruct and advise Telemachus in growing as an admirable man. This is where we get the noun, “Mentor,” and the verb, “to mentor.” It comes from the ancient Greek narrative in which the human, Telemachus is mentored by Greek deity.
Over the past two years I have been spending regular time with a young woman named Sheila. She is just a few years out of university and is at that beautiful yet often times painful season of early young adult life in which growth is marked by incessant self-reflection and ideological exploration. We meet over cups of tea and talk about a variety of things. Mainly I listen to Sheila.
She tells me the latest conditions of her heart and the man-boy in current question. She thinks aloud about her vocational aspirations. She confesses and confides about her spiritual struggles and longings. She tells me she seeks me out because she respects the way I live my own life, and she trusts that I will always tell her my honest opinions, even the things she may not want to hear.
I have found it is a gift to be invited into Sheila’s life in this way. And I do not take the gift lightly. As one of her mentors I get to journey with Sheila as she navigates such meaningful and transformative questions like:
Do my desires matter?
Does it matter what I want?
What are my non-negotiables for a healthy relationship?
How do I learn to take better care of myself, to be more patient and nurturing of myself?
Should I expect my passions to be part of how God will use me?
How do I prioritize God in my life?
How do I use my gifts in a way that pleases God?
Is there such a thing as having realistic expectations of God and of other people?
Why do I hesitate to believe in abundance?
What does it mean to be a godly woman?
I find that these are questions so few of us take the time to reflect on or find the courage to even pose. Through my mentoring relationship with Sheila I am reminded of how important it is to assist one another on the journey of life. I am reminded of how important it is to listen to one another and to honor the uniquely challenging questions and concerns that plague each us at our unique life stages. None of us can discern wisely alone. And often times it is in the act of courageously sharing our internal dialogues with another trusted and wiser person that we discover new epiphanies and perspectives.
Spending this kind of time with Sheila has raised things in my own mind and spirit. I am a decade plus older than Sheila but I realize that I also desire the space and opportunity to have such conversations with a woman twice my own age. I do not have the same types of concerns as Sheila. At my age and in my own life circumstances, I am thinking more around issues of how to live faithfully, gracefully, and generously into my maturing mind, body and spirit. I want a place where I admit some of my perhaps irrational fears of getting older. I want a place where can I dream aloud and seek counsel about what pulls at my heart in this new season of my life as a woman. I want a space to reflect safely and authentically about the types of sacrifices I should be open to in order to pay enough attention and time to reaching behind and assisting younger women and growing girls. I am not talking about a therapist. I am taking about the importance of seeking and making room in our lives for the wisdom and counsel of those who have gone a few steps ahead of us.
Mentoring may seem like a small thing that one person does for another when the occasion arises. But really, if we are intentional about being mentors to one another it can be a transforming and gracious act of the gods carried out in the disguise of YOU.
Photo Credit: teammates.org
**Enuma Okoro is an award-winning author of three books on the call and challenge to the spiritual life. Visit her website at www.enumaokoro.com and follow her on Twitter at Tweetenuma.