Help others by mentoring

“What a full day this has been,” I thought to myself as I leaned against my grocery cart, filled with basic items I’d need to prepare breakfast and lunch the next day. It was late evening and I had just returned to our beautiful island after spending a week with my husband in Phoenix.

In spite of the late hour and having been on the road all day, I decided I’d not let this quick stop at the store get the best of me. Instead, I’d remind myself how great it was to watch my husband make his conference presentations and how grateful I am to be able to buy the groceries I need.

I also searched for some encouragement and sure enough, there he stood: a man purchasing roses, one aisle over. I imagined what a delightful surprise that thoughtful gift would be for his special someone when he walked in the door. It made me smile.

Rather smugly I turned to the checker and a young woman who bagged my groceries. I was sure I had already caught God’s blessing as I dove into an ongoing conversation they were having about children. Then came two serious questions I could not have imagined I might be asked: How did I juggle working and parenting? And how did I get through my days with an infant sleeping only two hours at a stretch?

Instantly I was not just a customer but an advisor to a young mother who was experiencing pure exhaustion. It occurred to me that the real blessing was the late hour. The store was quiet, gifting me with the opportunity to connect for a few moments with someone actively seeking encouragement and a few new ideas.

My only regret, as I think back on our conversation, is my inability to be the ongoing mentor she probably desires. No doubt each one of us needs such a companion from time to time.

The term “mentor” originates in Greek mythology and involves the hero Odysseus and his son Telemachus. Mentor, it turns out, was a loyal friend and advisor to Odysseus. He agreed to be Telemachus’ teacher and in modern English the tutor’s name has become an eponym for a wise, trustworthy counselor or teacher.

A century ago, when our society was far more agrarian, most young couples stayed close to home. There was a farm to run and family members who became mentors naturally. Fathers passed on knowledge to their sons. Young mothers had mom, grandma, sisters, aunts and friends close by when encouragement, information and advice was desired.

These relationships did not exist without strife. People often felt stuck. They lacked privacy. But history, tradition, and connectedness were valued. The isolation we struggle with today was seldom an issue. Rarely would a young mother feel the need to ask a perfect stranger for parenting advice.

Frequently my husband and I turn to each other and say, “We are an American family!” That’s because we face many of the same challenges other families face and my husband and I have parented apart from immediate family members for most of our married life. As a result, many of our neighbors and church friends have been elevated to family status, mentoring us when we asked for additional support and advice.

We have also grown in our understanding of what we believe are our responsibilities to others and the centralized role church activities and faith play in all those interactions. Intergenerational contact has become decidedly more important, as is our desire to know God and look for His touch in our everyday lives.

Not a one of us is called to travel through life alone. Yet, it is easy to become isolated. Ask God to draw near. Seek out people with experience and wisdom. And challenge yourself to become a mentor. Untold joy awaits.

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