Like any parent, I hold lots of hopes and dreams for my three boys. If you asked me what I pray for the most for them, though, besides their continued vitality and good health, it would be that God places before them influential mentors. Especially as my boys age, I realize that much of my important work with them has been done. While I will remain unconditionally loving and supportive, as they steer their own life journey more independently, it will be others who impact their course in significant ways.
Recently, I shared a chapel talk with our students at the Midway campus about the important individuals who will help them on their quest – be it the journey they are on this school year or the larger one which is their life story.
Utilizing excerpts from the Book of Exodus (18: 6-7; 14-19; 21; 23-24) telling the story of Moses and his father-in-law, Joshua, I tried to convey to students what mentors do and how I hoped they might broaden their perspectives on what mentors look like.
Here are some excerpts from that chapel message:
So, today, with the conclusion of the first trimester just a few weeks away, I do not know whether you have even heard a call to take up a quest, never mind answer it. I hope you have. In class; on the stage or court; in your home or church – hopefully you have resolved to pursue a new you.
If you have, I offer you travelers your next piece of advice: your journey will be hard. You will need help and you will find it in the form of valuable mentors.
One of the questers to whom you were introduced in September, Moses, returns in our reading today with a mentor. Jethro is Moses father-in-law; Moses worked for him as a shepherd for 40 years before hearing and answering the call of his life – the one which came from the burning bush. In our Exodus verse today, Moses is leading the Hebrews on their journey out of Egypt. He has assumed enormous responsibility for thousands of people. As such, Moses is constantly being asked to judge or solve all the problems presented to him by his tired, scared people. Moses is overwhelmed and fatigued. So much so that the very success of his quest might be in jeopardy.
Jethro travels to see Moses and they enter his tent to talk and there Jethro demonstrates the two gifts a mentor provides: mirrors and windows.
A mentor, you see, is one brave enough to pace a mirror front of you and then invite you to take an honest look at yourself and your actions. Sometimes our quest consumes us and, without even knowing it, we get thrown off course. We need the help of a trusted advocate to help us restore our sense of direction.
How does a mentor’s mirror do this? Most often, the mentor promotes our self-reflection the same way Jethro did for Moses: he asks good questions. “Why are you the only judge?” Jethro asked Moses. “Why do people come to you all day?” he wanted to know.
A mentor’s personal example represents another powerful mirror. As we watch our mentor from afar on her own hero’s journey, we reflect on how we might travel with the same sense of purpose, the same alignment of words and actions, and the same selflessness. Moses clearly had watched, admired, and respected Jethro as – when Jethro arrived to visit him – Moses “bowed down before him and kissed him.”
Jethro also demonstrates how mentors offer us the gift of windows. A mentor’s fresh perspective, hard-earned wisdom, or comforting counsel help make pathways visible before us when we face the inevitable hardships, setbacks, and tough decisions which accompany any worthwhile quest. The help us see rays of opportunity where before we saw only the clouds of confusion.
Jethro gave Moses sage advice: identify other trustworthy leaders among your people who can help you make all these decisions. In doing so, Jethro suggested, Moses would feel less overwhelmed and fatigued.
Mirrors and Windows. Two gifts mentors offer you as a hero on a journey
But, at times, I think we hold a narrow view of mentors.
Like Jethro, you might think mentors only come in the form of a family member – like a parent, grand-parent, or aunt and uncle.
Or, maybe you think mentors look and sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi: gray and wise from years of experience. He offered Luke a window see how the Force could guide him in his quest to defeat the Empire. But must all mentors be older than you?
Or maybe you think mentors look and sound like The Good Witch of the North, Glinda. She protected Dorothy and offered her a window to see her way back to Kansas via the Yellow Brick Road. But must mentors have magical, fairy Godmother-like qualities?
No, mentors are not always older than you; they are not always family members; nor are they possessive of magical powers. Some may be in your life for just a short period of time while others travel with you for many miles on your journey.
They will appear like my best friend from high school, Hank, did when I moved to Louisville, KY right before my freshman year of high school; he became my guide as the New York native that I was entered a whole new world in the south. Or step forward, like Mr. Tony Barnes did when I moved to New York City to go to graduate school. He was my 8th grade social studies teacher at a school in Manhattan, but he opened his apartment to live in for the year while at school; he held up mirrors to help me think about what kind of teacher I wanted to be. Or invite you in, as Mare Kalin did me in 1993, when she inspired me join her quest starting an education program for underserved students. The experience impacted my life and career in ways to significant to list.
So, don’t worry, travelers. Your mentors are out there ready to help. Seek them out. Use the mirrors they place before you to stay on course. Accept the view from the windows they provide and be grateful for the perspective they offer. And, when you have the chance, be a mentor yourself. A hero right nearby is counting on you.