by Cara Strickland
I started seeking a mentor in middle school. I probably got the idea from youth group or a devotional book. It seemed like having a mentor was a fast track to spiritual growth. I selected a young woman at my church in her mid-20s. She had a baby and a husband who played the guitar. We began to meet regularly as mentor and mentee. I soaked up her words, which dripped with maturity and experience, I thought.
I remember just a few things about that mentoring relationship. When I confessed my worries and hopes about singleness, she promised I would meet an “awesome” man. Once, after a conversation about exaggeration, she made me call everyone to whom I might have stretched the truth. She became a home-based consultant, and I showed up to her parties and bought countless rubber stamps.
When I was in high school, she and her family began attending another church, and we stopped meeting. By then I was asking all sorts of questions about faith. I knew that many of my answers didn’t match up with hers, which didn’t fit within the roles we’d chosen. Insight only went one way—from her to me. I’d thought having a mentor would make things clearer, but that wasn’t the case.
Many years later I went to see a spiritual director for the first time. She welcomed me into her cozy room, and we sat for a moment, getting to know each other. We talked about the differences between spiritual direction and therapy, about how spiritual directors are trying to listen to God with you, rather than trying to address and change behavior.
Mentors all around me
I shared what was on my heart that day: relationships close to me. As I did so, she listened and smiled. “Does it feel like God is moving there?” she asked. “Does it feel like this is a gift?” I left encouraged not only by her words, but by the way she had sat with me and made space for me. We walked together, with no hierarchy. Our revelations bounced off one another.
Since that first experience, I’d shied away from anything resembling a formal mentoring relationship. But looking back, I realized mentors had been all around me. My beloved college professors had helped me figure out who I was as a writer. My (then new) pastor and I walked together and talked about faith while her son played on the swings.
I’d joined a philanthropic women’s group with members ranging in age from their early 40s to early 100s. These women would pull me aside, tell me they were praying for me and share what had worked (and what hadn’t) in their lives. But I wasn’t the only one benefiting from these relationships. I wasn’t an obligation, but a fellow traveler.
One of my dearest friends is about two decades older than I am, but she never makes me feel inferior. She is unafraid of my questions and of disagreeing with me. We frequently discuss what a gift it is to be companions for each other as we walk through this life. All those years ago, when I was looking for a mentor, I didn’t know that they could come to you without curriculum, without a formal agreement. I didn’t realize that the best relationships are about give as well as take or that we could walk side by side, regardless of our ages.
Cara Strickland writes about food, faith and life from her home in the Pacific Northwest. You can read her blog at carastrickland.com. This article first ran in the May 2017 issue of Gather magazine.