I never thought mentoring women could get me in such killer shape.
Though I’ve enjoyed my share of decaf frappuccinos while mentoring, a lot of my mentoring moments (however informal) start with a text, a Marco Polo: “Wanna walk?” We’re busy women thirsty for an hour away from Zoom calls or toddlers yanking at our jeans. We multitask, maybe plopping the kids into the stroller and handing them an applesauce squeeze.
If only mentoring came with a pedometer; my purple running shoes crush a lot of miles around my small town. And with those miles, my friendships have accumulated some decent range, too. The metaphor of sharing the journey isn’t lost on me.
There’s solid biblical precedent for women both mentoring and being mentored (Titus 2:3-5). Even for those of us in thriving marriages, it’s not hard to see that our marriages can’t heft all of our emotional weight. Someone once recommended I have a “Paul” in my life as a mentor, a “Timothy” for a mentee, and a “Barnabas” to encourage me alongside.
But most of my mentor-ish relationships aren’t formal. They’re just women reaching out for someone to listen well, ask good questions, intentionally process alongside. Someone to help them find the Holy Spirit in the chaos.
How is mentoring women different from friendship?
In my experience, mentoring is friendship on steroids: purposeful, curious, God-inviting friendship. Though everyone needs small talk to warm them up, I’m not really the “Did you hear what J. Lo wore?” or “What’s the best HIIT app?” type for long. I like to move my relationships out of the shallow end, because whether male or female, we fiercely need it.
When mentoring women, as soon as it’s comfortable, I like to tug our dialogue beyond information. I want to get to how our inner beings, our true selves, are interacting with the world around us. If you’re frustrated about a conversation with your mom, why did it rub you the wrong way? What did you feel, and with what value of yours did it conflict?
If you’re army crawling through mom anger, what’s the emotion beneath your anger: Fear? Disappointment? Hurt? Injustice? Rejection?
Where are you?
God’s questions to people in Scripture offer superb patterns for how He wants me to relate. Take God’s question to Adam and Eve: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). That’s a great place to start a mentoring conversation. “Where’s your heart at right now? What do you feel like hiding from?”
Mentoring women requires me to constantly learn how to listen with my whole heart and extend people God’s hospitality for their souls. Sometimes this means I ask questions like, “How did that make you feel?” Or “What was that like?” Or “How are you experiencing God in all this?”
Because telling our stories is one of the first steps to healing. There’s something in receiving a story that communicates “God with us”; that says, You’re not alone. And What God is doing here in your heart, in your perspective, matters. (Remember: Our eyes are the lamp of our bodies [Matthew 6:22]).
First John 1 speaks of sharing how we’re experiencing and interacting with God, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (verse 1). The chapter then speaks of how sharing makes our joy complete (verse 4).
But sometimes I’m catching that pilgrimage mid-journey, before either of us understands the ultimate joy God’s creating—like my friend, a mother of three who lost her husband to cancer.
I may be more of a midwife for a woman’s grief or anger or disappointment, just shaking my head alongside them and helping them emotionally breathe through the pain. It’s the chance to unearth the questions their souls are really asking, then look them in the eyes with the encouragement or gentle truth I think God would want them to hear.
How does God care for us?
For mentoring women, I see parallels throughout Jesus’ life. He spends quality time with people—eating, drinking (I’m hearing Starbucks?), attending social events, walking. He listens to and addresses their gripping fears, base desires (Luke 22:24-30), and persistent questions. He humbly serves them, even with the messy business of human bodies (John 13:1-17). He even invites them into His own moments of anxiety and hurt (Matthew 26:38).
Part of friendship is just showing up. But personally, I find the tough part is showing up with my whole self—setting aside my kids’ squabbling before I leave, or deadlines at work, or my own snap judgments when I’m irritable. At times, it means setting aside my own pain so I can fully receive theirs.
That doesn’t mean we don’t pursue mutual relationships when we’re mentoring women. Think of the perfect circle of community of the Trinity and the way the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit give and receive love from each other. But whether we receive from others or not, mentoring means creating capacity to be present, to “let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9).
Mentoring also means we show up with our own stories: battles over dividing household tasks with a spouse, infertility, or a past abortion. Even battles not yet neatly conquered within us.
God coordinated your unique stories of redemption for this relationship, for such a time as this. So don’t let shame hold you both in your respective darknesses. Find healing in confessing what wasn’t or isn’t God-honoring in your life. In the Body of Christ, isolation is dysfunction (1 Corinthians 12:21).
Mentoring women = making disciples
Before Jesus left earth, He commissioned His followers to make disciples—and that’s mentoring women in a nutshell. Mentoring also echoes Deuteronomy 6:7, where God says we “shall talk of [His commands] when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Mentoring kneads God’s perspective into how I respond to my child’s learning disorder, how I spend my Saturdays, and yeah, maybe even what celebrities or workouts I pay attention to (…or don’t). Mentoring women helps us suss out what it looks like to follow Jesus at their address, with their mother-in-law, or with their proclivity for shoe-shopping.
And we’re all called to make disciples. So get out there: log some miles (literally or figuratively) as you both power-walk toward Christ.
Copyright © 2021 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and frequent contributor for FamilyLife, including Passport2Identity®, Art of Parenting®, and regular articles. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International. Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House), releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.