We showed up on their doorstep young, in love, and unmarried. Not at all the lawfully wedded husband and wife they had been expecting. But still, they handed us the keys to their rental home, 25 steps from where we stood on their front porch.

But it wasn’t happenstance that moved us next door to the Wilsons.

Our tenant/landlord relationship quickly morphed into friendship between two couples 45 years apart in age. We shared meals, played cards, and laughed together late into the evening.

And to be quite honest, I was amazed at everything they did.

Mrs. Wilson always had the right ingredients on hand to whip up a coconut cream pie from scratch at a moment’s notice. She knew it was my husband’s favorite. Mr. Wilson once showed up on our doorstep in the pouring rain, umbrella in hand, to invite me to dinner with them. Josh was out of town, and it was storming. They simply didn’t want me to be alone.

They loved us well with no agenda attached.

But more than that, the way they interacted with one another was something I mentally noted every time we were together. Her loving attentiveness to her husband. The gentle way he spoke to her. The way they consulted each other on everything from dinner arrangements to finances. I had never seen anything like it.

From watching them, I knew I wanted a marriage like the Wilsons’.

The marriage mentors we never knew we wanted

But even as a naïve, unchurched, young woman, I picked up on something different.

The Wilsons loved God in a way I had never seen. All this kindness, gentleness, and generosity pouring out of them? It was the straight-up love of Jesus. They didn’t just go to church. They considered it an honor and privilege.

And by being loved by them and watching the way they loved God and each other, it made this once-20-something-girl want to join them.

They were introducing us to Jesus without us even knowing it. And they were presenting to us the allure of a marital commitment we hadn’t yet made.

But there they were, 25 steps from our front porch.

The marriage mentor step you can’t miss

Did you ever watch the show What Not to Wear? It always started with the two stylish hosts bombarding some unsuspecting, unfashionable person, and ridiculing their wardrobe as they threw the leggings, crop tops, and Hammer pants into a large trash can. You couldn’t help but feel humiliated right along with them.

Often, Christians can be guilty of the same thing. We’re so excited for opportunities to share all about Jesus (a good thing). We can’t wait to find someone to listen to our testimony (still good here). But from someone who was on the other side of those conversations from junior high to my early twenties, a reminder: people aren’t projects.

To the Wilsons, we were people. We weren’t just a salvation mission. Their love-others mentality, bred from their deep love of Christ, made this come as naturally as breathing.

Change happens when we invite others into conversation with us … not by coercion or opening their spiritual closet and ticking off their unfashionable sins one by one at the first opportunity.

Relationship is the key to being a marriage mentor.

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Your marriage has something to offer other couples

Maybe you’ve been through a lot in your marriage. I get that. You don’t want to see other young couples make the same mistakes you did. Wisdom comes through experience and you want to share what you’ve learned. That’s honorable. You and your spouse even discussed maybe being marriage mentors to a young couple you met in your congregation … neighborhood … spin class.

But where do you start? It feels kind of awkward. What do you even say? What do you do?

Invite them to dinner, to a movie, for coffee and cards, whatever. Build up that relationship. Get to know them before thinking you know what they need. Mentorship is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

If you need some fresh ways to build relationships with other couples, this free download can help.

But more than anything, remember: These couples are watching you, your responses to life, the way you treat others … your marriage. What do they see? Do they see someone exhausted by life, running the rat race, and keeping up with the Joneses?

Or, like the Wilsons, will they see something more in you?

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Lisa Lakey is a writer and editor for FamilyLife. Before joining the ministry in 2017, she was a freelance writer covering parenting and Southern culture. She and her husband, Josh, have been married since 2004. Lisa and Josh live in Benton, Arkansas, with their two children, Ella and Max.