It was a warm spring day in the small market town where I lived in rural Asia and from my window I could see the glint of sun-kissed rice paddies along the hillsides. I was listening to the siren-like cry of the lady pulling her cart of steamed buns on the street below my apartment when my phone buzzed and a text came in: Monica jiejie, are you home?
Cali* was a young woman, fresh out of teacher’s college, who I had been discipling since she was in high school. She carried her fresh faith quietly, but passionately. She was the first Christian in her family, and one of only a handful of believers in our small town. I admired her perseverance and desire to share her faith lovingly with her parents and friends. That day, I figured she was coming over to chat about life or drop off oranges for my kids.
Minutes later she was sitting cross-legged on my floor in tears. “Monica, my parents are separating. They were screaming and yelling horrible things to each other. What am I going to do?”
I listened as she poured out her fears and frustration. I held her, while holding back well-meaning words of advice that I knew would flit into oblivion the moment they came out of my mouth. This was not a time for me to talk. It was a time for me to listen. She was in pain.
A pain I knew all too well. Flashback 20 years…
I am sitting on the floor of my high school Bible study leader’s house, hyperventilating and sobbing my guts out. I just learned my parents’ marriage was falling apart and repair looked impossible. It was terrifying as a 17-year-old to navigate a looming brokenness, especially when nothing had seemed amiss. My leader, Lois, wrapped me in her arms and wiped my tears while rocking me gently, saying nothing.
A few weeks after the initial blow, Lois and I were sitting in her kitchen. She was making me a snack while listening to me vent angry and frightened words directed at God. She waited until I was done talking and then said something that didn’t feel super comforting at the time, but gave me pause:
I know you’re sad and angry, I know what it feels like to feel betrayed, abandoned, and alone, honey. I’m here for you, and I will walk this with you. God can handle all your pain and is grieving too. I know it doesn’t make you feel any better, but trust me: God is going to use your story to be there for others who are hurting in the same way, someday. Something beautiful will come out of this.
Yeah. That didn’t make me feel any better at the time, but I’m glad she said it. In the following years, her words began to ring true.
In college, a friend stormed into my dorm room sobbing, “You’re parents are newly divorced too, right? I just found out my dad is leaving my mom.”
A girl in the youth group where I volunteered as a leader asked if we could talk after Bible study: her parents were getting a divorce and she knew I’d understand.
When I lived in Kenya, one of my Kenyan teammates and I developed a deep bond after sharing our similar family stories. Despite cultural differences and church traditions, we found solace in one another’s empathy as we continued to heal and grow in our faith.
And then there was Cali—sitting on my floor expressing words that had come out of my own mouth so many years ago. “What am I going to do?” In an obscure autonomous region in Asia, things had come full circle. Lois had been right. Years later, I was able to offer Cali hope from my own experiences as well as Truth found in God’s Word (just like Lois had for me).
Lois was my mentor for many years and is still a friend and someone I greatly admire and respect. I have also had other women serve as mentors in my life- some have been for a season, and a few have been and will be life-long. They have taught me what it means to listen, and withhold judgment, making the relationship a safe space to be vulnerable. They have taught me to speak the truth in love from a point of authenticity, not criticism. They have offered insights and wisdom into challenging situations I’ve faced. They have honored my individuality, giftings, and passions, pressing me to be more like Jesus, not more like them.
Mentorship can be professional, educational, parental or spiritual (or a combination of things). It can happen organically or transactionally. It can take place side-by-side, or on a Zoom call across an ocean. I can be a friend to many, but only a mentor to a few. Mentorship, in my view, demands a high standard of responsibility and commitment to a person who is looking to me for counsel and example. I count it a privilege to serve as a mentor, and be a mentee as well.
I no longer mentor Cali due to proximity and our new seasons of life, but we remain close friends and often send each other encouraging messages and family pictures. I am so grateful to know she is discipling others in the same way I was there for her, full circle, by the grace of God.
*Name has been changed
How about you? Have you had a “full-circle experience” in the realm of mentorship? Do you have a mentor you would like to honor today, please share with us in the comments below?