A Visit from Athena / Mentor - Mentee
Telemachus father had been fighting in the battle of Troy and held for some time from returning home to his family. His father Odysseus was believed to be dead by the nobles of Ithaca and his mother had many suiters back on their island home. Telemachus was in great danger as the son of Odysseus because the suiters would not stand for the potential of the next generation revolting against them. The goddess Athena was well engaged with Odysseus and helping him throughout his journey home. She also appeared to Telemachus as a man named Mentor. Mentor encouraged Telemachus to rise up against his mother’s suiters and seek the whereabouts of his father.
“The Odyssey” is one of the greatest adventure stories and from it we receive the term “mentor”.
Relationships should always be growing, and they grow into different kinds of friendships. One of the most important is a mentor, mentee relationship. These are foundational to building wisdom, kinship and moving society in a right direction. However, this type of relationship is fading away in the fabric of modern society.
Strangely, we now have adults looking to emulate young people and not young people wanting to grow up to be like the elders in their life. I saw this change as my kids were entering middle school and high school and it confused me. When I was in church youth groups the youth pastors wore suits on Sunday to church services and were building their career in ministry as they aimed to be lead church pastors. These men were kind and engaging with young people, but they were also careful to not be too familiar. We thought it amazing they would let us call them by their first name, but that was as familiar as you were permitted to be.
When my kids started youth group something had changed. The men leading youth groups wore flip-flops and t-shirts. They listened to the same music as the kids and let the kids call them names like, “Steve-O” and “Bigs”. These men were not great at interacting with men their own age as if they had forgotten how from all the exposure to young people.
My son was headed off to church camp one summer and I had a short conversation with him before he left. I said, “Son, church camp is fun and it’s also a time to learn and experience God in a relaxed setting. The people leading will at some point ask if God is calling you into full time ministry. The answer to that is of course he is calling you into full time ministry, this is what life is about, but what these men will mean, is the way they minister. Working at a church full time. Chances are very slim this is what God is calling you too. But know something, men who stand up in front of you dressed sloppy, who have silly beards and are grossly obese are not something you want to be when you grow up. You want to dress like an adult, talk like an adult, and behave in a manner which shows your maturity and wisdom. Don’t fall for, or into their immaturity.”
When I asked him how camp went upon his return he stated, “It went just like you said it would.”
Virtuous friends are people who are investing in their own growth. They are lifelong learners and committed to changing when they encounter the truth. Often a younger generation has something to teach the world, but seldom does a young person have a lesson to teach an older one, however, this does not mean we are dismissive of young people or not listeners. As an older generation we must know the questions of the next generation and be prepared to answer them in a way they understand.
Relationships between generations, and even contemporaries, have the opportunity to grow friendship into the mentor – mentee category. A young person with a desire to gain wisdom from someone older and older person willing to take the time to listen and well as teach can change societies.
I’ve shared about Don Staton and David Bertch and their profound impact on my life. There is a long list of older gentlemen and women who took the time to be a part of my life, and in doing so, imparted wisdom which would be hard to find without their time, example, and words. Steve French was my youth pastor during my most formative years. He set a great example of a young husband and leader. He was a deep a thoughtful teacher. He was a listener and an encourager. He did not except immature behavior and offered correction. He gave trust and the opportunity to fail. His influence impacted my entire life and later in my 50s he continued to do so when I asked him to spend six months meeting with me a non-profit project I was working on. He continues to spend his life mentoring others.
When we moved Texas a youth leader named Robert Garrett reflected Steve’s approach. Kind and available, but a leader who kept proper boundaries and set a mature example.
Scott and Hylda Williams taught college aged students on Sundays at our church when I was dating Danae. They offered relationship counseling and encouraged us in countless ways. Scott offered me a summer job and I learned career lessons from him as well. Lessons about hard work and commitment. He is the grandfather of our daughter-in-law and still setting an example for Danae and I 35 years later.
My boss, Al Boenker, has been a mentor to me. He has taught me endless career lessons in business management and how to manage surprises and difficulty, but he has also taught me how to hunt, and work a farm. He invited me to worm goats and plow fields and introduced a greenhorn like me to new things.
My close contemporaries who are ten years older than me, Richard Sammons and Britt Lane have taught me many life lessons. Richard invited me on my first trip to Europe, he introduced me to the friends and the places he loved throughout Germany. He taught me how to appreciate wine and how pair it with a meal. Britt owned his own business and would give impromptu lessons on managing government agencies and keeping up with compliance. He helped me understand the legal landscapes and best practices.
My father gave me access to new places and experiences and coached me through dinners with colleagues. He gave instructions for table manners in nice restaurants. And what I am most grateful for was his giving me a love for the outdoors in the many places he and my mom took my brother and me.
My mother was dedicated to teaching. She spent every evening in the hallway with my brother and I sharing stories from the Bible and praying with and for us.
To be a mentor is to live up to life’s great responsibility of engaging across generational lines and imparting wisdom through a permission-based friendship. To elevate another person with such high regard you want to ensure you share with them the most important lessons you’ve learned in life.
A mentor can be any age. If you are a teenager, you can help a middle schooler improve at a sport, feel loved and welcomed, and assist in moving through the waters of adolescents. It’s never too early to begin your life as a mentor.
A met Clint May when we were attending Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth Texas. He managed the children’s ministry. He believed children had the ability to teach the gospel and lead other young people into a life of faith. He would teach them how to interact with other kids, ask questions, and take an interest in their lives. He would then have the kids he trained run entire summer camps for other kids with some adult oversite. The children he taught, which included our children, gained incredible life skills and wisdom as early as age nine. The maturity of the kids was profound, and many have continued to invest in others with the lessons learned from Clint and his “Leaders in Training” program.
In our causal and business interactions we must be open to being a mentor to someone and quick to identify how we might be of service to them. This may be for daily living, business, sports, hobbies, or other interest. If we have experiences and knowledge which interest them, or might interest them, we need to open ourselves up for interaction.
I use David Bertch’s example, in that when I perceive a young person wants to grow, I invite them to read a book with me and meet to discuss the book. This has opened countless friendships where I am permitted to impart wisdom from lessons and experiences in my life. As I meet with young men I also learn. I learn the questions and needs of their generation. I learn the way they use language and I learn what lessons and advice might best serve them.
In building friendships, we must intentionally seek and recognize where we may serve in the mentor role. Not out of our desire to talk or be heard, but out of a desire to be available and to listen. The action of listening and caring is what will give us the permission to share wisdom. Athena transformed into Mentor, and we too can transform into this role to care for those around us.
We must also be open to building friendships as the mentee. There is so much to learn from so many interesting and different people. The simple task of asking someone to invest in you will in most cases open the door to lifelong friendship. Most people want to share their experiences and knowledge, but it is hard for them to find an interested listener.
Look for those around you who have lived life well, experienced successes, overcome adversity, have good relationships, and then ask them if they would be willing to invest in you. What a joy it will be for them and what a benefit it will be for you.
The mentor – mentee friendship should be most of your relationships and if so, you’ll be growing while helping others grow.