We all have people in our lives who have influenced us in one way or another: coaches, teachers, older siblings, and parents. But what about people who have influenced our spiritual lives?
One definition of Christian spiritual formation is “our continuing response to God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s presence, conforming us to Jesus Christ in a community of faith, for the glory of God and for the sake of others.”
The phrases “in a community of faith” and “for the sake of others” emphasize that our spiritual formation is not a solitary pursuit. Rather, it is something that takes place with and through others. Having a personal, spiritual mentor can be a great help in our walk of faith and in the development of our spirit.
There have been a number of women who have been mentors to me throughout my life. I rarely met with any of them on a regular basis; our mentoring relationship was not formal at all. Yet they all had a profound impact on my spiritual development.
My mom brought us to Mass every Sunday and made sure we went to catechism class each Saturday, but that isn’t what impacted my spiritual growth. Seeing her on her knees in prayer every night was what made a lasting impression on me. Even at a young age, I could see that prayer was a priority for her. She prayed consistently and her list was constantly growing as she added new people for whom she felt led to intercede. She prayed with great faith and was always happy to record the many answers to prayer in her notebook. From her I learned to establish
a pattern of intercessory prayer.
My dearest friend led the way when she fully gave her heart and life to Jesus. She pursued Him relentlessly and I always tried to keep up. She has taught me, challenged me, admonished me, and prayed with me as I sought to grow in my own relationship with Jesus (and she still does).
Commissioner Marilyn Francis showed me, in a striking way, what it looked like to love Jesus. Her love for Him was so genuine and so obvious that I was drawn to her and ultimately to Him. Of course, that was her plan all along. Not only did she love Jesus passionately, she loved others extravagantly. We used to say, “If you walk away from Mrs. Francis without feeling loved, there’s something wrong with you!” She made me feel loved, valued, as though I made a difference in the Kingdom of God. She brought out the best in me, seeing potential that I didn’t know was there. My hope was to love Jesus and love others with the same passion as Commissioner Francis.
Lt. Colonel Claralyn Lowman has a sweet, gentle spirit that belies a deep, hidden strength. As a young officer, I didn’t want to participate in an ecumenical community prayer gathering because the material being used was not doctrinally sound and I was not comfortable praying as they intended. Lt. Colonel Lowman said to me, “When you attend, you may have the chance to share Jesus with someone there.” While I wanted to back away from an uncomfortable situation, she encouraged me to look at it as an opportunity. By making me attend, she helped me to stretch my thinking and engage people of a different faith.
There have been many others who have made a lasting impression on me and set an example for me to follow. I’m pretty sure that several people whom I consider “mentors” had no idea that they were “mentoring” me. Yet God, in His wisdom, used them and they have had a big influence on my life.
In a letter to his young protégé Timothy, Paul instructs him, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Even as Paul pours into Timothy’s life, he urges Timothy to pour himself into the lives of other believers.
Dr. Alex Tang says that mentoring is a process of spiritual formation in both the mentor and the protégé. He also points out that a mentoring relationship involves three parties: the mentor, the protégé, and God. Mentor and protégé both need to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit in their relationship.
Can a friend be a mentor? Friends can be excellent peer–mentors since they journey together with similar experiences; however, older mentors with more life experience can provide a broader perspective. Both are needed.
Is there someone in your life who can help you grow in your spiritual journey? If not, maybe you should consider finding someone. While it may seem awkward to say, “Will you be my mentor?” you may ask someone to meet you for coffee and to talk about your spiritual lives. If the first meeting is positive, ask the person if they mind meeting again. This may develop into a mentoring relationship of sorts.
Is there someone you can mentor? Look around you. Are there new believers in your corps? Are there young people who could benefit from building a relationship with an older, more mature believer?
Let the Holy Spirit guide you. Do you need a spiritual mentor in your life? Are you ready to mentor someone else?
May we all try to encourage one another and continue to build each other up. (I Thessalonians 5:11)
by Lt. Colonel Patricia LaBossiere