You may think of your career when hearing the word “mentor,” but finding a mentor in the faith can help you make progress towards your ultimate goal (holiness) and eternal promotion (heaven). I took a bunch of mostly “traditional” (read: career) advice about mentors and adapted it to the spiritual realm.
Why Should You Have a Mentor?
During creation, God saw that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Sure, this verse speaks a little more directly to the dynamic between men and women, particularly husband and wife, but it’s not a stretch to pull out a general lesson about humanity’s need for relationships and help from others. We need each other.
Proverbs tells us that “iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) Improvement is found by working together, living our lives in community so that we can rub off each other’s sharp edges.
Still not convinced? Here’s another: Proverbs (gotta love Proverbs!) says that even a FOOL thinks they’re on the right path, but a “wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)
You probably aren’t perfect. You’ve got some room to grow, and a mentor can help you not only name those areas in need of improvement, but also help you make a plan to make progress.
Pick the Right Person
You are a unique creation. A unique mix of tastes, needs, strengths, and shortcomings exist only in you. While there are a few universal (and pretty general) qualities to look for in a mentor, your ideal mentor is different than someone else’s.
First, figure out how you want to grow. In the career world, this would mean seeking out someone in a position or job situation you’d like to attain. Knowing how you’d like to grow in faith and virtue will help narrow down possible mentors. In other words, a single guy probably won’t be able to help you make huge gains in becoming a better husband or father. If you’re looking to dive into Scripture more and hear God speak to you through it, find someone who prays with the Bible daily.
You may identify multiple areas of growth in your life. You don’t need to find a mentor that perfectly fits everything. You may end up going to different people for help in different areas of your life. That’s totally cool, and you’ll also have different perspectives to draw from when facing big decisions.
Whatever you want to grow in, make sure your mentor is living it out. You want someone who’s like a coach down on the field, instead of a television commentator up in the press box, removed from the day-to-day action and hard work of a growing/practicing particular virtue. A good marker of someone living out a virtuous life is joy. Someone might be able to teach you all about prayer and a relationship with God, but if that relationship doesn’t enliven their life with joy, they might not be a great mentor for you.
How to Ask
First things first, avoid email if possible. You’re hoping to develop a relationship with this person, so unless you can’t avoid asking over email, approach them in-person, or if that fails, over the phone.
Be specific in what you’re asking for. What type of coaching, in what topics, how often and for how long each time?
Consider starting small. Ask someone for advice on a specific topic or situation, just 15 or 20 minutes of their time, with no mention of mentoring. A short one-off meeting is more easily agreed to, fits their schedule better, and gives you a chance to feel them out before dropping the M-word and making a big ask.
When you do ask for their time (whether a one-off meeting or for mentorship), let them know why you’re coming to them. This helps them gauge if they really can help you, and it’s a good test for you: if you can’t list a few reasons why this particular person can help you, there’s no need to ask for their help.
If someone can’t make time to fit you in their schedule, or can’t agree to mentor you it’s not a big deal. Don’t worry about it, and move on. There are countless reasons why it might not work out, one of them being that the Holy Spirit has something else in store for you.
Put in the Work
If someone takes the time to offer you some advice, take the time to consider it and put it into practice. If your mentor challenges you to read the Bible every day, then you better read the Bible every day. There’s no need for someone to invest the time and effort into you if you’re not going to do anything with it.
Be inspired by your mentor, take their advice, but don’t lose yourself. Mentors speak from their experience and make recommendations based on what they’ve encountered in life. Work to be like your mentor, not a copy of them. Your mentor loves Our Lady of Guadalupe and is helping you stir up a devotion to the Blessed Mother? Follow their advice, but you may find a stronger attraction to Our Lady of Fatima or praying the 7 Sorrows of Mary.
As the seasons of life change, don’t be afraid to allow your relationship to change, too. An older seminarian may be a great mentor in the seminary, but if you discern out and get married, an older married guy might be able to speak into areas of your life your friend (now a priest) doesn’t have as much experience in. You don’t need to cut your old friend out of the picture or stop asking his advice, but acknowledging that a shift may occur makes it easier to roll with it if it does.
Pay it Forward
You’ve been invested in by a mentor and experienced what it can do for your life. If someone approaches you for advice, try you very best to avoid turning them away. If it’s a good fit, mentor them. They’ll learn a lot from you, and you’re sure to learn a lot from being on the other side.
How to Identify a Wise Mentor | Those Catholic Men
How to Find a Mentor | Lifehacker
How do I Ask Someone to Be My Mentor | Lifehacker
How to Make the Most of a Mentor and Get Ahead in Your Career | Lifehacker
More than Words: Finding a Mentor | Dave Ramsey Blog
Genesis 2:18 RSV-CE | Bible Gateway
Proverbs 27:17 RSV-CE | Bible Gateway
Proverbs 12:15 RSV-CE | Bible Gateway