I was 17 when I first became a mentor in Church.
At that time, we called it “shepherding”. Shepherding someone meant guiding and journeying with the person through life while building up a trusted friendship. I didn’t think too much about it. I’d been in various leadership positions growing up, so the idea of mentorship sounded easy.
Or so I thought.
Things got off to a poor start.
My first mentee was older than me and a polar opposite. She was captain on one of our school’s sports teams, while I was from the performing arts. She was as practical as I was emotional. Our list of differences was endless, and I really struggled to communicate with her.
Her cold replies to every question led to me eventually losing motivation to remain in her life. One-way conversations began to sound more and more like monologues.
Eventually, she left Church. I only found out about it from her CCA friends much later.
Having my first mentee backslide under my care was like a scar that never faded away.
Fuelled by self-ambition and perfectionism, I became bent on creating the perfect mentor-mentee relationship. But the mentoring never got easier. In fact, it only got harder.
From mentees who didn’t want to come to cell group, to mentees who explored the occult, to mentees who struggled with sexuality issues … I encountered many mentees with different experiences and struggles.
But all I could see were problems that I couldn’t fix.
I remember clearly a conversation I had with one of my leaders. She was asking about my pastoral ministry when she said: “Wah your mentees always all not doing well, hor? How come?”
Being known in Church for having “problematic” mentees felt like having a bad track record. I began to compare, looking at other people with their mentees, and I just felt like a complete failure.
There were days when I cried on the train home after a mentoring session, either feeling broken for my mentee or feeling exasperated at my own helplessness.
I wondered if God had called the wrong person to the job.
Maybe I’m just not meant to do this.
“We do what we can, but for the things that we can’t control we’ve got to let go to God. Just be faithful.”
But maybe this was how my mentor felt, since when I was a young believer, I wasn’t an easy mentee either.
I remember dreading mentoring because my mentor always asked difficult questions that I didn’t want to answer. Being mentored was like having a CCTV camera trained on myself. I didn’t want anyone to know so much about me.
I would reply her texts belatedly on purpose and always made up excuses just to not meet. I didn’t think that it was important to build a friendship or relationship with her, and I often held her at arm’s length.
But over the years, even after we’ve both moved on to different ministries and I was then assigned to new mentors, she never once forgot about my birthday, baptism anniversary or all the random milestones of my life.
When I went through my first breakup, she was one of the first to come and be with me. I remember her sitting across me over dinner, raising her hands in agitation and anger as she heard about what I went through. At one point, she sighed deeply and her eyes were filled with complete sadness. For me.
That was the precise moment I realised that a mentor’s heart is much bigger than just wanting to kaypoh and boss people around. A mentor loves unconditionally whether there’s reciprocation or not. A mentor’s heart is like a parent’s – always wanting the best and always trying her best for me.
And I saw how it was possible for her to hold on to me through the years as mentor and friend. She never saw me as a problem that she needed to fix. She saw me for me. She pressed in. She never stopped pursuing me.
Just like God.
I realised that the disappointments and setbacks I’d faced when mentoring others were actually amplified by my own ambition and agenda.
In mentoring there’s bound to be disappointments and hurts. We’re flawed and broken, after all. But disappointments that make you question your capabilities and self-worth often stem from a deeper and darker place.
I felt like a failure because I couldn’t “fix” my mentees. I felt rejected because people knew me as the one with mentees who all aren’t doing very well. But as mentors, we’re not called to fix our mentees. We’re called to love (Philippians 2:3). We’re called to grow and nurture. We’re called to invest in lives.
Leave the life transformation to God. That’s a job only He can do. He must increase, and I must decrease (John 3:30).
A mentor loves unconditionally whether there’s reciprocation or not.
Some of my mentees are still “not doing well” today. One is in the midst of looking for a new Church and another only shows up for service at random … But I’ve learnt to love them anyway.
As long as my mentees allow, I choose to make time for them always. Acknowledging my own brokenness and sins, I make room to help them work through theirs as well.
Just like how it takes time for a seed to grow into a sprout and then into a tree, as a mentor I know my role is to faithfully help them grow. My job is to make sure they’re well-watered. I can’t make a seed turn into a tree overnight.
My own mentor told me this the other day: “We do what we can, but for the things that we can’t control we’ve got to let go to God. Just be faithful.”