Growing through Relationships: Mentorship and Spiritual Friendship

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I’ve been on a journey and learned that we grow when we allow God’s grace to work in our lives.

Last time we discovered that we grow well when we minister to and encourage each other – in fellowship or koinonia. We are created to be in relationship. Another form of relationship that blesses us is mentorship.

Mentorship means to have someone help you intentionally grow deeper in your faith. When you are a new Christian, it helps to have someone to ‘disciple’ you.  A disciple is a person who has wants to be more than a church-goer.  Like Jesus’ disciples, we choose to follow Jesus. As we grow on that journey, we can do great things for God. This process takes time and willingness to learn.  Jesus said to “take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.” (Matt. 11:29)  Although Jesus is Lord, he was also a mentor to his disciples. He taught them the way of service and love. He does the same for us through the Holy Spirit, and through the relationships we have with our mentors.

A mentor can be someone who is like a spiritual mother or father (not just a godparent). This person actually is what a godparent could be.  That person intentionally comes alongside you and in a loving relationship encourages your walk with Jesus. They don’t just take you to church. Time together can include Bible Study sessions, prayer and pastoral care. Other times a mentor can seem quite harsh in their admonishment, but that is only when we really need that discipline. I had a mentor like that – she was an Australian lady named Jan and she would always tell me to “pick up your socks, mate!” She wasn’t talking about my actual socks!

Other biblical examples of mentors include the Apostle Paul, who was a mentor to Timothy.  Paul encourages younger Christians to be imitators of him (1 Co. 4:16) and to be imitators of God (Eph. 5: 1-2). One of the things that a mentor does is to encourage you.  Paul talks about encouragement as being one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Rom 12: 3-8).  My former pastor Dale always said that ‘encouragement is the oxygen of life.’ This is true of all relationships, including marriage. My husband Tony and I believe so strongly in this that we included the promise of encouragement in our wedding vows. We pledged, “to love, honour and encourage.”

A mentor is often a person who is ahead of us on the journey and lends hand in guiding us forward.  Peer-relationships can also help you grow, and are encouraged at Tyndale seminary (where I graduated in 1999).  I took a course called Foundations of Christian Spirituality, which taught about ways to grow in God.  This included the experience of spiritual friendship – which is to have someone as a dedicated listener and prayer partner with you for a season.

A spiritual friend should be the same gender you are. They can be older or younger, more experienced or on your own level of faith and growth.  The important thing is that you must be very honest with them, and they must be allowed to tell you the truth without you getting annoyed.  When it was time to choose my spiritual friend, we had one female and one male left over in our class. I was the leftover female.  This meant that I had to have a spiritual friend from outside the class.  I chose my friend Claudia, and we shared the devotional book Space for God at least once a week.

Near the end of our course, Claudia remained faithful with me. She also benefited from our deepened friendship.  It turned out that Jan (our Australian friend) was dying of cancer. Jan and I used to be close but when she got really sick I saw her less due to my school and work schedule.  I also didn’t know how to comfort her and procrastinated in going to see her.   When Claudia told me that Jan wouldn’t make it through the week, I grimaced and said “I’d like to see her on the weekend.”  Claudia then gave me a metaphorical push and said, “Jan won’t be alive by the weekend.  You need to go NOW.  I will go WITH you.”

Thanks to Claudia’s push, I was with Jan the day before she died.  We spent a few hours with her, I fed her ginger ale and was just “with” her. I didn’t expect her to talk, but she knew I was there.  While we were there, others came to visit.  This included a chaplain and an emotionally weak friend, who cried all over Jan.  Jan responded and tried to minister to her.  I knew this was exhausting for Jan, but it was very important for this other friend to see Jan almost as she was before she became ill.  I held my feelings in, and didn’t expect Jan to do that for me.  I felt guilty that I hadn’t been to see her for so long.

Somehow I ended up singing Jan’s favourite worship song, “Faithful One” to her.  I closed my eyes and sang my heart out.  I was later told that during the song, the Holy Spirit fell on Jan in such a way that she looked like the Jan she was before she was sick. At that time she shone with love for Jesus, and pride in me for singing to her.  When I opened my eyes, I saw Jan as the way she had been. I thanked her for being such a faithful friend, and that was her gift to me.

The chaplain asked Jan if she’d like me to sing that song at her funeral, and she said yes.  It was at this time that Claudia came back into the room to support me, and take me home. This is what a spiritual friend does – like Jan, in her faithfulness, from telling me to ‘pick up your socks, mate’ when she was well. Jan also forgave me for not being there when she was sick.  Claudia also was a great spiritual friend.  She gave tough love when I needed it, and was supportive when I finally did what was right.

Spiritual friendship and mentorship are both intentional relationships. This means setting a certain time aside, saying to each other: “how is your soul, really?” It means going through your spiritual walk with the Lord together and being HONEST with each other.  God will still bless us through our regular friends, but there isn’t as much opportunity in those friendships.

However, they have potential.  My priest reminds us of this every time he mentions in his blessing, “May you know the Love of God in every friendship.”  Next time I will share with you another way to grow in God… meanwhile I pray that a mentor will be available to you when you need one for whatever spiritual season YOU are in …

Yours in Christ, Laurie-Ann Copple

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Laurie-Ann Copple is an Ottawa-based media person.  She has been on mission trips to Northern Ireland, Kenya, Pakistan and Sierra Leone.  She attends St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Kanata, Ontario.

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