Mentoring, Faith and Tough Times

How can mentoring impact faith in tough times?

She was daily on the edge of physical exhaustion. Poor health in the wake of Covid hadn’t taken her sense of calling away, it was simply that there wasn’t much ‘left in the tank’ to use an aussie idiom. After an appropriate amount of time off, she is returning to work and presents as being a bit unsure as to whether she is ready. How will she manage this return when her usual strategies of simply getting going and stretching into activities is contraindicated for her type of post covid recovery?

While there are many practical mentoring tools for assisting our mentees with regulating work and re-entering a fuller workflow, my focus today is on what part faith might play in this type of scenario. What does it mean to accompany someone intentionally with a shepherding style, a pastoral mentoring posture. Here are three options for your consideration.

The first involves exhortation to trust God in these circumstances. This involves a pastoral education and exhortation posture on the part of the mentor. There are times when this, after real reflective listening, is wonderfully timely and beneficial.

The waves of viruses and immune weirdness post-covid do not lend themselves to sing the kind of praise that flows from fattened supply. What I have experienced though is supply. “Saint Augustine, referring to the Gospel episode of the storm on the lake, suggests how to react in this situation. This is what he says: “The faith of Christ in your heart is like Christ in the boat. You hear insults, you wear yourself out, you are upset, and Christ sleeps. Wake Christ up, rouse your faith! Even in tribulation you can do something. Rouse your faith. Christ awakes and speaks to you… Therefore, wake Christ up… Believe what has been said to you, and there will be tremendous calm in your heart” (Sermon 63).” 1  

Our desire to see our mentees feel better and to relieve our own discomfort with their discomfort can nudge us to exhort too quickly. It is a big temptation and it takes real restraint to hold ourselves back from premature exhortation. Once you have really listened to them, to yourself as a mentor as you self-supervise in the moment, and to the Spirit of God who accompanies you both, it can be beautiful spiritual mentoring. So go ahead, after you have developed enough restraint to only use it as a well-timed gift.

A second mentoring posture is to engage in empathic connection. To weep with those who weep. To commiserate and give the gift of feeling they are not alone. Your companionship is real in the mentoring moment. You can explore how they are with gently crafted questions and slowed responses. The key for this is to slow down. To be present in this way you simply can’t rush. Let silence and pauses be your friend. No need to rush for the next thing to say or do. Wait, wait, wait. The restrained pace will be a gift. For many people this connection is faith filling. It isn’t surprising that humans draw courage more readily when they are connected to other humans in this way. A danger is that you become entangled in their feelings, (transference) and lose some of your wisdom and agency as a mentor. That caution noted, this is a good gift to give and often unlocks faith and courage in the mentee. So go right ahead and rouse faith by being very present.

The third is engaging in reflective practices. The posture here is akin to spiritual direction – assisting the mentee to pay attention to what God is saying, doing and giving in this season. Gospel contemplations, Examen and Lectio Divina are three easily accessible practices to either engage in the mentoring session or to offer as resources. In the case above the mentee engaged in these reflective practices which assisted her in listening both to her physical state and her soul. The result was the small miracle of returning to work in a new pattern for her, trusting God with the curtailed outputs in her ministry. They increased connection with God in a dark time, and outflowed into connection with others and her work. She journalled her reflections, including a version of Ignatian examen. Here are some of her journal examples, used with permission.

Examen based reflection

With filaments thread by threaded hand
They delve into the mineral grains
And standing, lure water from the sand.
Spreading roots in coastal land
They follow a want through porous veins
With filaments thread by threaded hand

(excerpt from Luring Water in Leaf by Anne Elvey)

Becoming aware of God’s presence

The Coastal Banksia is structured for conditions of poor soil, low nutrients, quick drainage and salt winds. My soul, too, is gently luring water from the sand. This time is one where simply drawing on the nutrients and water already available is enough, where flows already in place within my soul lure water up from conditions that look less than arable.

The Spirit of God has not flown from my season. While I know theologically that my Creator is omnipresent and abides within me, I have the good fortune to feel that presence throughout this time. I feel variously wrapped, carried and accompanied.” (referring to meditations on Psalm 46 and 91)

A lectio journal excerpt

“Back into the floor of the boat. I am curled up in a preserving, comforting pose. Staying as close to the floor as I can- nestled down low. Wave after wave of body crash. Distress and fear seeping in. I know God is in the boat with me. I’m calm- except when I can’t breathe- then I’m a bit panicked. Still I know I am in the boat and I am not alone. Still I know the psalmists experience of being carried, of being at my own end and finding I do not need to live on my own resources and wits alone.” A meditation on Mark 4:38-39 and Psalm 91

I hope these three postures help you as a mentor when your mentee needs their faith more than ever.

– Monica O’Neil September 2023

1 Pope Francis quoting Augustine Nov 10, 2021 in his weekly Wednesday address.

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