I used to think that a mentor is someone who gives you advice. Or teaches and exposes you to new information. Or trains you to follow in their footsteps. All that’s true to some extent.
But having had several great mentors and having mentored many students myself, I find that there’s something even more fundamental: A mentor is someone who helps you see more clearly — and in doing so helps you become wise.
Seeing the World More Clearly
Having gone before you, whether in career or spiritual matters or just life in general, mentors can share what they’ve seen and heard. They offer advice on the path ahead. They inform you about the shortcuts and pitfalls. Speaking from their experiences, they help you plan and navigate your own journey now and after college.
Let me tell you, it’s never too early. Four years will fly by. Before you know it, graduation will be coming up. While you’re in college, find a good mentor. Learn from their successes, so you have a general road map. Learn also from their mistakes, so you won’t make the same errors.
The most important lessons I learned from my mentors came in the form of stories. One talked about how he wished he had spent less time at work and more time watching his kids grow up. Another told me about the moral dilemmas he had faced and how he navigated them. Still others shared about their own friendship and relationship issues. To me, these stories were much more meaningful than “do this” and “don’t do that.” They helped me see life from perspectives beyond my own.
Mentors also help to guide your attention. They point out where to look and what to notice. After all, seeing isn’t just about gaining information. Context matters. Knowing where to focus is invaluable. For example, two people may look at the same data or read the same passage in Scripture. But one may miss the point while the other sees the significance and puts it to use. Likewise, mentors help you separate the signal from the noise. They impart not only information but insight, not only knowledge but wisdom. As Proverbs 13:20 says: “Walk with the wise and become wise.”
Seeing Yourself More Clearly
We all have blind spots and biases. How we see ourselves may not align with how others see us. For some people, that’s an understatement. But all of us can benefit from an outside perspective.
Let’s start with the positives. Mentors can help you recognize your gifts. If you’re like most people, you may take your skills and inclinations for granted. You’re too used to them; that’s just how you are. But someone else — say, a mentor invested in your growth — may witness what you do and point out your gifts: You have a knack for teaching or leading or encouraging others. In addition, your mentor can help you develop your gifts to serve the community (Rom 12:6-8).
Sometimes you might not have fully developed these abilities, but your mentor can see your potential and help strengthen them. As a student, you might often feel like people don’t take you seriously. That may be true at home, at work, even at church. Therefore, it’s important to have mentors who can see beyond the present to remind you who you are, to affirm who God made you to be.
Good mentors also tell you hard truths when nobody else does. They may call you out when you do something that conflicts with your professed values. Or they may warn you about the path that you’re on; think of the wide and narrow gates (Mt 7:13-14). In those cases, you’d do well to listen. Proverbs 12:15 tells us, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Now let’s be clear. Your mentor has no formal authority over you. They aren’t your boss writing you up or your professor failing you. Your mentor speaks truth into your life because you’ve allowed them to. Like an accountability partner, they help you grow in character and become your best self.
Seeing Jesus More Clearly
Though they may be wise, your mentors see from their own limited vantage points. They may be good judges of character, but they cannot look inside your heart. They may be well-informed, but they cannot predict the future. In all these things, Jesus is your only true guide.
Ultimately, your goal isn’t to become a younger version of your mentor — it’s to become like Christ. That’s why true spiritual mentors point you to him.
When you become more like Jesus, you’ll gain wisdom. In “God in the Flesh,” Don Everts writes: “Wisdom is a unique quality. It’s something we all long for and yet can’t produce on our own. … Over time, a life submitted to Jesus begins to smell of reality. And this is what we call wisdom.” See, wisdom comes from seeing reality as it is — not as it was, nor as you want it to be — and Jesus, the Word or “Logos,” is reality embodied. He is truer than anything you may be studying. Look to him. Seek his face.
As you gaze at Jesus, as you study his teachings and follow his guidance, as you walk with wise mentors who help to sharpen your vision, you will grow wise. And in time, you will have opportunities to mentor and guide others yourself.
Christopher K. Lee is a freelance writer and founder of PurposeRedeemed (purposeredeemed.com). He often speaks at colleges about work, meaning, and identity. Chris is an InterVarsity alumnus from Southern California.
I came into college with burning questions: Was the gospel really true, or was being Christian just a cultural expectation I had from where I grew up? Could following Jesus actually be good for me? Maybe moving to Boston was a chance to start over with new people and finally get some answers.