Coming Alongside as a Way of Life

Joanne’s kitchen table was an uncontrollable force in her life, always covered with an assortment of books, mail, loaves of bread, and magazines.  It became a joke between us that she was always in the process of clearing it.

Fortunately for me, another uncontrollable force in her life was the power of God.  She had an ongoing relationship with Him that continually pushed her outside her comfort zone, and even though the word “mentor” wasn’t being thrown around back in the seventies, that’s certainly what she was to me.  We pulled chairs up to that defiant horizontal surface, pushed the butter dish out of the way, and opened our Bibles together. Her whole-hearted pressing on to know the Lord marked me in ways that I’m still discovering nearly forty years later.

Table Mentoring is a matter of coming alongside another person, and Sue Moore Donaldson has Scriptural backing for her assertion:

“God comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.”  ~I Corinthians 1:3,4

Our natural inclination when it comes to mentoring is to play the unqualified card.  “Who, me?  I’m too [fill in the blank].  Too young, too old, too inexperienced, too busy, too over-committed, too introverted, too tired, too ignorant . . .

Quietly, Sue pulls her chair up beside mine and shares these two objection -silencing considerations:

  1. God is the primary Mentor, and the first qualification for mentoring another is having first been mentored by God.  It is not my own holy perfection or infallible wisdom that is being required.  However, “as we experience God’s ‘alongsideness’ in our up’s and down’s, joys and sorrows, we can more naturally share His overflow with someone who is where we have been.” (8)
  2. The second qualification for mentoring another is a willingness to take on the risk of relationship.  The vulnerable sharing of our own lives is an open door. Furthermore, the experiences God has custom-designed and the thin slice of knowledge I may possess may be exactly the gift someone else is waiting to receive.

Sue’s simple guide to coming alongside moves quickly from theory to practice. She has developed worksheets which can be implemented for structuring a mentor meeting time, for quiet time inspiration, prayer, and beginning Bible study.  They can also be printed in 8 ½ by 11 size at her Welcome Heart website.

As I read, I found myself putting together an agenda for an imaginary future mentor meeting that looks something like this:

I.  Goal setting.  Ask:  “What would you like to get out of our time together?”

II.  Getting to know you.  Ask questions about family, work, current challenges.

III.  Strengthening one another’s walk with God.  This is where fine-tuning becomes important.  Will the mentoring relationship look like a Bible study?  There is great benefit to be found in simply reading the Bible together and pooling questions and insights.  Will you read a book together and discuss it in your meetings?  Sue uses a Personal Growth Plan (available here) to discern the needs and concerns of her learner.

Chapter 5 of Table Mentoring quieted my racing heart with some very important details:

  • Decide ahead of time how long you will meet and how frequently.  Sue suggests twice a month for three months.  This is very reasonable, and if a sunset is put in place at the beginning, no one will feel as if they are embarking upon a life sentence.
  • Time limits are a reasonable concern.  It may be best to go to someone’s home so that you can set the limit. (“Whoops! Looks like I’ll need to run!”)
  • Both participants will demonstrate their commitment by putting the meetings on a calendar.  My experience is that if I do not write it down, it does not happen.

Sue’s writing style is unique, and I continually found myself underlining encouraging statements.  In keeping with the table theme, let’s call these Sue’s Mini-Muffins of Wisdom:

“Not feeling adequate shows that you are more ready than you think.”

“I don’t have anything worth passing on to another if I’m not regularly working on my personal relationship with God.”

“If you know one promise in God’s Word, you are ready to mentor that one promise.  Ask God for someone to share it with today.”

“You and I are blessed to be a blessing.”

My reading of Table Mentoring felt like a specific invitation to move forward into this challenge.  Therefore, I have begun praying for an open heart and for the right person at the right time.  I am also praying to be BECOMING the right person to come alongside a sister who is looking for a welcoming heart, to offer the gift and the accountability of a side-by-side seeking after God.

//

This book was provided by the author in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

And . . .. . . this Thursday will be the first virtual meeting of our book discussion group around Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I’m looking forward to a lively discussion, and you’re invited!

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

45 thoughts on “Coming Alongside as a Way of Life”

  1. Michele,
    Thanks to you and Sue for this reminder that we are all qualified to come alongside another and encourage their walk with God. Like you said in your other blog post, “Wisdom is the admission that we don’t have or know all the answers.” The Bible, however, does and we can surely take time to point those we mentor to wisdom found in His word.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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  2. This sounds like a great book and I especially love this quote: “Not feeling adequate shows that you are more ready than you think.” As I am meeting with someone regularly just now (it’s not exactly mentoring but it’s similar) I constantly feel inadequate, but I’m learning that just taking the time to listen and give someone space to process can be really valuable and God can use it.

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  3. I love the practical hints, and especially the way you state them:’if a sunset is put in place…’ And the ‘mini muffins of wisdom’. I have never done this sort of thing, not officially anyway, but your review quiets my racing heart a bit. Now to dare to pray for opportunity.. thx Michele.

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      1. I think we all get racing hearts for different things. It keep us kneeling and leaning–the best in soul exercise. My stomach just mini-flipped while reflecting on speaking 3 weekends in a row come October. Once this launch is completed, onward and upward to review my files of talks. Much leaning and kneeling involved.

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  4. I loved your review. And your story of Joanne and the pushing of the mountains on her table – mine is the same and it’s a long one so there’s lots of mountains and pushing, which the women at my table do not seem to mind. (Though we have moved to the couch the last two Monday evenings…fewer mountains, at least this wee.) At this point, it would take the power of God to clear it. So I rest in my mess and ask Him to clear my head and heart to be His conduit of grace and truth to those He brings. That’s all, Michele, and you are such a grace-filled conduit already. Maine is blessed to have you.
    PS Thank you for jumping on-board this team and all your input along the way. You have the spiritual gift of encouragement btw, ensconced in intelligence and gracious diction.

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  5. My heart is to have a mentor but I have struggled to find someone willing. At one point someone agreed to do it, but it was very hard to get a time that would work for her. I struggle with knowing whether I should push for it or not. However, I really feel the need to have someone in my life who will speak into my life.

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    1. You are wise to see the need and to pursue that kind of relationship. Don’t give up. I remember as a younger woman being disappointed several times. It occurs to me that there were also seasons of my life in which I believe I was “mentored” through the books I was reading by particular authors because at the time there was no one else to help me.

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  6. Michele, as a fellow friend and fan of our dear Sue, I hopped right over from #Coffee&Conversation when I saw your link there! I’m SO behind on getting on board with Sue’s book and its launch, so I’m SO glad for this overview. I especially love this “Mini-Muffin of Wisdom” (brilliant, that, by the way): “If you know one promise in God’s Word, you are ready to mentor that one promise. Ask God for someone to share it with today.” Thank you for giving me this sneak-peek into something I know I need to dig into further!

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  7. Michele, this is a beautiful post and review. You were blessed to have Joanne. May we be willing to sacrifice time to help someone along in their journey. We all so need those who have already traveled and can offer us wisdom. I keep telling my own parents how much our family still needs them to talk and share their thoughts. I am glad I stopped here this morning!

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  8. Your images of Joanne’s table were so warm and inviting. And viewing God as our primary Mentor is a beautiful powerful picture to me today.

    And that simple goal setting question is superb … it takes the pressure off the mentor to produce and puts the responsibility on the one seeking mentorship to figure out exactly what her needs are.

    Love this all. Thanks, Michele …

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    1. I imagine you run into this kind of goal setting all the time in your counseling ministry, Linda. And if it were not for the Mentorship of God, I can’t imagine that any of us would have a thing to offer.

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  9. Thank you for sharing Michele. I look forward to reading Sue’s book. My passion is mentoring based on Titus 2 as well as sharing our stories and finding God among our narratives. I look forward to learning more about Table Mentoring!

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  10. I just saw this somewhere else this week – I can’t remember where. All of the people who I consider mentors in my life have been so in an informal sense – having me over, fellowshipping, doing things together and talking along the way rather than a sit-down meeting. As you said, the word wasn’t used much years ago, so maybe the working out of it was more everyday and casual. So I tend to regard my mentoring in the same way. Yet there can be value in a more organized, systematic approach as well, and I need to be open to that. I’ve always regarded mentorship as not being a “guru” to someone, but coming alongside and sharing what God has taught me (that’s how I try to write my blog as well), and it sounds like this author’s approach is much the same.

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    1. Yes, that’s Sue’s point in the book, and from what I can gather, it’s her approach in real life as well. I think there’s a whole band width of ways to mentor — ranging from sit down and study together to standing side by side and working/cooking/shopping together and having meaningful conversations along the way. Thanks for your thoughts, here! Always good to hear from you!

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  11. Spiritual mentors are so important and they really do affect us in profound ways, even years later. I’m still in touch with one of my mentors – she is now in her mid-eighties, and still a wonderful example to me. I really enjoyed reading about your experience, Michele, and also about Table Mentoring. Thank you so much for sharing, and for being a part of Hearth and Soul.

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    1. I’m so happy for you that your mentor is still a part of your life. Joanne passed away over ten years ago, but a day hardly passes without my thinking of her, and I know her wisdom is still part of who I am.

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  12. I have been fortunate to have had some very wonderful women pour into my life over the years. None were ever officially “mentors,” but rather friends who truly “came alongside” on a regular basis. I love the idea of mentoring/coming alongside as a way of life. It somehow makes the responsibility of mentoring seem less frightening, even with the formality of regular meetings, goal setting, etc.. I was not familiar with this book, so thank you for the introduction. Putting it on my list!

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