The Christmas after my father died my brother gave me a book entitled Tuesday with Morrie. It is the true story of a sports writer, Mitch Albom, and his reunion with his former college professor who is dying of ALS. Albom is a multitasking workaholic, whose life is a series of hurried appointments, rushed phone calls, and last minute sprints to catch a flight. When he discovers that his former college professor and friend, Morrie Schwartz, is in the last stages of ALS, he honors a long-overdue promise to visit.
During these visits, Morrie teaches Mitch some important lessons about what matters most in life. On one particular visit, Morrie is very frail, lying in a recliner in obvious pain. He asks Mitch to rub his aching feet with salve. “When we’re infants,” says Morrie, “we need people to survive; when we’re dying, we need people to survive; but here’s the secret: in between, we need each other even more.”
Mitch nods and responds with a quote that he has heard Morrie say many times: “We must love one another or die.”
Morrie loses patience with Mitch. “Yeah, but do you believe that? Does it apply to you?”
Mitch is stunned and defensive as he confesses that he doesn’t know what he believes. The world he lives in doesn’t allow for the contemplation of spiritual things.
Morrie pushes a little further. “You hate that word, don’t you–spiritual? You think it’s just touchy-feely stuff, huh?”
“I just don’t understand it,” says Mitch.
“We must love one another or die,” says Morrie. “It’s a very simple lesson, Mitch.”
It is a simple lesson, isn’t it? However, it is a lesson that is hard to learn well.
One type of love-relationship that I believe is very important for leaders is the mentoring relationship. In a way, Morrie and Mitch had a mentoring relationship. Mentoring has its origin in ancient Greece and comes from the name of Odysseus’ friend who was entrusted with the education of Odysseus’ son Telemachus. The word itself can simply mean enduring. Thus, one definition of mentoring is “a sustained relationship between a youth and an adult”. Through continued involvement, the adult offers support, guidance, and assistance as the younger person goes through a difficult period, faces new challenges, or works to correct earlier problems.
There is natural mentoring and planned mentoring. Natural mentoring occurs through friendship, collegiality, teaching, coaching and counseling. By contrast, planned mentoring occurs through structured programs in which mentors and participants are selected and matched through formal processes. I want to challenge you to consider entering into a mentoring relationship with another person.
Why would you want to be a mentor or seek out a mentor? Morrie gives us the answer: because we must love one another or die. Mentoring is a relationship we find among the Greeks, but it is also reflected in the Bible: something I know a little bit more about as a pastor. I believe that what we can learn from the New Testament about mentoring applies to all leaders in all organizations. Over the course of the next three blogs, I would like to examine three different types of mentoring relationships with you. If you are like me, I think you will see yourself in at least one of these relationships, or you will see your need to develop such a relationship. In any case, we all have much to learn about mentoring that will benefit our lives as leaders and simply as human beings.
Will Vaus (M.Div., Princeton Seminary) is the author of several books including Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C.S. Lewis and Keys to Growth: Meditations on the Acts of the Apostles.