Why Your Teens Need “Gap-Filling” Mentors
This may sound crazy, but I’m already praying diligently for all of my kids to have godly grown-ups in their lives as teenagers. I desperately want them surrounded by other adults who love them, love Jesus and are willing to be invested in their lives. Essentially, I’m looking for mentors.
To me, this is absolutely critical.
Critical to their spiritual growth.
Critical to their mental and emotional health.
Critical to their character development.
Critical even to their physical safety and well-being.
Having other trusted grown-ups in tune with my children is such a gift. There are so many times when we might miss it as parents. We’re not always able to see our own kids clearly. Maybe because we’re busy and distracted. Perhaps because we just don’t want to see their faults. Or maybe because they can be really adept at hiding certain things.
There are also times when we see our kids with crystal clarity, but as we try to speak truth into their lives and circumstances, our advice and guidance falls on deaf ears. At times, our voice becomes white noise to our own children.
I want to be sure that in those times, I have the gaps ﬁlled.
I want my kids to be surrounded by Christ-following adults who can and will speak truth into their lives when I can’t.
I’ve played this role of “the gap-ﬁlling grown-up” as a small group leader for many girls as they came through our church youth group. My girls would seek my counsel on both the big things and the small things. The light and the heavy. Sometimes even just for a laugh or an “I see you.” And as a parent myself, I was SO happy to get to play that support role to all of their families.
Being a mom has indeed proven to be the most rewarding task in my entire life. However, it is also hands down the most difﬁcult. So basically, at any moment, on any day, I will literally JUMP at the offer for help in doing it well. The role these “gap-ﬁllers” play is the exact kind of help I desperately need and want.
I’m seriously already on my knees for them…
It seemed timely to include a copy of an “Open When…” letter I wrote to my graduating senior girls…
(The theme was “Open when you have trouble getting plugged in” in college)
Dear High School Graduate,
If you actually followed the rules and didn’t open this right when you got it, then I’m sure we’re all missing you like crazy by now!!! I wish I could give you a hug and have this conversation face to face. I hope you’ll call me after you’ve read this letter so I can tell you how much I miss you and how proud I am of you. I hope you’ve had tons of wonderful days in college so far, but if you’re reading this, then that probably means you’ve had a not-so-good one today.
Let me offer you some grace right where you are… hard days, even the worst of days, don’t mean that you’re failing at what you’re doing. Sometimes we just have tough days (or seasons) and we have to walk through those just like we walk through the good ones. I often hear people (old people like me) say to college students, “Man, those were the best days of my life! I wish I could go back!” and it makes me cringe. I could easily be one of those people who makes that comment when I think back on college. I honestly remember college very fondly as I step back and look at the big picture. It was so much fun, I made tons of wonderful friends, earned a degree, had some crazy fun adventures that make for great stories now, and learned a lot (or maybe a little) about how to be a grown-up. But when I pause the highlight reel and zoom in on certain days (especially during my freshman year!) there were some really tough ones. Some days when I felt lonely. Some days when I felt sad. Some days when I felt overwhelmed. Some days when I just missed home.
However, my most difﬁcult days were not focused on craving the familiarity of my old pre-college life. My greatest struggles were feelings of failure in my current college life. When I couldn’t ﬁgure out where I should be investing my time. When I was too scared or stubborn to get out of my comfort zone and try something new. When I couldn’t ﬁgure out who my new college best friends should be — the fun party girls from my dorm or the conservative Christian friends that I came expecting to meet. When I couldn’t ﬁgure out why I was frequently surrounded by drunk people. When I couldn’t seem to ﬁnd friends who believed the same thing I believed. When I was too lazy to get up for church on Sunday mornings. When I couldn’t ﬁgure out how I’d become so lukewarm in my faith. Those were my toughest days.
And if I’m totally honest with you, I could’ve done it better. I could’ve done college so much better.
So, I’ve been mulling it over to see if I can help you learn from my mistakes. If I got a do-over, this is how I’d do it knowing what I know now.
Here’s my top 10 list for how to get plugged in and do college well:
- Seek Christ. It’s that simple. You know what that means by now- carve out time for you and God in your day. Read your Bible. Pray. Spend time getting still before Him. Listen for His voice. Find opportunities to worship Him, whether it’s alone in your dorm room or in a church service with tons of people. Obey what He says. And if/when you mess up, tell Him you’re sorry (and mean it) and start over. He gives you that grace so take it. Take Him with you everywhere you go. Don’t close Jesus up in your Bible when you’re done with your quiet time. Don’t compartmentalize your “spiritual life”. Your spiritual life is your whole life. Let it bleed into every other area. Look for Him everyday and expect to ﬁnd Him. I promise He’s there just waiting for you to see His hand on your day. I love the Message version of Jeremiah 29:12-14- it sums it up perfectly: “When you call on me, when you come and pray to me, I’ll listen. When you come looking for me, you’ll ﬁnd me. Yes, when you get serious about ﬁnding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.”
- Seek Christian friends. Don’t try to navigate college alone. You need a strong group of like-minded friends surrounding you to build you up and to hold you accountable. Find a campus ministry. Don’t give up if the ﬁrst one you try isn’t a good ﬁt for you. Try the next one. Try out a dozen if you have to. This is the most likely place to meet your best Christian friends in college (and maybe even your future spouse).
- Plug into a church. Find a place where you can worship each Sunday. Join a small group. Build relationships with believers in the church who are different ages than you. If possible, ﬁnd a female mentor who can help you navigate this season of your life.
- Serve others. Find a way to serve in your church or in your campus ministry. As busy as you think you are right now, you’re never going to be less busy. Be generous with your time during this season. Take an hour out of your week and volunteer in the church nursery or youth group. There will also be tons of opportunities to serve others on campus too. I can’t tell you speciﬁcs about your school but I can tell that I was hit up all of the time to volunteer for all kinds of crazy things. You don’t have to say yes to every one of them. Just be mindful that there are lots of opportunities to share or even simply reﬂect Christ as you push your sleeves up and get to work to meet the needs of others.
- Make wise choices. Whether you realize it or not, the decisions you make today truly do determine the life you live tomorrow. Don’t let one bad decision during one really crazy night affect your life for years. Think carefully before you act.
- Be intentional. Be intentional in your relationships. While #2 told you to seek Christian friends, don’t take that to mean you shouldn’t be friends with others who believe differently than you. You’ll have more occasions than ever before to share the gospel with people who believe very differently from you. Don’t waste these opportunities. If you happen to ﬁnd yourself completely enclosed in a Christian bubble, go ahead and pop it. That’s not exclusively where God has called you to be. True friendship is a gift. Please don’t view friendship with those who don’t believe like you as a “gospel project” of sorts. That’s icky- you stand to learn and gain a lot from friendships with others who are different from you. Be thankful they chose you too.
- Work hard in your classes. Don’t be lazy. Take advantage of the education that you are there to receive. You paid for it. Or, your parents have paid for it. Or, you will be paying for it for the next decade. Make the most of this time you have to learn. Study and work hard. Your future you will thank you.
- Have fun! As overwhelming as it can feel at times, college will ﬂy by. Try to live each day to the fullest. Enjoy the friends God has blessed you with and enjoy the place where He has planted you for this season. Once again, the freedom thing…you can grab some friends and binge-watch Netﬂix, or go out to dinner, or to a concert, or on a spur of the moment road-trip, or something way better than any of those things. Whatever you do, just enjoy this time you have!
- Take advantage of unique opportunities. If you have the chance to study abroad, take it. If you can learn another language, do it. If you can be a part of a cool program that your school specializes in, sign up. If you’re asked to take on a leadership role in a campus organization, step up. If you get an opportunity to go on a mission trip, go pack your bags. This is your chance. Don’t wimp out and regret the things you didn’t do later.
- Come home and visit whenever you can. We love you, miss you, and can’t wait to hear about all that’s happening in your life!