How to address a mentee’s deep personal struggles
There are Christians who struggle with addictions, fears, self-doubt, anxieties, resentments, mistrust, explosive anger or depression – perhaps for years. It can be discouraging to mentor someone with such deep personal struggles. It would be wrong, however, to give up on them. The Holy Spirit has the power to heal and transform people. We need to ask God how we can work alongside Him to bring restoration and hope to others.
Look beneath for the roots
Deep personal struggles can be traced back to hurtful events in our past that have “taught” us these “reflect actions”. There is an infinite number of possibilities why people behave the way they do. Here are some examples:
- Addictions – Possible root: neglect and lack of love in childhood
- Anger – Possible root: deep frustration with childhood injustices
- Doubt, unbelief towards God – Possible root: idol worship in the family
- Fearfulness, mistrust, anxiety – Possible root: unresolved trauma
- Self-doubt, anxiety – Possible root: overly critical “authority” figures, such as parents, school teachers, relatives
How to respond to confessions of pain and sorrow
Mentors must be loving, open and non-judgemental at all times so that mentees will be comfortable to confess any struggle, trauma or heartache. This helps to release the shame, guilt or emotional trauma that has trapped them in cycles of sin for years.
James 5:16 ESV Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
1. Invite God to guide the conversation
Pray with our mentee before we speak further. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation and provide the wisdom we need. Take this opportunity to praise God for the good that He is able to bring out of our brokenness and remind our mentee of God’s good character.
God has known our mentees ever since they were born and every aspect of their lives. We know infinitely less than He does and should not rely on our own understanding.
Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
2. Be appreciative, keep confidences
We need to display the tender heart that God has for the broken. Let us demonstrate by our words or body language that our mentee has our full attention and love. We may say something like, “This must be quite hard for you to talk about, and I appreciate you choosing to open up about it. I am here for you and fully respect your confidence.”
1 Peter 3:8 ESV Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
3. Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting
As our mentee talks, silently ask the Holy Spirit for discernment, wisdom and revelation. It is amazing how God answers when we ask Him to help in time of need, particularly as we seek to build up His beloved children. So ask Him for help.
James 1:5 ESV If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
4. Be a good listener
We aren’t all born great listeners. But fortunately, active listening is a highly useful skill that we can learn. See Useful listening skills for mentors.
James 1:19 ESV Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
5. Express empathy correctly
Love empathises with others. As mentees talk about their past, seek to understand how they felt and how their emotions affected them afterwards. We can encourage them to unearth their emotions by saying something like, “I feel upset that you were treated that way” or “I feel sad that you weren’t able to say goodbye to your loved one before he passed away”. If we can’t truly empathise or share their feelings, we can still say something like, “I can’t imagine how that must have felt, but I can imagine it must have been painful.”
Romans 12:15 NIV Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
Showing empathy should never promote self-pity, wallowing or a feeling of hopelessness. Never say, “I feel so sorry for you” or “That sounds terrible” and just leave it at that.
Neither should we talk about our own similar experiences, unless the Holy Spirit leads us to share our testimony and how God helped us resolve our own issues.
6. Use questions sparingly
For many people, talking is a way to process long-buried thoughts and emotions. So it is important to allow them to talk. Keep our questions to a minimum, except when we need to clarify something or steer the conversation when a mentee becomes incoherent.
Never make him or her feel small or misunderstood with our questions. Show that we ask because we simply need clarification and deeper understanding. We can say something like, “Sorry, I just want to make sure I understand what you are saying. Do you mean ….?” or “You mentioned the trauma you went through, can we go back to that? I’d like to understand how it affected your perspective afterwards”.
Proverbs 10:19 ESV When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.
7. Stay completely neutral
Never jump to conclusions or condemn anyone, even if they are biased or wrong. Our mentee’s perspective is their reality and we need to respect that. Be careful not to judge anyone in our hearts or through our words.
Matthew 7:1-2 ESV “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
8. Point to the spiritual implications of their choices
We all have blinds spots and can get stuck in our ‘human’ reality of hurts and disappointments. It is essential that we use questions to help our mentees understand their ‘spiritual’ reality. For example, everyone knows that anger is not healthy, and there is little point telling someone what they already know. As mentors, we need to help our mentees realise for themselves why they get angry and how it impacts their lives. They should also be made aware of how Satan steals and destroys our joy and hope. Then we can ask them to invite the Holy Spirit to help them to do something about it.
If someone has unresolved anger towards their parents, for instance, it might be helpful to ask, “If you don’t come to terms with this soon, what example will we be showing our own children?”, “How is Satan using your weakness or past hurts to destroy your life?” or “If you continue to have unforgiveness towards your family members, what is it that we are telling others about Christ’s sacrifice to forgive our sins? How is this impacting your testimony and your ability to be a good witness of God’s love to those closest to you?”.
9. Never give advice, let our mentee take ownership
We should never tell our mentee what to do next. Everyone needs to take ownership of their own feelings and struggles. Encourage our mentee to seek God’s guidance and counsel at all times.
If a mentee is stuck, the closest we can come to giving advice is to ask, “Have you considered …?” This still puts the final decision on the person who needs to deal with his or her own inner issues.
10. Encourage resolution
If our mentee is talking about deep issues and struggles, rejoice! God has brought them to a point where they are ready to talk about it so He can set them free.
So applaud our mentee’s courage for opening up. Encourage him or her to repent, ask the Holy Spirit to heal them and learn how to resolve their inner struggles in a way that God intended. Where necessary, we may have to suggest that they see a professional biblical counsellor to work through deeper issues and traumas.
Keep praying alongside them and commit to walking with them through the process. God will redeem our mentees’ lives for His glory. The good things is, we get a front row seat to watch His love and grace at work!
Luke 4:18 ESV “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
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