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Seek out mentors and people to mentor to be a light in our world

By Walt Shelton
Special to the American-Statesman
Walt Shelton is a part-time professor at Baylor Law School and an environmental attorney in Austin.

Mentoring is a beautiful thing. As mentor or mentee, and best yet, as both, mentoring enriches our life quality and experiences.

From a faith perspective, a mentor is akin to a bright light that helps inform and illuminate the paths of others who pay attention, ask questions, absorb wisdom and learn.

In the Judeo-Christian tradition, light is an important concept. For example, in Isaiah 49, the prophet told the Jewish people in Babylonian exile many centuries ago to return to their land and become God’s gift as “a light to the nations,” meaning all people (Isaiah 49:6). Similarly, Jesus taught his followers that they are the “light of the world” and should let it “shine” so that others can see their “good works” (Matthew 5:14-16).

A mentor is almost always a role-model model for us, even when the person does not know they are mentoring us. We often want to imitate our mentors and follow similar paths. Better yet, mentors go beyond modeling behavior by advising, guiding and consulting with us based on their experience and expertise.

Life without trusted mentors would be so much harder. Similarly, life without being a mentor would be less fulfilling. Mentoring is a special and fiduciary way of loving another person, a profound type of love and care that runs from mentor to mentee and vice versa.

We should seek out mentors in all seasons of life and let them know we look up to them as mentors, intentionally seeking their input and positive influence. In some cases, a mentor-mentee relationship can blossom into the most unique type of friendship — and the mentoring might end up flowing both ways.

The mere concept of being a mentor and using the power of our imagination can enhance the quality of our daily lives. For all we know, some people around us each day might look to us as their models (without telling us) for learning and potentially patterning their behavior after ours. If we wake up each day and simply imagine that some people we encounter routinely, such as at our workplace, look to us and closely observe us as mentors, it can have a profound and positive influence on our behavior.

Living “as if” others are watching our behavior, words and reactions can motivate us to pay heightened attention to how we live each moment and how we treat other people. It can help us model highly ethical and moral living, perhaps similar to what we observe in our own mentors and role-models.

In his letter to the Ephesians, written before any of the New Testament Gospels, the Apostle Paul perhaps borrows from some of the oral tradition of Jesus’s sayings as well as his own Jewish tradition. Paul tells each of his readers that “you are light. Live as children of light — for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true“ (Ephesians 5:8-9). Earlier in Ephesians, Paul says God made us “for good works … to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10). Good works and being a light to others are intertwined.

We are all God’s children and can choose to live as light to others, by intentionally living daily in love and care toward other people by active, consistent good works. We can also make good choices for who we choose to help us along our path of life so that our own behavior improves.

It can be motivational to think of others watching us and being impacted by how we live, regardless of whether anyone is actually looking. Whether some people are paying attention to us or not, and we would be surprised to learn how often they do, the belief and imagery that others are attentive to our every move can be quite motivational. It can help us think before we speak, pause before we react and otherwise truly live with good intention.

We do not have forever to be a mentor, seek out mentors to help us, or do our best to set a good example for those around us. Returning to Ephesians, Paul follows his reminder that we are a light to others and should live that way with profound wisdom about actualizing good intention during our limited time: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time….” (Ephesians 5:15-16).

We have today and now, so let’s not hesitate to shine a bright light for others and always seek the brightest lights as models for our own lives.

Walt Shelton is an author, speaker, long-time professor at Baylor Law School, and environmental attorney in Austin. He leads discussion groups in association with The Church at Highland Park. His award-winning book, "The Daily Practice of Life: Practical Reflections Toward Meaningful Living" (CrossLink Publishing 2020), is a compilation of past columns. waltshelton.com