For a few months I had gotten in the habit of leaving my wedding rings around the house, pretty carelessly I might add. It wasn’t until one day when I almost knocked them down the bathroom sink that it occurred to me how cheaply I was treating such a valuable gift. As I pried my rings from the stopper that thankfully prevented them from going down the drain, I decided I needed to do better and not be so openly disrespectful to my husband and the wonderful gift he sacrificed to give me.
Glancing down at my hand, I thought of this as a sister-girlfriend shared over lunch about her hurt from being misused and abused by someone she’d thought was a mentor and friend. She had freely given her gifts of leadership and organization, as well as her impressive connections, to make a community service project come alive. The person who initially encouraged her involvement quickly became jealous of her gifts, and moved from supporting my friend’s efforts to attempting to sabotage the project. In the end, the project was a success and garnered many accolades from both members and leaders of the organization. Unfortunately the woman who was once a beloved mentor crushed my friend’s feelings by refusing to acknowledge her gifts and thereafter ignored her presence, thus ending the relationship.
This was just the latest in a litany of such stories I’ve been hearing from a number of friends and colleagues. The context ranges from corporate America to ministry, but the stories all have a familiar ring. A trusting newbie in training willingly gives her gifts to aid and support a supposed mentor only to have that mentor’s insecurities played out on them in some very hurtful ways. I thought to myself how sad, until I remembered that I too have stories that mirror the ones that had been shared. It’s funny how you can grow so accustomed to operating in a space where you are ignored, abused, or taken for granted that it becomes normative. Many of us who find ourselves in these situations are intelligent and capable women who would head for the nearest exit were this a toxic romantic relationship. Yet somehow the respect, trust, and admiration we have for others sometimes clouds our judgment.
This year I have begun to take seriously the responsibility I have of protecting the gifts God has given me. I find it important to remember that our gifts are ours to operate in, and it is our own responsibility to use wisdom and sound judgment to determine when and how they are utilized, and by whom. One change I've made is to seek out mentors who are secure and happy with where they are in their own lives. If they are fulfilled in their purpose, then they won't be jealous or insecure when God begins to unfold his purpose for my life. Also, I now see the importantce of entering a new relationship fully aware of my own gifts without needing that validation from another. While we all need encouragement and mentoring, it should come only to serve as a confirmation of what we already know about ourselves.
The most imporatnt lesson I have learned in these mentoring relationships is that just because someone helps in the discovery of your gifts, it doesn't mean they get to control them. We don’t necessarily need to be claimed by someone in order to validate the existence of our gifts. We have intrinsic value. My wedding ring is still a beautiful treasure whether I drop it down the drain or display it proudly on my ring finger. Either way, it’s precious and so are our gifts. Shouldn't our mentoring relationships be reflective of this?