Jen H, our female TMP coordinator recently wrote an excellent post about mentoring entitled “We Practice Presence.” >>
“Hacemos presencia; cuando no podemos ir con algo en la mano, hacemos presencia. [We practice presence; even when we have nothing else to give, we practice presence.]”
–- Pastor in a church ministry with children and youth in the Dominican Republic
I love researching cultures; learning about a people group’s collective knowledge, values, and experiences is one of my favorite things. Even within our American culture there are as many smaller subcultures as there are groups of people. The subculture I’ve felt particularly drawn to over the past four years is “youth culture.” Amongst the youth I know and from what I’ve seen in the media some of their collective struggles and successes are found in the same word: connectedness.
Never before has a generation been just just a few clicks away from knowing just about everything that’s going on around the world. Never before has a generation been so easily reachable; facebook, texting, twitter. They have never known a world without the internet. I am continually impressed by the resourcefulness and connectedness of the students with whom I work. They have the capacity of understanding how actions have ripple effects that reach across the globe or into the future partly because they are the first generation who can see many of the results of past actions right on youtube. What’s more, they don’t just see these problems but they care to make a difference. They care about drilling wells in Africa and giving kids in Paraguay a pair of shoes. They believe in their agency to change the world like no generation before them.
Research keeps pushing forward to say, though, that amidst their powerful level of connectedness, youth today struggle with profound loneliness. They feel misunderstood by, and disconnected from even those whom they see most often. In most homes both parents need to work to make ends meet and some students may go the majority of the school week without experiencing the focused attention (or presence) of a loving adult. Loneliness often leads to feelings of being unknown which sometimes students try to cope with in toxic ways.
As mentors we practice presence. We do the hard work of getting to know our mentee and letting ourselves be known. We do this by making time, putting away our phones, calming our racing minds, and giving our focused attention to another. A leading researcher on loneliness from the University of Chicago named John Cacioppo says that “it’s not the number of relationships it really is the quality of those relationships that determines whether you feel socially isolated.”
I am so grateful for the quality of your presence in the life of the student you mentor (or will soon be mentoring). Thanks for showing up for them in moments of success and struggle. Your presence makes a difference.
I am also grateful that learning how to practice presence is not something we have to figure out on our own. God promises that He will always be with us (Matthew 28). In the 1600’s there was a monk named Brother Lawrence who wrote a book in description of his prayer life called “Practice of the Presence of God.” He says, “there is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.” God knows us, is with us, and His presence makes a difference. I am praying for our mentoring community as we continue to learn from God our teacher about the practice of His presence and as we seek to share our presence with others.