Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Anamchara is a Gaelic word that comes from the ancient Celtic Church in 4th century AD Britain, through the theologian Pelagius. He strongly encouraged the developing of Anamchara relationships for every Christ follower.
‘Anamchara’ literally means ‘soul friend’, and such a person in your life was of great worth. The idea evokes someone who has already gone down the road you have begun on, and who therefore knows the terrain. They can apprise you of the areas of danger, shelter, refuge, nourishment, places where your needs can be met, or that you must be careful to avoid if you are to keep to your chosen road. Having such a person taking the time to listen to you and give their advice and input was hugely beneficial, and the recipient of such soul friendship would reciprocate in the relationship by responding with humility, respect and love.
An Anamchara was a person whose primary focus was for your best interests to be served. You could pour out the depths of your heart to them whether in times of trouble or sorrow or need, or when you simply needed direction and wisdom for the way forward. They would give a listening ear, truthful insight, courageous wisdom and firm encouragement, all designed to help you keep to the right road. In such esteem was this kind of relationship held that St. Brigid of Kildare is reputed to have said: A person without a soul friend is like a body without a head.
Mentoring can be a type of Anamchara. Every one of us could be that to another person and every one of us hope for someone that would be that kind of friend to us. To be a soul friend doesn’t require a title or a post graduate degree, it just takes time and willingness to be there for someone, having their best interest at heart, sharing your experience that they do not have, and helping them grasp some of the unseen issues that we all grapple with.
Referring back to the diagram, let’s look at different types of mentoring, beginning with having a mentor for ourselves.
FINDING/HAVING/KEEPING A MENTOR –
Healthy Christianity needs accountability so having a mentor increases the likelihood of remaining answerable to the larger Body of Christ, thus helping to circumvent potential pitfalls that are common to all of us.
When looking for a mentor, remember to ask the Lord to help you find the right one. Look around your immediate vicinity first, because obviously the more accessible your mentor, the easier it is to meet and relate. Be aware that it’s entirely possible that you are already being mentored by someone, but neither of you has called it that. If that’s the case, don’t undervalue what you already have but maybe it would be a good time to have a chat with the person who is being an Anamchara to you so you can both be more intentional about your relationship.
However, it’s also true at times that there is no one in your immediate vicinity, indeed, you may be the soul friend of choice to others. This is often the case with people who are intentional about their faith. In this case, you need to look further afield, but in general, for ease of access and a great likelihood of them agreeing, look within your people group.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Is there a leader in your church or organisation or network or line of work who clearly has more experience than you have at this time? Remember not to aim for the top dog because it’s unlikely they will have the time for someone just starting out. Literally, they may be too far down the road to be any use to you, and even if they agree, they will disappoint you because they cannot be available to you in the way you need at this time.
A senior leader is generally mentoring other people who are already in leadership. If you’re just starting out, and you only want senior people as mentors, you need to check your motivations. Maybe you want that person because you would feel more important if they are your mentor.
Do you have a sense of chemistry with that person? Do they have that same chemistry with you?
Would their time commitments allow room for you? This is a big one, because with the best will in the world, many leaders are already up to their eyeballs in mentees, and once again, if they take you on and can’t live up to your expectations, it will end in pain all around. When talking with a would-be mentor, have a clear discussion on requirements before you commit to the relationship.
Ask yourself if you are willing to engage with this leader in a relationship of humility as well as mutual respect. You don’t have to always agree with their advice, but if you don’t, it’s important to discuss that at the time, rather than appear to agree but afterwards ignore their advice. A mentoring relationship cannot take too much of that, because apart from being confusing to the mentor, it’s also a waste of their time to be simply used as a sounding board by someone who has no intention of taking their advice.
Similarly, if you become offended with your mentor and begin to talk behind their back, the relationship isn’t going to last very long. Although it’s not a parent/child relationship in which permission has to be asked and received before the mentee can take action, the flipside is that the reason for mentoring is to guide and direct. Unless the mentee responds to the advice, it’s like going to the doctor and being given a prescription that you don’t fill. If you’re not going to take the tablets, there’s no point in going to the doctor.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IT’S WORKING?
You know it’s working when you are walking in the same way of life as the mentor does – integrity, calmness, skillset, wisdom, self-control, power, or whatever other characteristics first drew you to her.
You know it’s working when you’re empowered to go outside of your comfort zone, when you’re being stretched beyond your previous capacity, but you feel relatively safe because you have the support of your soul friend.
You know it’s working when you are starting to pass on what you have learned to others.
HOW LONG DOES IT LAST?
Mentoring isn’t for life, so don’t expect it to be. There are times when two people may have a lifelong mentoring relationship, but this isn’t the norm even though at the time you may wish it was. Everyone needs multiple mentors throughout their lifetime, because you go through different seasons with different challenges and you need different kinds of mentors to coach you through.
The optimum result and consequence of a good mentoring relationship is that mentees grow up and the relationship can morph into a peer relationship between two mature Christians, each able to be a soul friend to the other. More about this in the Peer Mentoring section.
Finding a mentor is not that difficult, but it’s important to keep in mind that your mentor isn’t Jesus, and they have their own faults and failings. It’s very easy to criticise and devalue the mentoring relationship simply because you feel disillusioned when you find that your mentor isn’t perfect. That would be really foolish. A mentee needs to allow their mentor to be a real person with their own failings, and be willing to love them and pray for them, just as you would any other person you care about.
However, if it happens that you realise your mentor is dishonest, lacking integrity, or unfaithful, no amount of gifting should cause you to stay and learn from them. You will imbibe all that they are, not just the good bits.
Part 4 – Being a Mentor and Lasting the Distance