“You will see greater things than that.”  John 1:50

 Labels are often used to describe a person – both positive and negative. When someone describes you, they may use a label.

A label can identify your occupation. Or, it can identify you as to something you do or did in the past. Once given, it is sometimes hard to shake. For me, it was “attorney”, which identified me by my chosen profession. Like any label, it has some good and bad baggage.

In today’s often uncivil  political culture, it can even be an epithet aimed at reducing an individual to a single word, whether deserved or not. Calling someone “racist” or a word that ends in “phobe” often sticks even though the real facts don’t warrant that label.

In many ways, we often try to soften a label. Lawyers are frequently the subject of bad jokes – sometimes deserved, sometimes not. I spent my career trying to make the term “Christian lawyer” not an oxymoron.

I couldn’t control others’ opinions of my profession. I could only control me. I finally figured out that the only label that mattered in my life was being a child of God. A Jesus follower, who stumbled along the journey of life.

There are labels that we sometimes hang on ourselves. Labels like “failure”, “convict”, “abused”, “depressed”, “bankrupt”, “burnout” or “addict” .  Over the years, I have mentored men with lots of these labels, often describing a past that they wish to forget or overcome.

I recently had dinner at a fund-raiser  and spent the evening with a woman at our table who is in my wife’s bible study. We didn’t know that her husband would committed suicide the next morning.

The news shocked and saddened me. Here was a man who had gotten so depressed from his life circumstances that his solution was to exit this world, leaving everyone he loved to pick up the pieces. It solved his problem, but tragically burdened all those who loved him.

Having dealt with clinical depression and burnout, I was saddened that no one was able to get him the help he needed. It’s what I call the “woulda, shoulda, coulda” reflection. “If only” I had gotten to him……if only….

I have described elsewhere that most millennials think of their occupation as defining them. Most will spend their life identifying themselves by “what” they do – a label – rather than “who” they are. Or, better yet, “whose” they are. They chase the label while ignoring their real purpose in life.

As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, this too is vanity and chasing after the wind. Achieving success is fleeting. It might bring satisfaction for a while, but it doesn’t really give meaning to your life. As soon as you retire, your career accolades don’t count for much.

A label may describe you, but it doesn’t define you. When I retired from law practice, I still was a child of God.

One of my mentees is dealing with a past he wants to forget. He spent two years in jail because of some bad choices he made while in college. Understandably, he wants to put the label “convict” in his rear-view mirror.

As his mentor, my role is to give him hope that he can reclaim his life and turn it into something that God wants. His experience, as painful as it was, is something that he will be able to use some day. It will shape him but not define him.

He needs to see his life experience from the vantage point of a story-teller. As Robert Reese says, “Perhaps the greatest thing in our development is who we are becoming along the way.”  God delights in using “who we are along the way to accomplish ‘greater things than these’.”

My role is to walk beside him.  There may be missteps along the way. I am prepared for that.  My job is to invest in his life by letting him know that he is not alone.  I basically have said, maybe not overtly, that “I believe in you.”  It’s a message all mentees need to hear.

The challenge here is that the next generation is seeking labels to define themselves, or conversely, trying to eliminate a label due to past failures. Either way, they need help. That’s where a mentor comes in. Being willing to walk besides them speaks volumes.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY: A mentor cannot fix the past of a mentee, but he can help them overcome it. Just the assurance that someone cares and whose presence in their life tells them that they are not alone on their journey.

RESOURCES:   I have had requests for books on Mentoring. There are a lot of them out there, but here are a couple that I found helpful:

Deep Mentoring: Guiding Others on their Leadership Journey, but Robert Reese, et al.

Mentoring 101, by John C. Maxwell.

WORSHIP:  Enjoy Hillsong’s “Who You Say I Am” whose lyrics say “I am a Child of God; Yes I Am!”

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