In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, leaves home to fight the Trojan War. He places his household under the care of Mentor, who will teach and care for Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.
Twenty years later Odysseus finally returned home. Telemachus had become a man, thanks to Mentor’s teaching, guidance, and influence.
The word mentor is used in many ways. In general it is used to describe someone older, a wise advisor, a trusted person, an expert one might turn to for counsel.
Recognizing no one had a perfect father, I was blessed to have a dad who instilled in me with a work ethic like no other. Dad’s life and his sayings marked me for life.
Growing up in the depression, dad’s family literally “lost the farm.” Even by 1920’s – 40’s standards, dad’s family was poor. Perhaps the farm life or simply not having any options, all the Easley men were hard workers. Dad’s philosophy is summed up in working hard, learning, taking initiative, getting your hands dirty, trying again and again, and being that “one” who doesn’t complain. As I look over my life, fundamentally speaking, dad’s fingerprints are deeply embedded in me.
“Prof,” and 8 One-Liners
While I have been blessed to have other great mentors, one who stands out for nearly thirty years in Dr. Howard G. Hendricks. “Prof” as many students called him, was in many ways a spiritual father. His influence is deeply embedded into my life as well. Prof had many “one liner” quotes that ring in the ears of his students. A few of them include:
- Get in the word every day for yourself.
- You cannot teach what you do not know.
- Leaders are readers; readers are leaders.
- Surround yourself with people who are better than you.
- You impress people from a distance; you impact them up close.
- You teach what you know but you reproduce what you are.
- My greatest fear is not your failure, but your success.
- Nothing is more common than unfulfilled potential.
To distill how Prof influenced me is an impossible task. Even since his death in 2013, his influence continues in my life.
- Encouragement. Prof was unstoppable in his encouragement. Whether in a large class or a small group, he provoked us: you can learn this, you can do this! When he graded your assignments, he’d write positive comments: Great observation! And if you needed “correcting” he’d write, Develop this more. While encouragement may have been his gifting, I believe it revealed his journey. Encouragement is a good powerful tool. I’ve often said of marriage “criticize your spouse and they won’t change; encourage them and they may change.” It is true in our parenting, too. Prof influenced us to be intentional about encouragement.
- Discipline. For those of us who are not disciplined, we tend to think we can never be disciplined. But Prof’s influence was not merely “discipline for discipline’s sake,” rather it was to enjoy the product of our discipline. In particular, learning to study the Bible is not merely an academic regiment. To understand the Bible is to understand our God. To know the Scripture is to know our Savior. While there are no shortcuts to discipline, the steps in the right direction are in fact, quite manageable. So for his classes, we had daily assignments. No major tests, no exams, but papers and projects that were due every class. He was instilling in us the habit of getting into the word every day.
- Passion. Prof had an unquenchable passion for teaching, communicating, and training others. You could visibly see it when he got up to teach or preach. He couldn’t wait. It was as if, “this is the most important thing this group needs to know!” As one of his fellow professors said, “Every time Howie gets up to bat, he hits the ball out of the park.” Prof’s passion was electric. He made each class so exciting, you’d never consider skipping. (And by the way, he never took attendance.) When you sat under his teaching, you longed to be as passionate about God’s word and God’s people as the Prof consistently demonstrated.
- Perseverance. Men and women in born in the 20’s do not talk about themselves (quite a lesson for the rest of us). But Prof revealed “enough” of his past to help us identify with him. On the one hand, it is remarkable a man in his 80’s could talk about his broken home. Yet I believe it was much less for his own journey, but in his quest to be the best teacher, he knew in order to connect with the next generation, he had to be a bit vulnerable to gain “street credibility” before they’ll listen.
We are all being influenced by others, whether we know it or not. We need others to help us along this journey. Don’t overlook those who are older. Even though our world view may be very different, you can glean gold from their minds.
For further reading, As Iron Sharpens Iron: Building Character in a Mentoring Relationship, Howard & William Hendricks, 1999, Moody Press.