“Oh, I don’t know if I want to talk to you,” the man in the church foyer said with a twinkle in his eye, “You might read my mind!” I hear this a lot. I am a counselor. Chip and I have been missionaries in Kenya since 1980. I hold an M.A. degree in Counseling Psychology from Daystar University, where Chip works. A lot of people have misconceptions of what psychology is…and what it is not. The common thing I hear most is that psychologists and counselors can read people’s minds. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Psychology is basically the study of human nature – how we think, our emotions, what motivates us, and especially, how we interact with each other. Psychology affects each of us, whether we are aware of it or not. If you are human, you engage in psychology, simply because you are human.

Not all of us can be psychologists or counselors, nor want to be! However, I suspect we have all had a friend come to us, needing help or a listening ear. As he or she speaks, you begin to inwardly panic, wondering “What on earth can I do for her? What can I possibly say that would help?” Ever been there, done that? I certainly have, even as a counselor! That is where peer mentoring comes in. This is simply caring enough for your friends to provide a listening ear, a caring heart, sometimes some advice, and most of all just being there for your friends. But what do we do about not knowing what to say or do? That is a great question.

Though we might not all become or desire to be a counselor, we can all learn basic skills that will help us to be a help to our friends – skills such as listening, empathizing, communication skills, and the like. Sometimes just being there and saying nothing is the best thing to do. The ancient book of Job in the Bible gives us a clear picture of this. Job was a wealthy man with a big, happy family. One day he lost all his children, his wealth, and his health all within a short space of time. He sat in misery on ashes. His 3 friends came to comfort him and were so shocked at his condition that for 7 days, they simply sat with him in the ashes in silence. However, as is often the case with us, they finally succumbed to the pressure to say something. It was when that opened their mouths that they did the damage. They ended up offending Job, damaging their friendship with him, and even offending God, doing more damage than good. They were better off saying nothing and just being there for their friend! The biggest thing I learned in counseling training was that listening is the best thing we can do to help others.

This is the first of a series of articles on peer mentoring, in which I hope we can hone basic relationship skills that can help us to be there for our friend in need, to listen, to show her or him that we care, to be a true help. I hope that in this journey together we will all benefit and that our friendships can deepen as we learn to love our friends better through being peer mentors. Thank you for joining me on this journey.

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