Identity Mentoring Helps Relationships

Healing Father Wounds

Sitting across from me at a local coffee shop, the young man was calm, relaxed and smiling. He was in a much better state of mind than he had been a few days prior. That was when the knock came on my door late at night. Then, he’d been in tears like I had never seen before. He needed to talk. “I’m done! I’m totally broken and I’ve had it with myself!” Earlier that day he relapsed into porn again. Disgusted with himself, he had to find help. “You are the one person who has stuck with me through it all. I can’t lie or hide this from you. I am repulsed by porn and am totally done! Can you pray for me?”

Coffee Shop Clarity

At our coffee shop meeting, I asked him to reflect on that emotionally-charged night. “I’d say greater clarity. It’s helping me understand that the underlying issues are related to a father wound I’ve been carrying since I was a kid. Don’t get me wrong. I love my dad. He’s great, but when I needed him most, he wasn’t there for me. He might have been physically present, but not emotionally.”  We talked about how we often parent the way we were parented as a kid. Fathers who had emotionally-absent fathers parent the same way. “Maybe that’s what he’s doing with you? He’s doing his best, but it obviously is creating a gap in you.” Then I added. “But that can change!” Sharing a similar father wound when I was about his age, I told him how that motivated me to intentionally parent my children differently.  Not out of bitterness towards my father, but out of hope for my future son and daughter: to have better loving fathering by me. This young man explained how he needed to take more initiative with his dad. “To love on him and find things we can connect on. To approach him instead of waiting for him to come to me.” I affirmed him in that and reminded him he can be a catalyst for how he will father his future sons and daughters.

He’s Like a Son to Me

Although this young man is not my biological son, he’s old enough to be one. I love him like a son and would take him as one any day. “You’ve told me that many times, Mr. Riffel, and I appreciate it so much. Your words of affirmation are the very thing I need to hear.”  The porn relapse this young man faced is serious business. I am in no way downplaying it. However, it’s a symptom of a deeper unresolved issue. “Do all you can to deal with this father wound. Close the gap where you can with him. Love on him. Show him compassion and realize, even in your efforts to move toward your dad in love, the gap may never be fully closed. Never fully healed. True healing comes from your heavenly Father. He is your life and, more than any earthly father, God your Father will love you perfectly.”

Father Wounds

I left our coffee shop conversation grateful to see a young man coming to grips with his wound and where to find true healing. I also felt tender in my own soul, tears welling up from missing my own dad who’s been gone for over four years now. In feeling my own ache and knowing my need to find hope in God, my heavenly Father, I was grateful for the crisis that occurred decades earlier during my warrior years between my dad and me. One that turned the tide in our relationship and set me on a new course in the type of father I wanted to become. I also left that coffee shop conversation thanking God for my own son and the man he’s becoming, trusting and praying he’ll become an intentional dad with our future grandchildren. It’s the proverbial parental “wish I could have parented better” syndrome.  Did I raise them the best I could? When is it up to them to take increasing responsibility for their lives? What father wounds did I create that need a healing touch?

Mentoring is Much Like Parenting

As a mentor, you pour your life into these young men, investing in them with all you have. You love them as if they were your own. That includes words of affirmation and exhortation: words that point them to God and words that warn them to repent and return to Christ. Hands of support and correction. Not perfectly but increasingly so. Like parenting, you must also let them go, trusting they will find their own path towards maturity and God.  

Unpeeling the Onion

I’m not here to say every struggle with porn or other addictions is rooted in a father-wound. It could be. What I am saying is this: like an onion, whatever we struggle with behavior-wise is rooted in deeper, unresolved wounds; like peeling back layers of an onion. Eventually, you get to the core where the real pain lies. I’d like to say that once you discover it, everything heals quickly. It does not. However, as you unpeel the layers and give them to Christ, He will meet you in those moments and bring a level of emotional healing that is far better for the soul than those pesky addictions.  

Practical Suggestions Towards Addressing Repeated Unhealthy Behavioral Patterns

  1. Admit your unhealthy behaviors. Be honest with yourself and your mentor about the unhealthy behaviors you are struggling with. Know that as harmful as those behaviors are (anger, abuse, addictions), they are merely symptoms of deeper soul issues. Verbalize this to your mentor. Don’t generalize. Be specific as to what you are doing that is harmful. Read James 5:16 (ESV): “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
  2. Repent. Decide if your repentance is to save face or because you have offended God. Pray with your mentor for godly repentance. Realize repentance is a process and not a one-time choice.

Read 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 (ESV): “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point, you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.”  

  1. Unpeel the layers of your soul. Ask God to point out the real issues in your life. Don’t fear what you discover. Instead, know that in the discovery God will be your strength. Hebrews 4:12-16 (ESV): “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
  2. Reconcile. Come to grips with yourself, knowing that God forgives you completely. Based upon his forgiveness, work through any reconciliation with others. 2 Corinthians 5: 14-15 (ESV): For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
  3. Know your heavenly Father loves you unconditionally. Know that Jesus Christ loves you with the same exact love that God his heavenly Father has. When your identity is in who God says you are, your propensity to pursue other things and other people to medicate your wounds dissipates. John 15:9 (ESV): “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.”

Warrior On!

David Riffel is the Founder and Executive Director of Having gone through his warrior years (18-30) essentially without a mentor, God has placed in him a heart for warriors, to come alongside them in various ways as they figure out life. David’s newly released book, Mentoring Warriors: Coming Alongside Young Men 18-30, outlines principles for mentoring and gives advice for warriors in six key areas of life: self-management, life skills, education/career, relationships, faith, and identity.

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