"No, I can't mentor you."

That was the blunt answer I gave to a wide-eyed young woman four years ago. She came up to me at church with a plan that included meeting at Starbucks every Monday morning.

I added "sorry," but it didn't help. Her expression caved. She wanted, needed, longed for attention. Lots of it.

I've been to mentoring workshops. I've taken on and taken in many young women over the years. I've followed the steps in articles I've read on mentoring, and here's my conclusion: I am a terrible mentor.

After serving alongside my husband for 25 years in youth ministry and then as a lay leader for the last decade, I've come to understand my strengths and weaknesses quite well. Spending hours listening to people's problems is not my gift. I'm kind of afraid of needy, self-absorbed women. I've been hurt by such women before. I've been drained to the last drop and then asked to give more.

Surely I would disappoint this young woman because I wouldn't be able to show up every week. I wouldn't have three hours to linger over coffee the way she could since she only worked part time and lived at home. It wasn't in my heart to try to fulfill her expectations for a mentor/mother/counselor.

Better to say no on the front end, I thought. Avoid the messy stuff.

So why did my "no" bother me so much?

My blunt "no" bristled up against my core belief that we're called to hospitality in all its various forms. As an "older woman," I agree with Paul's admonition in Titus 2:3-5 that I am "to teach what is good, and so train the young women." But I didn't want to. As an "older woman" I also feel like I have less energy and fewer hours in the day.

I asked a few of my friends what they thought. Each had a story about being burned in a mentoring relationship. But each of them also had wonderful experiences that made them smile and get teary-eyed. I live in Hawaii, and one of my friends said, "You have to view these young women as your extended ohana (family). Family members drive you crazy, too, you know."

Another friend softly said, "These young women we spend time with are the future generation of Believers. They are our kuleana." Her use of the Hawaiian word for "responsibility" went deep. My spirit softened. I knew what she saying.

Kuleana is a layered word that means to accept responsibility with humility and use the resources uniquely available to you to care for something or someone. This responsibility is viewed as an honor. When you live out your kuleana you recognize when an opportunity is being offered to you as a gift, and you receive it with aloha.

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One of my friends would tell you it's her kuleana to care for her infirmed mother at home. Another knows that her kuleana is to work at the local food bank. These women are energized by the responsibilities they've taken on. They see their opportunities as an honor and not a burden.

So, what is my responsibility, my kuleana with the young women at our church? What resources do I have? What energizes me? What would make it feel like an honor and not a burden?

I thought of something Oswald Chambers said in My Utmost for His Highest: "The need is not the call; the need is the opportunity." Days later, the opportunity was made clear once again. I was approached by another college-age woman asking if she and her roommate could meet with me for a weekly mentoring time. My kuleana became clear.

Instead of meeting with these young women one-on-one, I could change the model. I would invite them to come to me for a weekly study. I had just finished writing a book with Tricia Goyer titled Praying For Your Future Husband. I could receive their valuable input for future writing projects, and they would get the attention, affection and community they were longing for. This was exciting, not burdensome.

An eager group of young women came together. They had no problem opening up and sharing their heartfelt insights and questions. I was able to respond to the group as well as to the individuals who lingered afterwards. I loved knowing that I was planting God's truth into the hearts of young women. That's why I write. That's why I speak. And that's what happened that summer with our group. The girls grew into a sweet ohana of caring friends. It was wonderful. And sometimes a little jagged around the edges, but it was real.

As a result of that summer study, one of the young women ended up moving in with us for six months. Another got in the habit of coming by every Friday on her way home from work. She loved to jump in and unload the dishwasher, chatting merrily, while I worked on dinner. Life upon life.

Another, Alyssa, started helping me with office work. The summer study knit us together even closer. Alyssa told me about a guy named Jeff. She also told me she wanted to write a Bible study for teen girls one day. I was able to give her advice and encouragement while she blessed me with much needed office support.

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By the time that summer was over I realized I'd been mentoring without trying.

That surprised me. My concept of the mentoring process shifted from how I'd tried in the past. Not once did I stop everything and go to coffee with a lonely, needy young woman. In fact, the women I spent everyday time with were delightful. Bright and tender-hearted and eager to know that they are seen by God and known by him. I found it effortless to confirm his truths to their impressionable hearts while folding laundry and baking banana bread. We simply did life together and it was energizing and beautiful.

Two years later, Alyssa had moved to Seattle and was about to marry the guy she'd told me about, Jefferson Bethke. I asked if she wanted to write a book with me and over the next 18 months we worked via email on a new study book for young women titled, Spoken For: Embracing Who You Are and Whose You Are. The book released last month and once again I'm gathering a group for a summer study.

If you were to ask me if I mentor young women, I would probably still say no; my crazy schedule doesn't allow time for me to meet weekly for coffee. But then I'd stop and say that actually, I guess I am a mentor. It happens in the everyday flow of life around our home. I'm using the gifts available to me; storytelling, writing, gathering young women, and crafting study books that have the potential of reaching far beyond the shores of this little island. I give and I receive. I'm not worn out.

More than ever I believe that customized mentoring is the kuleana of every older woman. It is an honor and a gift. Start today by watching for opportunities to be who you were created by God to be and simply invite a younger woman to come alongside and enter into the flow of your life. This unforced rhythm of grace in life upon life mentoring is elegant and messy and oh-so worth it.

Robin Jones Gunn is the bestselling author of the Christy Miller Series for teens and the Sisterchicks® novels for women. She has written over 80 books, including Victim of Grace and most recently Spoken For, which she co-authored with Alyssa Joy Bethke.