Sometimes things converge in meaningful and unexpected ways and you are given some insight or vantage point you might not have had otherwise. This is always pretty cool. (Especially when it results in a good [hopefully!] blog post.) Yesterday I had one of those convergences.
I was preparing to teach through a passage from Galatians. We’re teaching through the entire Book and this was kind of a tough passage to teach. I was studying, when I received an email from a youth worker friend I had been corresponding with. Pretty simple email, but this friend took the time to ask that I pray for him. He said that he needed some prayer, that he was having a rough day. “Youth ministry isn’t always easy or fun,” he said.
And so, I stopped what I was doing and said a prayer for my friend.
I resumed my lesson prep. I had read this verse several times during my preparation, but on the heels of my friend’s request, it hit me a different way. It was suddenly more meaningful. And it reminded me of the why of my friend’s assertion that youth ministry can often be “un-fun” and “un-easy.”
The verse? Galatians 4:19-20:
My little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.
The Christians in Galatia were struggling in their spiritual development. They were being led astray by the Judaizers. And because Paul had such a great personal and spiritual investment in them, it pained him greatly.
Look at how Paul described it: he said his anguish over the spiritual state of the Galatians’ hearts caused him pains that were similar to birth pains (surely there are some women out there who would, rightly, ask Paul just how the heck he would know what a birth pain felt like, but I digress . . .).
So, here’s a question that might hit a little too close to home:
Do you have such a personal and spiritual investment in the lives of your students that their personal struggles (spiritual and otherwise) cause you great pain?
Because let’s face it: when you invest your life in the life of another, you open yourself up to pain, and worry, and anxiety. You also open yourself up for great joy, and reward, and satisfaction. But those are easy! It’s the downside of relationship that is no fun.
So, let me offer these words . . .
If you are feeling the pain of relationship . . .
Congratulations! Seriously . . . congratulations. You are doing it. You are living the call. You are embracing relationship’s ugly under-belly. Wear this like a medal! Because if you weren’t experiencing it, it would be a mark that you are not truly invested in the lives of your students.
Consider the Olympic runner, sprinting toward the finish line. She is experiencing extreme pain, both the burning in her legs and the burning in her lungs. But it is a pain she welcomes as the byproduct of fully investing herself in the race. If she avoided the pain of racing, she would not only lose the race, but it would be said of her that she is really no racer at all. The pain, and frustration, and, yes, even the disillusionment you experience as a result of being in relationship with teenagers is a sign you are doing it right. Be encouraged. Stay strong. You are making a difference. Your work is not in vain.
If you are not feeling the pain of relationship . . .
If you are not experiencing the pain or frustration of relationship, it’s probably beneficial for you to do some self-examining. You may have remarkable teenagers who are above the issues most teenagers struggle with. But, while this certainly might be the case, it is far more likely that you have set up boundaries of self-protection. Chances are you are not truly investing yourself in the lives of the teenagers in your ministry.
Whether this is done out of fear of being hurt, or whether this is done out of apathy, it may be a beneficial thing for you to take some time out and re-evaluate your calling. Because if you are shying away from investing in the lives of your students, you are doing them and you a great disservice. God crafted us for community. Discipleship is supposed to be based on the foundation of legitimate relationship. If this is not happening, you might be doing more harm than good.
Let’s all let Paul’s words be a measuring stick for us. Let’s think about our relationships and make sure we are as invested as we should be in the personal and spiritual needs of our teenagers. To do anything less is to be disingenuous with our students, with ourselves, and with God.