Of Crushed Spirits and Wine: On Being a Relational Youth Leader – Part 2
For Part 1 of Melissa’s honest post, read here.
But then life hit. Real, messy lives intermingled and all of us realized I didn’t have the answers. Our neat and inspiring little vineyard was assaulted. All the capital letter issues hurricaned around our safe little group. Cancer struck. Anorexia intruded. Suicide hung on our front steps. Love and Sex hid in our bedroom. Cutting was in our bathtub. Alcoholism in our closet. I wept with them as they struggled with the big questions of faith. And I made big mistakes. I was judgmental when they needed me to be merciful. I was too wishy-washy when they wanted a strait answer. When they wanted black or white I gave them gray and when they wanted gray I gave them black or white.
My love and concern for them, and my desire for them to follow Jesus, so great in the pit of my stomach that when I heard of them struggling- really truly struggling- questioning and stepping away, it eviscerated my insides. I didn’t know how best to deal with some of these issues. I had no good response about why cancer, or mental illness. I had no easy answer and I used the wrong words. I talked to friends and families thinking I would help and instead betrayed a confidence. I had students in my care with personality defects so glaring, and sharp that it made my brain feel like it was bleeding when they spoke, and students with so much potential and promise that it stung my eyes to look at them. They knew of my struggles, and of my specific thorns. They watched me crumble when my life was hard and they comforted me and had more of the right things to say than I ever did. They stuck it out with me even when I pulled away from them when it got too hard, and when I was too busy to love them very well.
I got to celebrate with them too. All the big steps in their lives: stepping out on missions, or baptism, graduating high school, and falling in love. I get to watch them become leaders and struggle with the same issues I did, “should I talk to her parents about this?” I still don’t know. I get to occasionally hear them say something that sounds an awful lot like something I said to them (which is as unnerving as it is rewarding). I am starting to get emails from all over the globe from amazing women I now get to call friends. These students gave me more faith gifts than I could’ve ever given them. Teaching me love, patience and humility when I felt at times that they were suddenly leading me. I’m still recovering. Relational youth ministry puts you at risk of getting hurt but the gift is authentic faith, both for you and the students in your care. The gift to them is that they will not be as disillusioned when they are struggling, that struggle doesn’t make your faith less real, but it makes you truer and therefore closer to the heart of God.
I learned it is easy to stand up and preach at youth. It is hard to let the Lord crush you in front of them and watch the wine overflow from their cups. I learned that they would fill my cup as well, and that it is about living life alongside and learning together about the grace of God. Learning that He loves to make water into wine…