Prayer request time felt especially heavy tonight.
A local teen killed herself earlier today: the second suicide to rock our community in two weeks. One of our youth’s brothers is on trial for murder this week. Another of our youth will be moving to Mexico on Wednesday. One youth’s dad is being deployed with the Air Force next week. And yet another’s grandmother is in ICU.
I offered up a prayer for all these, and more, wondering if my words could possibly be adequate.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)
In many ways, tonight was just an ordinary night. We played kickball, ate hot dogs, made homemade Icees, ran around, got sweaty, celebrated summer.
I think that life happens, MINISTRY happens, in the midst of ordinary moments: the spaces in between the silly games and the heartfelt prayers.
As I drove home, I wondered about the spiritual resources we are passing down to our students. How are we equipping them to cope with the stuff of life, both now and for the long term? What have we given them through youth group that will continue to sustain them after they’ve graduated? It isn’t as though there will ever be a prescribed formula for what to do when life gets tough…they need their faith to be strong enough to endure whatever life throws at them, but flexible enough to adapt to their own situation and emotions.
Here’s what I came up with (in no particular order):
1. I want them to know that our God is big. That there is nothing God can’t handle, including our sins, our doubts, our questions, our grief, our pain. That in the midst of all things God is working for the good of those who love him. And that even though he’s big, he is always with us.
2. I want them to be able to pray. We emphasize prayer all the time at church, but all too often we present it as a boring, dead discipline that we do because it’s good for us…like taking medicine or brushing our teeth. But prayer has so much more potential than that; it is our chance to encounter the living God. I want them to be able to offer short prayers in the midst of their daily, busy routines. I want them to be able to throw themselves at the feet of Jesus and express whatever emotion they’re feeling. I want them to know that they can pray even when they can’t find the words.
3. I want them to be able to search Scripture. I have found so much comfort through the words of Scripture as well as through other psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Instead of just waiting passively for us to tell them what story to read, I want them to be able to use the Bible as a resource on their own, so that they can find what they need when they need it.
4. I want them to understand and appreciate the power of community. I say this all the time: this youth group is not an ordinary group of people. You’re joined together because you have the same purpose. You’re here for each other because you love Christ, and that helps you love each other better. I want them to really do life together, and help each other THROUGH the hard times: bear each other’s burdens, laugh with each other, encourage each other, love each other. And I really want them to experience true community now so that they will seek it out in the future.
5. I want them to have hope. Faith, after all, is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In non-religious terms, hope is “facilitating creative visions for the future” and developing resilience (Carey, 2007). I want them to know what God’s vision is for his kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. I want them to recognize that kingdom breaking into our world, to know that this is just the beginning, and to hope for what God will be doing tomorrow.
This is just a rough beginning. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What spiritual resources can we give our youth for when life gets tough? What resources have most helped you?