Thank God for teens.
As a 30+ mom of 3 very beautiful, but very small children, youth ministry can be physically draining for me — being away from my family, finding a sitter to stay with my kids so I can run an event — I find myself pulled in opposite directions. And, in a Diocese where I am surrounded by 20-something, single, seemingly unattached youth ministers, I often find myself comparing my ministry to theirs.
I don’t feel young enough. Or good enough at my job. Or like I’m present for my family because I’m always running from one thing to the next.
And I wonder… Is anyone getting my best?
And so, as I packed my bags and loaded the van to lead a multi-parish weekend retreat with 70 middle schoolers, I felt inadequate. Upon saying goodbye to my family, when my 5 and 2 year olds asked with eyes the size of dinner plates, “Mommy, why do you have to go?” I found I didn’t have an answer.
Okay, logistically I had an answer. My own parish was bringing 14 people, I was co-leading the retreat, I was responsible for so much of what was going on this weekend. But spiritually, emotionally, mentally — I was tapped.
I went on this retreat fully expecting it to be my last as a youth minister.
I prayed with my team, asking to let go of everything we had put into the organizing and planning and execution of the weekend, to just let God be God. I prayed personally for the strength to simply get through the weekend.
And then the teens showed up.
I’m sorry, let me rephrase that — and then, the teens burst through the doors and the walls and the barricades that I had put up around my heart.
I saw teens who knew their schools would be closed next year put their trust in a God who would not fail them. I watched teens who’d been forced by their parents — literally, fighting in the parking lot — to come on this retreat enter fully into Adoration and receive the awesome grace of Reconciliation.
I heard the fears and struggles of middle school girls relieved in the knowledge that they were enough, that they were beautiful, created just as they were. I witnessed young men singing their hearts out for the joy of the Lord.
And I was inspired. I was renewed by their willingness, their energy, their complete and total “yes” to the faith and love of God. I found comfort in the Scripture I proclaimed to the teens one evening, “Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness…” (Ephesians 5:10-11), because in it, I found the answer to my own kids’ question.
I have to go, because if I give in to the struggle, the darkness wins.
We have to accept that we live in the world and it’s a tough place, a constant struggle between what we want and what God wants for us. Yes, sometimes life is physically exhausting, and it seems easier to give in than to keep going.
What we don’t have to accept is defeat. Exhaustion. Fear. Doubt.
The battle has already been won. Christ defeated the darkness when He hung on that cross out of love for us. I needed to be reminded of that. I needed the energy of those teens, to watch their complete acceptance of His love in their lives to remember why I do what I do.
And so, I thank God for teens; for the opportunity to minister to and journey with them. For in doing so, God allows them to minister to me. I came home a better wife, a better mom, and a better youth minister, because I didn’t give in.