We’ve seen it time and time again … teens come into Mass; they start attending Life Night and other Church activities. Then we see them spending time in daily prayer, meditating on Sacred Scripture, reading their Catechism and even reciting the Rosary.
Then, one by one, some begin to fall away. They approach obstacles in living out their faith; they question their beliefs; they fall into ruts of spiritual dryness; they fail in a devotion they were carrying out; they confront problems at home; they are challenged and pressured by friends; they develop an unhealthy relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend … the list goes on.
These are the teens that break our hearts. We see a great movement in their soul. We see the love of God taking control of their life. We witness their joy and peace. Then, all of a sudden, they fall off the edge of the map. We are at a loss for words – but thankfully, not at a loss for prayer. Often, we lack the words to discuss this phenomenon that has occurred in their spiritual lives. The reason for this impairment is that we are missing the link for why these teens have fallen away from God in the first place.
Well, I think I may have found (or, more appropriately, read about) that missing link that we often times overlook in these spiritual battles of our teens.
Jim Beckman, in his book, God, Help Me: How to GROW in Prayer, reminds us of the basic spiritual principles of consolation and desolation according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, and how they relate to a young person’s life.
“I find that many young adults experience a period of doubt and confusion and just abandon their faith. They don’t see the desolation they are experiencing as an opportunity for spiritual growth; they see it as themselves!”
These young people, and we as youth ministers, often forget the various battlefields of spiritual warfare. We forget to remember the intensity of spiritual warfare at the individual level. We overlook the seemingly small obstacles as intense moments of spiritual warfare going on in the hearts of our teens. We forget to pass on the message of this warfare to our teens in a timely manner. We rejoice with them in the consolations bestowed on them by God without preparing them for the inevitable times of desolation.
Desolation, in all its forms, and the whole concept of spiritual warfare is something that we cannot overlook or forget as youth ministers. We must remember, as the Church does almost nightly in the Liturgy of the Hours, that our “opponent the devil is prowling about like a roaring lion waiting for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We must be “sober and vigilant” against these attacks by the Evil One in our own spiritual lives and the in the spiritual lives of our teens.
Our duty as youth ministers is to help our teens map out the terrain of spiritual warfare and recognize the tactics of the Devil. We must demonstrate to them that the Evil One attacks the world not only in great ways, but that he is constantly attacking in little ways throughout their lives, such as trying to convince them to run out on prayer because nothing is happening or they are getting bored; giving up on God because He seems to have given up on their family relationships; or thinking they cannot be offered mercy because they have gone “too far” in an unhealthy dating relationship.
Guiding Through the Desert
To help the teens through desolation, we can offer them various tools for getting through this spiritual dryness. One important tool is to be realistic with teens and remind them that everything is not always “sunshine and lollipops.” There is bound to be a time when God seems absent or may place struggles in our lives, but this can help us grow closer to Him. While this advice may put a bit of a damper on all the consolation being received, it is a reality that must be presented.
Another tool we can offer the teens is our accountability. When we know or perceive there to be desolation in a teen’s spiritual life we can, gently and charitably, remind the teen to continue running the race because the reward of Heaven is totally worth (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) the “trial by fire” (1 Peter 4:12) that desolation places in our life.
In all of this, however, the greatest tool that can be offered to the teens is Christ crucified. Help the teen connect their desolation to the experience of Christ on the cross. Remind them that Christ Himself cried out, in the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34). This should simply call to mind the truth that no matter how deep the experience of desolation may be, the Lord hears us and is truly present with us.
Let’s be sure to join the teens on these dramatic journeys in their soul. Let us remind them that while the spiritual life has its ups, just like a roller coaster, it has its downs. Let us offer them the tools to be prepared to journey with Christ in every season.