I had a soccer ball slam into my face and break my glasses in three pieces. (and a pounding headache to go with it) I got punched in the balls. I was taken down by about 12 8 year olds three separate times as they swarmed me and knocked me to the ground. I’ve been repeatedly hit in the head with dodgeballs. I was put into a head lock and had a bunch of kids jump on my back. Kids have painted all kinds of goofy things on my face.
There’s probably more, but that’s all I can remember after the brain damage.
Is all of that the result of a long year of youth ministry?
That all happened today.
Honestly, why do it? Why bother? Why should I be crazy and goofy and stupid and do things nobody else does because they’re goofy and crazy and stupid?
I wonder that all the time.
Let’s start here:
Firstly, God made us for community. We were never meant to do life alone. And I think that’s just as true for students as adults. Yet, starting in middle school and continuing through high school, college and adulthood, we’re more disconnected from each other than ever before. Thanks to technology, we have more relationships than ever. We keep tabs of more people than we could ever otherwise.
But, the same thing that keeps us connected, keeps those connections at an extraordinarily superficial level. It’s more difficult to build the deep, long-lasting and life-giving friendships we were made to have when we’ve instead opted for the immediate and the superficial.
Add in the fact that middle school through young adulthood is where we’re finding ourselves. We’re trying on a bunch of different personalities, and trying to figure out what works for us. Who am I as a person?
Add in the fact that the shift from childhood to middle-school to adulthood changes how we make friends. People shift from “proximity friendships” – I’m friends with my mom’s friend’s kids because they’re near me – to affinity. “I like skating, so we’re friends because you like skating too.” This shift from proximity to affinity ends a lot of childhood friendships in middle school, and often causes us to try to “keep up appearances” with the groups we most identify with.
This is also the time that we begin questioning everything we’ve been taught. At some point, everybody must ask themselves, “Do I believe this because I believe it, or because my parents do?”
I read a book about 7 months ago that talked about some of this upheaval in middle school and noted that most middle school boys have no real or deep friendships.
Ouch. But I know it’s true for many of the guys I know. And it was certainly true for me.
Add in the upheaval that many of the guys I know have missing dads or deadbeat dads and few-to-no role models of Christian masculinity anywhere in their lives. Add in the pain and heartache of so many of their stories, and you have a beautiful mess.
Beautiful because I believe in every fiber of my being that each of these guys can have a “But God…” moment in their lives.
Where so many people would write off all of that pain and all of that upheaval with a “So what?” or a “What could I possibly do?”, nothing energizes me more than to see the “But God…” sentence begin to be written in each life. I feel extraordinarily called. I don’t exactly know why, but the calling’s clear and persuasive. I can’t escape it. I want to be the pen in God’s hands that he uses to write love in the lives of students.
Secondly, I was introduced to two of the best phrases of my life while I worked at LifeChurch.tv. They were more than worth the price of admission.
The first one is this: “We will do anything short of sin to reach people who do not know Christ. And to reach people no one is reaching, we have to do things no one is doing.”
From pink paint all over my face to driving 20 miles out of my way to pick up or hangout with a kid, I think about this a lot. I don’t want to reach the end of my life, whenever that may come, and wonder: “I wonder what would have happened if I did more.”
How far am I willing to go to write God’s love in the lives of others? Anything. Short. Of. Sinning.
It’s a high standard. I can’t possibly make it every (or even most) times. But I have to be willing to go the distance and give everything I have.
There have been moments where I was on the brink of something ridiculous. The times I repeated under my breath “Anything short of sin” and did it, I have never regretted. The times I repeated under my breath “This is crazy” and I backed off, I have always regretted.
Anecdotal? For sure. But I’m convinced those times that I just go for it, full on, grab the bull by the horns and just do it will always be the best times of my life. Max Lucado tweeted something this afternoon that I think explains why: “Blessing follows obedience.”
The second phrase: “We give up things we love for things we love even more.”
I love this. It’s not even very insightful. Of course we give up things we love for things we love even more. That’s called opportunity cost and economists have studied it for eons. But do we really do that?
Did you ever think about it in those terms when you decided to pick something? What you pick shows what you love.
I’ve often picked poorly. Or I picked in a way totally inconsistent with the way I want my life to be. More often than not, the way I live my life is that I trade what I love and what God wants for me for garbage. The way I live more often than not is: “We give up things we love for junk.”
I do this when I want to hang out with a kid and make a difference, but I stay home and dawdle on my computer instead. Or when I want to go for a run or a bike ride but I stay on my couch and eat potato chips.
That’s not the life I want. I want to give up things I love for things I love even more.
And seeing kids begin to get to the “But God” part of their stories? There’s absolutely nothing I love more than that. I would spend down my entire savings account and spend every waking moment pursuing that if it were at all sustainable.
Thirdly, I wrote on my bathroom mirror a while ago a phrase I resonated with: “My life needs to be less about my life.”
The best people I know aren’t preoccupied with themselves, their greatness or the sound of their voice. But I am. They don’t care about what kind of car they drive, where they live, or how nice their clothes look. But I do. They don’t spend all of their waking hours trying to satisfy their wants, their desires, and everything that is the apple of their eye. But I do.
The happiest people I know are the ones least focused on their own happiness.
Fourthly, I take Jesus’ words in Luke 12:48 very seriously:
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
If anyone has won the lottery and gotten a lot, it’s me. From extra money every month, to abilities I know I have but I am not using, to all the free time I have. I have a lot. Which means one day I’ll have a lot more to answer for.
I know I will never use all of it perfectly. I’m not perfect at using every opportunity. I fail a lot at Ephesians 5:15-16: “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
That phrase – “not as unwise but as wise” – always sticks out to me.
It’s the wise that know what they’ve got comes from God. That everything we have is temporary. And we’re accountable.
It’s the wise that see opportunity when others see obstacles.
It’s the wise that know we get only one shot at this.
So often I play the part of the fool. Forgetting that everything extra that comes my way isn’t meant for me. Forgetting that one day I will talk to God face to face and explain why I squandered opportunity after opportunity.
I want to be wise. Making the most of every opportunity.
That’s my best attempt at explaining why I, a 26 year old man, spend so much of my free time with 6th, 7th and 8th graders.
It’s weird. I can’t fully explain how God can use my time. I can’t even explain why I feel so called, so drawn, like I do.
In some ways, it’s like Gospel. The Gospel is foolishness to the world.
So is spending so much of your time and money and abilities teaching kids about Jesus.
But to those involved, it is God’s power at work.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. -1 Corinthians 1:18