When people find out that I’m a youth pastor, I often get a response that goes something like, “Oh, wow…good for you…I could never do that.” Or maybe, “I don’t know how you could deal with teenagers all day. I’d go crazy.” Or even, “I feel so bad for you…here’s a large check.”
Okay, that last one hasn’t happened yet.
The reason that people have a hard time fathoming what would drive an otherwise apparently “normal” person to dedicate his/her life to ministry with teens is, I think, pretty simple. But before I share that, I want to share something else and make what I think is a crystal-clear connection.
This past Saturday was February 14th, Valentine’s Day. Here’s the thing: I’m not huge on Valentine’s Day. I consider it to be a holiday mostly invented by Hallmark to boost sales. I don’t see the real value in it except perhaps it got people out of their fallout shelters this year and shopping again. I’ve never really connected Valentine’s Day to real romance; just the sappy, shallow kind of sentimentality that disguises itself as genuine. If you love Valentine’s Day and I’ve just offended you, well….sorry. (And I apologize to the newly-engaged couple right behind us in the line at Olive Garden the day after Valentine’s Day–the ones passing around her ring-finger, newly adorned with the engagement ring–put on the night before.)
Having said all that, on THIS Valentine’s Day I was sitting in the middle of a bustling food court (now THAT’S romance) across the table from my bride. Our 4 kids were at the next table over enjoying their food. Even though this was Valentine’s Day, I hadn’t bought my wife anything. We had decided together that we weren’t going to do that. We were in Maryland with our kids to visit the National Aquarium on Sunday and we were staying in a hotel for 2 nights this weekend as a family, and that trip would be eating up any funds that perhaps would have otherwise gone to the 20 karat diamond I was planning on getting her. Besides, I had written her a poem and took her out to dinner a couple weeks ago on a day that WASN’T frought with frilly cardboard hearts and obligatory rose-giving. I did it because I love to tell my wife how I feel about her.
So, there we sat in the noise of the food court when out from under the table she pulls an envelope. Immediately I thought (and I think I said), “Hey, that’s against the rules!” Boy, do I know how to steam up a moment, or what? I took the card, opened it, and I kid you not–drank in every single word of it. Not only the printed words, but even moreso that written note that she wrote just for me; words about how she feels about the kind of man, husband, friend, and father I am. Words that came from her heart. Words that I know were sincere, genuine, and filled with love. And I fought back tears as I read this card because we were in a food court, after all. I just love her. I love her so much I can’t explain it.
Now, back to being a youth pastor and the reason people have such a hard time seeing themselves in ministry to teens. People seem to forget the emotional side of God. Let me connect the dots for you. Teens are emotional beings. Some would argue that they are driven solely by emotions. Fair enough. They let their emotions decide their decisions. Their insides are raw, and so the choices they make are just as raw and often confounding to adults.
People have bought and consequently perpetuate the myths of the teen world.
Statements like teens are lazy, teens are disrespectful, teens are distant, teens are self-centered, teens are only interested in doing what their friends are doing. Things like this only serve to drive a wedge further and further between the typical teen and the typical adult. What most adults fail to recognize is the incredible drive of emotions that teens have. The years have not yet tempered these emotions, and neither has experience yet allowed them the luxury of mature perspective.
And oddly enough, I suppose this is one reason why I am drawn to ministry to teens. I believe that God created us as emotional beings. Consider the gammut of emotions that God has displayed throughout Scripture. He has been concerned, saddened, angered, overjoyed, and jealous to name just a few. Consider that God is even recorded has having “relented” and changed course due to the emotional pleas of His people. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is no stoic; He is passionate with emotions and has wired humans with the same ability to feel and even draw conclusions based on those feelings. Consider that we have been “made in the image of God.” Many might liken this to His form, His personality, and His character. But we must also see that God has created us as emotional beings.
I’m not a cryer. I don’t mean to say that I don’t feel sadness or gladness that would be a cause for tears, I just mean that it usually takes quite a bit to bring tears to my eyes. And as I’ve gotten older, I have prayed more and more for God to actually allow me the joy of tears. I have asked for a broken heart over the things that break His heart. I have asked for an alive and joyous heart over the things that bring Him joy. I have asked for tears to flow more easily when I am in touch with both the pain and the joy of others. And as I read that card from my wife the other day, it was a stark reminder that the tears that came to my eyes were given to me as a gift from God….our very emotional God.