Restoration

During Spring Break, I was able to work with a group of middle school, high school, and college students as they prayed and did service projects for neighbors around our church building. It was amazing to watch.

These young people chose to spend their week off of school serving others. 3800 homes in our community were prayed over. Over 80 service projects were completed. Relationships were initiated or strengthened.

And this year, we had a new element: a group from Brazil came and worked with us. Our students did their best to learn Portuguese and be able to communicate better. They listened well and patiently as English was translated into Portuguese. There were even times when no translation was necessary. Even though the words were not understood, the spirit of the message was. And worship was incredible. The following is a short video of one song we sung in two languages:

It is amazing to witness young people pour out their hearts in worship. It is so much fun to watch them enjoy working for others. And it is great beyond words to see them welcome the stranger.

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This past weekend, I was able to spend time with a group of high school guys for our annual Man Retreat. The purpose of this weekend is to explore what it means to be a man of God. Different men from different walks of life come and share their knowledge and experience. This year, a panel of women spoke about growing up into men of God. There is a lot of time for fun and relaxation, but there is also time of service and worship. It is a great weekend.

And the best part is: it is planned by the high school students themselves. They name the speakers they want to hear from. They come up with the topics and questions. They decide what volunteer service projects they want to do. They lead the worship.

This group of teenagers has already figured out the messages they are getting from the world around them are not good enough; many of the messages are outright lies. And they recognize that. They know something is not right and they are seeking to find better answers. There is a wisdom present that far exceeds their relatively young experience.

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At this point in my sobriety journey, the temptation is not so much using again. The temptation is to despair. To be cynical. To see the bad in everything.

It doesn’t lead me to want to drink, but it does lead me to want to believe life sucks and it’s not going to get any better.

And then I see a group of high school guys buying flowers and delivering them (along with hugs) to a woman grieving the loss of her mother.

And then I see a group of teenage men and women holding hands with strangers and praying.

And then a group of teenage guys tell me they want to be children of God and not just blindly accept what popular culture says about manhood.

And then I worship by listening to a song sung in a different language.

I learned early on in sobriety that I was not going to be able to thrive or even survive on my own. But for so long, I thought that just meant I would be relying on other recovering addicts—and I have relied on them to my benefit.

But what I am learning more and more is that the help I need sometimes transcends addiction and recovery. Sometimes, the help I need comes from young women and men who are willing to devote their lives to something they believe is greater than themselves.

They restore my faith.

In my drinking, I turned to alcohol to cover over all the bad that existed. If I was too sad, or too happy, or too troubled, or too bored, or too awake…I would drink. I would cover over my reality with alcohol.

In my sobriety, I turn to cynicism. I cover over all the good that exists with sarcastic reminders of how bad everything can be. I watch the news and the literal theater that politics has become and I truly think all hope is lost.

And there is a lot of help I can receive in a 12 step group, but my soul is restored when I spend time with these young people. They remind me that life is much larger than myself. They show me there is reason to have hope. They teach me what joy can come from service. They know how to have fun.

Some days, I need to be restored. Thank God for the young people who do exactly that.

Why I Tried To Quit Working With Middle Schoolers, But Failed Miserably

What would happen if we affirmed what our kids did right instead of criticizing everything they did wrong?

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I have just begun my third year leading a small group of middle school children during the Bible class hour on Sunday mornings.

One quick note: I often find it difficult to work with middle school children.

I struggle with patience.

I struggle with silence when a question is asked.

I struggle when I have to repeat myself with things like, “Please sit down.” “Please stop talking over one another.” “Please stop crawling on top of the furniture and trying to get on top of the refrigerator.”

In fact, I almost gave up on working with the middle schoolers this school year.

But something kept me coming back. This summer I did several things with the middle school group that were fun and enlightening. This past weekend, I got to spend time with 50 or so of the students at a retreat.

And something keeps amazing me in the greatest way: these kids love Jesus. Here is some proof:

  • No one was left alone this past weekend. Everyone was included.
  • The way these kids worship: singing, raising hands, listening to people read Scripture.
  • The heart they have for the outcast. I have heard these young men and women say things that some adults need to learn about loving those who are not a part of the “in crowd.”
  • I have watched them share communion together and wash one another’s feet as a sign of love and service.
  • They want to build relationships as they help people; they want to know who they are helping.

And it goes on and on. These kids are not perfect. There are still words spoken that should not be said. There are still jokes that are laughed at that would be better left untold. There are still moments when one person or a small group of people are excluded. Arguments break out. Crushes and “dating” at times threaten ongoing friendships. In other words, they are human. More specifically, they are humans going through an incredibly difficult time of biological and hormonal development.

I need to remind myself of this often, because too many times I get frustrated when they won’t quiet down soon enough. I watch the youth ministers and other adult volunteers and they seem to be much better at dealing with the chaos. They laugh and patiently wait as the noise dies down. (Meanwhile, I’m getting ready to yell and scream at the top of my lungs!)

They get something I don’t get: they see these young people as young people; complete with all the immaturity, silliness, and development that exists among them.

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Back to my original question: what would happen if we did more affirming and less criticizing?

My default is to point out what needs to be corrected. What if I could change that to pointing out what was done right? When I am frustrated with noise and chaos, what would happen if I started with, “You know, I love the ways you all worship. I love how you care for one another.”

What about making those statements even where there is no chaos? Why do I forget to affirm the greatness I see when everything is normal?

Here is what I am going to try and do, and I hope you will try with me:

  1. I am going to acknowledge the good I see as soon as I see it. These 11, 12, 13, and 14 year olds hear enough about what they are doing wrong. I am going to tell them what I see them doing right.
  2. When I see something that needs to be corrected, I am going to start with a statement of affirmation. They do so much right; let’s remind them of it, especially in the midst of a time for learning.
  3. I am going to let parents know they are raising good kids and they are not doing it alone. As parents, we need to remember we are not walking through this journey alone. We can all do this together.

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There is one more thing I need to remember when I work with middle school students:

It’s not about me.

One other thing I struggle with is my own sense of self perception. If the students are not listening to ME they are not respecting ME and missing out on all MY wisdom and life experience.

I don’t know exactly when I got so egotistical, but I really need to get over it. It is not my duty to mold all of these young men and women into spitting images of me (wow—that’s a scary thought). It is my job to walk with these young men and women as they grow more into the image of Jesus that God has called them to.

It is a privilege to walk through life with these middle school students and their parents. It is comforting to know that my own children are a part of this youth group with this leadership team and this group of volunteers. It is humbling to be a part of it all.

All it takes is to remember that these kids are sons and daughters of God. They need to be encouraged. They need to be taught. They need to be loved.

So let’s start catching them doing things right!