I began writing this in October and am only just now posting it. I hope it sparks something in you like it did in me.
I work and serve at Central Christian Church in Arizona, specifically in the Student Ministry. I’d like to point out that my story is just that: my story, my opinions, my flare. What you read next in no way reflects my awesome church or all the awesome people who work and attend here. So now that is out of the way I can tell you my tale of woe…
I love students. I love mentoring the young minds and encouraging and challenging them towards a greater potential. I love that, occasionally, they also do the same for me– a symbiotic relationship, if you will. But in the very same moment it can be the most taxing, the most frustrating, and the most disheartening thing I have ever invested myself in. There are tons of quotes from respected people saying that the best things in life are often the most difficult things in life as well– which is so true, but saying that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
I recently have had two separate freshmen ladies that I know and love approach me and tell me woeful stories about life taking turns and directions that they were not prepared for. Both involved them losing some part of their innocence and feeling lost and confused about where to go from there. They were clearly in a place of deep pain as the related their tales to me with tears rolling down their cheeks. I do not posses the gift of mercy by any means, but watching these two girls suffer caused me to ache inside. While part of their pain was brought on by themselves, which they were keenly aware of, the fact that this was something they had to deal with at all broke my heart.
So what do we do, as caring leaders/adults in the lives of these teens, when we have a fourteen year old telling us something horrible, wrapped in pain, and earnestly staring you down to receive comforting words of guidance and assurances that everything will be okay? What do we do when the spotlight hits us and they expect us to speak but we have no words to say?
In the case of these two lovelies, I prayed hard and fast that the Lord would remove my brain and replace it with his knowledge and wisdom so that hopefully whatever would come out of my mouth would be his words, not mine, because I was ill prepared to help these girls.
While I know my responses were not perfect, I also know that I conveyed to them both that I cared for them and I was there for them whenever they needed someone. I have made my own mistakes and have been haunted by my own sins and the key to being able to empathize with them was to remember that I had been there– in some ways I was still was (this blog is not called the Messy Phoenix for no reason). Was it my place to judge them? No, absolutely not. Was it my place to to chastise them and tell them what they did was wrong? No, absolutely not. Their own spirit had convicted them and they felt awful enough without me adding fuel to that fire.
They both hated themselves in different ways– I was not going to be someone else they thought they may have disappointed. Was I disappointed? Yes, I won’t lie, but does that mean I did not love them and want them to rebound and to heal? No!
The book of James in the New Testament of the Bible is one of my absolute favorites. While not technically considered a Book of Wisdom, like Proverbs or Job, I believe it imparts so much to us; I think this book is the slap in the face most Christians need in their life:
11 Don’t speak evil against each other, dear brothers and sisters.[d] If you criticize and judge each other, then you are criticizing and judging God’s law. But your job is to obey the law, not to judge whether it applies to you. 12 God alone, who gave the law, is the Judge. He alone has the power to save or to destroy. So what right do you have to judge your neighbor?
James 4:11-12 NLT (BibleGateway.com)
These verses make me think of Jesus’ teaching in the Book of Luke, chapter 6, when he speaks to a large number of followers telling them not to be a hypocrite; if there is some sin in their own life it is not their place to be pointing out the sin of another. We are, ALL OF US, in this thing together. No matter our stage of life, no matter our experiences, we all sin and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).
The beauty part is, in our brokenness, we have support:
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer[a] is overcome by some sin, you who are godly[b] should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.
Galatians 6:1-3 NLT (BibleGateway.com)
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, tells us we are to share each other’s burdens! Yeah! And if you are believing yourself to be too good for that, check it again because Paul tells you to get over yourself (clearly I am paraphrasing here). Jesus even tells a parable in Luke 18 that condemns the Pharisee for believing himself to be better than the tax collector.
Just like I had to do with these two teenage girls, we need to put ourselves aside; we need to find it within ourselves to lift each other up instead of tearing each other down. Does this mean we condone bad things done? No, absolutely not; that thinking does not reflect Jesus’ heart either. What we do is understand that, heck, we’ve been there too. I may have not experienced the same fall from grace that these girls did, and it may be I have, but that does not mean I cannot look at them and say, “You are beautiful, you are loved, and not just by God but also by me, and I’m telling you we can fight through this together. Let’s get back on track TOGETHER.”
I’m not sure this is the direction I initially meant for this post to go but I do know God spoke it through me for a reason and I hope you have been challenged or given hope by it today.
I’d love to hear from you! When have you been confronted with a similar situation and how did you handle it?