I cried like a baby during The Gathering this week. Not dainty, single tear-cried, like, I had to get up and walk to the back of the room for a napkin-cried.
If you weren’t there, Lance kicked off a sermon series talking about the Focus First initiatives and spaces where the church wants to innovate and encourage and explore heading into the future (tear-jerker already, I know). His first one was about youth — in his words, our church’s dream of becoming the spiritual home for youth in Fort Worth.
He talked about the ways in which our youth are desperately in need of hope, of Good News, and how we as the church can be the community that provides it. Young people have lived their whole lives in a world that is awash in anxiety in the present, and insecurity about the future. They have lived their whole lives in a post-Columbine, post-9/11 world, and they were young children during the 2008 recession. They have lived their whole lives online, and, in the window of their lives where they are most vulnerable to bullying, self-esteem issues, body issues, social pressure, and social anxiety, they are under the constant scrutiny of friends, classmates, and strangers through social media feeds.
Young people are desperately in need of hope, of an image of life that is better than what they have, and adults, adults in the church, are the ones who can offer it to them. And, as Lance pointed out then, that “adults” don’t mean Matt and I. It means you. We serve as reflections and windows to help them process where they are now, you are the models of who they could be. We are the professionals in navigating adolescence, but you are the representatives of adulthood. They see us as cave guides, they see you as those who have already come out the other side. The challenge Lance (and I) then offer is simple: show them an adult life worth trekking through the cave for.
I loved hearing Lance articulate the need for all adults to be part of the task of raising our teenagers. But, in all honesty, that’s not the moment that got me. That maybe got me to dainty, single tear-crying, but the real hit was at the end.
Lance had asked me to make cards with all of our youths first names on them. I made two sets of 228 different cards, each with the names of the 228 kids who, in some way, participate in our community. He mentioned that he wanted a short prayer at the top of them, and I (3 hours out from 35 middle schoolers arriving for a lock-in) jotted down the first one-sentence prayer that came to my mind,
“God, please be with (student), may they know how much we love them, and how much You love them.”
I essentially forgot about it (because, you know, there was a middle school lock-in) until I got to the end of The Gathering service on Sunday. As I grabbed my card and read it, it struck me, that prayer — “may they know how much we love them, and how much You love them” — wasn’t random.
It was the prayer that my parents ended my sister and I’s bedtime prayers with. My parents prayed for us out loud every night before bed, as little kids that were kneeling at our bedsides, as teenagers, that were over a hug, and even now as adults, when my sister and I are home, we find ourselves, when the first person gets up to go to bed, huddling up and praying together. We rotated off praying, we prayed for different things, but it always, always ended the same way, I hear it in my mom’s voice still,
“God be with Linda and Katharine (yes, my parents call me Katharine), may they know how much we love them, and how much You love them.”
So as I sat in The Gathering, looking at that prayer, I heard Lance invite the whole congregation to say the prayer out loud together, and I heard hundreds of people around me, saying the prayer of my parents, speaking the words of my mother, over the 228 kids I love so much. That’s when I really cried.
Because my parents were the ones who showed me an adult Christian life worth fighting for. My mother sat (sits) in the same chair every morning for devotionals, my parents brought us to church twice a week. The amount of childhood memories I have at the church is second in number and poignance only to my parents’ house. My heart is chock-full thinking of swinging under the railing in the fellowship hall and sneaking extra sweet rolls, of putting quarters in an offering plate, and sitting on the floor of the youth house. My mom’s best friends were people from church, and even at a church roughly the same size as First Church, it always seemed like we knew everybody. Services got out at noon, and we regularly didn’t leave the sanctuary until 12:20 because of the amount of people mom had to stop to talk to (Dad had friends too, but he usually opted to go get the car and try to catch kick-off on the radio).
So when I heard the prayer of my parents, I cried. Because I had only slept 2 hours the night before (remember the lock-in?) but also because of the way that God moves in small acts of faithfulness, of the way that we are so deeply rooted in the communities of faith that shape us, and because of the way that this community is shaping so many more.
Love the teenagers in your life. Learn their names. Welcome them. Model for them a Christian life worth sticking it out for. And in everything you do, in your words, your actions, and in your prayers, remind them of how much God loves them, and of how much you love them.
Director of Youth Ministries