As a church youth leader, I am constantly learning how to appropriately work with teenagers to lead them in lives pleasing to God while simultaneously making being an adult follower of Christ look super awesome. This gets complicated. Part of me wants to just be their cool big sister while the other part desperately wants to compassionately slap them and screech, “JUST TRUST ME! I KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT! I SURVIVED BEING 15!” It also gets complicated because I am blessed with being the charge of a handful of beautiful 9th grade girls who on most days act like they’re 25. But because they are actually 15, one minute I’m talking to a perfectly logical human being and the next I’m dealing with some emotional creature from beyond.
I. Can’t. Even.
I began working with Rock City Youth in September 2014. Admittedly, I was initially annoyed with the fact that I had been given reign over the 9th grade girls. I currently teach 9th graders, and the last people I wanted to be surrounded by on my time off were more 9th graders. I wanted the cool upperclassmen who understand sarcasm, can empathize with my road rage and are basically adults. But I trusted our youth Pastor Amanda and went with the flow. I dived right in.
In the short 8 months since then, my 9th grade girls have become my heartbeat. They are the reason I get up in the morning: So-and-So’s got a Spanish test today. Get up & pray! They keep me walking in step with Christ: How can I help her with her anxiety? What does the Bible say about it? And they’re the reason God invented the Do Not Disturb feature on my iPhone: What the freak?!? You girls JUST saw each other 10 MINUTES AGO at youth group!! What could you POSSIBLY have left to talk about at midnight on a Wednesday??
The complications worsen when I see heartbreak in the girls’ path or suffering at their doorstep. I want to do everything in my power to be their Mama Bear and protect them from anything painful. My own heart truly shatters when I think that someone will break her heart. My insides groan when I realize that eventually she will experience soul-shaking suffering.
But what can I do? The tragic truth is that I can’t protect them. I am not their parent. I am their Youth Leader. This title comes with a small, yet crucial set of responsibilities. I am not their protector. I am their model and guide. When heartbreak and pain collide into these girls’ lives, I will be the one (God willing, not the only one) nudging them and prodding them to their feet and encouraging them to walk with me, not ahead or behind me, but shoulder-to-shoulder with me as we navigate the sorrow together.
Thousands of years ago, Jesus assured us that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”✝ Suffering is inevitable, and I may not be able to protect my girls, but with God as my strength and their defender, there is nothing in this world we cannot defeat.
✝ John 16:33