(The following reflection is from my experience as a youth leader three years ago with a young man I will call "John".)
I couldn't figure out why John came to youth group. He was one of the "quirkiest" kids I'd ever met. He was constantly plugged into his music and he hardly ever took his headphones off. He had this thing about being touched - wouldn't shake hands or hold hands during prayer. He didn't participate in small groups or games much.....didn't say very much. Why did he keep coming? I couldn't figure it out.
Then one night he told me. I can't remember the circumstances but his statement haunts me.
"This is the only place that I feel anything."
There was so much pain in those words. To this day it makes me cry just thinking about it. (Yeah, even as I type this.) Those words hit me like a sledge hammer.
I never had a chance to really get to know John. To know where those words came from and why they carried such pain. John was a senior and he drifted away.....and I let him. Shame on me.
But God didn't leave John alone on the journey.
This past Sunday, John showed up at church. He came up to me and I recognized him and knew his name immediately...which is unusual for me. I greeted him by name - and his face started to beam! "I can't believe you remember my name!" he exclaimed. He shook my hand.....that in itself was a sign of transformation. We had a brief conversation. John shared that he was in college, doing well, meeting people. He had brought a friend with him that shared that John had been telling her what a great youth group we had here! He was looking me in the eye, sharing a little about himself, smiling........a completely different person than the one I met three years ago.
I still know very little of John's story. But I know this........
My perception of a student's experience can be WAY off - in good/bad directions.
The Holy Spirit is at work.........my job is to keep inviting, engaging, encouraging, praying.....
Knowing a student by name and remebering them is HUGE.
Providing a safe place to hear about God, know God, believe God, question God and feel God is important.
Dear Lord.....thank you for John. Thank you for remaining with him, pursuing him, engaging him. Thank you for the privilege of being part of his journey. May he continue to grow in his understanding of you..........and continue to feel and experience you in new ways. Amen.