One of the reoccurring things I have students do when I meet with them is to pinpoint a couple of things that have influenced their spiritual growth up to that point in their lives. It is an open-ended question that I don’t expect certain answers for but seem to always get a re-occurring theme over and over again. Rather than it being deep theological lessons from a sermon or lesson. More than it being an experience in a foreign country serving others. More than it being the tools and tasks given to them to do on their own. The thing that comes up over and over again are the relationships they have had with others.
When I was a young Christian a friend told me to read CS Lewis. I had never heard of him. But I usually did whatever this very persuasive friend told me to, and ended up devouring most of Lewis’ works. I was astonished that a Christian writer could be so creative and thoughtful and deep and insightful and accessible all at the same time.
We were created to know and be known, to love and be loved. We're all walking around with this deep seeded need to be fully known and through being fully known, to be fully loved. February has become a month focused on love. You walk into any store and are hit with red hearts and chocolates wrapped in shiny cellophane. There are rows and rows of Valentine's cards, stuffed animals, and candies stamped with words of sentiment. Combine that with the heart eye’s emoji and a meme of a cat holding a flower and you can seemingly express your love and affection to anyone in your life without really expressing anything at all – without knowing or being known. Because to know and be known might mean being rejected, instead of loved.
So, last week in my inbox there were two “news alert” emails.
One claims that 2016 was the hottest year ever on earth (during record-keeping times). Alarming.
More alarming: The other email reports that in 2016 Christians were the most persecuted religious group in the world; 90,000 believers died, or one every 6 minutes.
“I just don’t know what to do!”
“There are too many options to choose from and I don’t want to mess up.”
“So much stuff is going on right now that I need a break.”
“I need to get rejuvenated before heading into my last semester.”
I heard these, and more, phrases throughout the course of this past weekend at our High School retreat. You can call teenagers selfish, entitled, arrogant, brats, or whatever other stereotypical thing our culture calls them, but you cannot call them rested. Now, you might think you know or have the laziest teenager around, but one thing I always learn from a weekend with literally no agenda is that students carry more burdens than we assume.
From the burden of getting into a certain school to handling family issues that most couldn’t dream about, our students need the space and ability to slow down and relax sometimes. This past weekend we gave them that. It was a weekend where we laid our burdens at the foot of the cross knowing that God doesn’t scold us with our load, but offers to take it from us. We assume everyone is willing to dump their junk on to Jesus so we don’t talk about the permission that we need sometimes to let it all go and fall into the arms of our Savior.
What we find in those moments is vulnerability. Vulnerability with each other and with a God who takes us where we are and helps us take a step deeper into Him. Our prayer going into the weekend was that grace would be shown more than it ever has through our students.
I want you to know that from my perspective, rest was needed, and grace was received by a group of students needing the assurance that they are humans, just like the rest of us.
Every Sunday is unique, but most follow the same general pattern. We sing a couple of songs, say hello, make a few announcements, sing some more songs, teach for a while, and end with a song or two as we reflect on the scriptures. I love our pattern of worship at CBC, but every once in a while we stray off of our routine and have the opportunity to be a bit more creative.
Have you ever been in a dark place?
Years ago, I was coming back to my car from taking pictures in the Great Sand Dunes of Colorado (55 square miles of sandy nothingness) and I forgot that after sunset it usually tends to get dark. I just assumed I could find the parking lot. It never occurred to me to pack a flashlight. So it was a race against the gathering gloom, and I realized all the park rangers were gone, all the campers and hikers. I was miles and miles from any town. I had no phone, and no one to call, anyway. It was just me and the trees … and some animals I heard rustling around, coming out for the night. No lights, no markers, no path. I kinda started freaking out.