With tears rolling down his cheek, he shared the struggles he has been facing at home. The hidden feelings in the darkness that had been living right under the surface poured out as he recounted the real story of his life. Amidst muddled apologies for the tears, he broke down before me as his truth emerged out into the light. Eight hours away from home, the silly songs and the fun with friends were relief from the reality he faced at home. But no amount of distance could cause him to forget or ignore the places of hurt that have become all too familiar.
Though the particulars of his story were unique, the sense of sorrow mirrored countless other conversations I had at camp as I lent an ear and a voice of assurance to many others whose words and expressions voiced the hurt that they had been feeling.
Too often, we shame young people for being so “dramatic” when they find an emotion so overwhelming that they feel as if they will crumble before our very eyes. When we, as adults who have developed our walls of self-protection and survival, are the ones who must repent. Kenda Creasy Deans describes young people as “God’s most combustible creations” for they are the ones who still feel most deeply the thrill of love and the pain of nothingness. Andy Root writes that youth ministry at its best must start “knee-deep in the crisis” where youth are invited to “articulate their experiences of being stuck, small, or broken.” For our community, that means starting at the stories of divorce, addiction, helplessness, abandonment, and failure. It means telling the stories of the disappointment, fear, and jealousy.
As people of faith, we begin our search for God and God’s Good news too often in our minds than in our hearts. We discuss God in a philosophical sense rather than seeking God in the particulars of our own lives and the lives of those that surround us. We are tempted then to worship a God that lives in the world of hypotheticals and ideals rather than one that finds home in our own broken and hidden places. I believe that God is found most profoundly in the actual living of our lives for God is the one who took on flesh and bone in a particular time and place through the life of Jesus who transformed the lives of all those he met along the way.
Throughout the week at Passport Youth Camp, I was reminded that the place where God resides most profoundly is not in the traditional “religious” moments but rather in the moments when we offer “home” to one another through a listening ear and an open embrace.
To preach that we are to be light of the world, we must be willing to walk into the darkness with young people – for it is in darkness that LIGHT has the power to transform our reality.
To preach that we are “tagged” by God as the ones who are “it” to share the Gospel, we must be willing to lend an ear to places of hurt in people of all ages – for it is in the place of bad news that the GOOD NEWS has the power to resurrect our brokenness.
To practice what we preach, may we discover that God’s table is not chained inside the sanctuary walls but is to be found in the presence of those surrounded by darkness and weighed down by bad news. At the table, may we feast together on the hope, peace, joy, and love that will enable us to walk this journey together as a thinking, feeling, healing community of faith.