I spent this weekend at a Conference Council on Youth Ministry (CCYM) retreat, for which I am the conference advisor. After catching up on some sleep today, I'm ready to share some highlights from the weekend. The best part is always, for me, hearing the youth articulating their beliefs, sharing in what we call "deep thoughts" or witnesses - scripture-based reflections or personal stories of experiences with God.
One youth very articulately (if not yet boldly) spoke about John Wesley’s “faces of grace,” describing prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace. (I know for sure I could not do this when I was in high school!) This young woman, a PK (preacher’s kid) twice over, shared how her mother (on the Board of Ordained Ministry, by the way) compared justifying grace to the margin settings on Microsoft Word where you can make the left and right edges completely lined up (my preferred setting) – justifying grace is finally getting things lined up.
Many of the youth share their personal experiences. I’m struck by the common themes that they share – a sense of sadness, isolation, loneliness, putting on outward face while feeling inwardly different, not understood by peers. A sense of acting OK on the outside, while feeling terrible on the inside. I know I felt this way as a young person, and as a less-young person as well. Thankfully, God, always calling us, can break into this place in our souls and find us – but if it doesn’t happen . . . I think perhaps our role as people of faith, messengers of the gospel, is to help others realize God’s ability to break into this lonely place of our spirits.
Our keynote speaker for this event is a pastor from the conference, Rev. Jeff Losey. He brought a marshmallow gun (which the adults have spent more time using than the youth) and said of it, “These [marshmallows] are the hardest things we ought to shoot at one another [as Christians].” Continuing on a weekend theme of loneliness and fitting in and self-perception, he talked about how we behave differently for different groups of people. “Am I weird: interesting or weird: scream and runaway? Am I OK? Why do I act differently than I want to sometimes?”
But Jeff focused on our internal value as unique creations of God. Jeff asked us to think of what we’re best at. Whatever you are best at, he said, you probably know someone who is better at that thing than you. But if you think of the 5 things you’re best at, you probably don’t know an individual who is better at all 5 of those things than you are. “Each of us is the best us there is,” he said.
Jeff also talked about how we like to control God. He said he fears people who are asking how to pray actually are wanting to know how to pray in the “right way” to get God to give the desired answers, perform the desired actions. “We want to be God,” he said, because we think we know what God should be doing for us.