I walk into the mustard yellow-walled youth room. Minutes before they’d called my name out after worship: “make sure that later you meet our new youth director, Maddie!” Everyone had turned to face me, sitting in a back row by myself. I waved, sheepishly. The whole process of arriving at this position has been so clearly the Lord, but even as I thought back to His evident hand throughout the process, the butterflies in my stomach wouldn’t go away.
Flicking on the lights, a trail of students behind me, I find that I’m clutching the lesson plans in my hand. I know these are good, I remind myself. I’ve had three years of training to write youth group lessons like this; my professors would be proud. What’s more, it’s clear that I’m not doing this in my own strength. For as competent and prepared as my lessons feel, humility overwhelms my heart. It’s all you Jesus, I sigh, as I set my things down on the table. How is it possible to feel simultaneously so equipped and yet so inadequate? I just want these kids to like me. No, no. I want this kids to love Jesus! My heart wars with itself.
I ask my well-crafted reflective questions, only to be met with the sound of uncomfortable, judgmental silence. Pulling back on my approach, I start delicately probing into the lives of these junior high students, grasping for any indication of who they are and what they need from me. I bring up the memory verse and find that they’ve already memorized it. Who are these kids?, I ask internally, although I’m sure my face is communicating that question. I’m met with more bored stares and side conversations. Jesus, where are you? And what am I even doing?
The seventh grader sitting next to me thinks he’s being sneaky, but I hear his whispers loud and clear, echoing the very words I’m fighting in my head: “she has no idea what she’s doing.” My heart sinks.
Oh, if you only knew, little twelve-year-old.
The fact that I keep pausing or stumbling over my words, or that I’m not asking questions in a way that anyone wants to respond to, may make it seem like I don’t know what I’m doing. But you have no idea that I spent hours writing this lesson, pulling out old curriculum building resources, incorporating educational materials that I know are valuable for spiritual formation.
The short prayer I offer up at the end of the lesson may give you the impression that I’m disinterested in your personal relationships with Jesus. What you don’t see are the hours that I’ve already spent in prayer for each of you, asking Jesus to give me His heart for you, praying that you would find yourself more in love with Him at the end of this year. That’d you’d encounter the living God in a new way through this class.
My inability to get any of you to share anything more than what instrument you play may make you think that I’m just going to give up on getting to know you. However, you don’t know that I already love each of you because I’ve seen glimpses of how much the Lord loves you. I already think you are amazing, that you are so complex, creative, and fun and all I want to do is get to know you. You don’t know that it’s breaking my heart to realize just how long it’s going to take to build these relationships.
If you only knew how many tears have already been shed over this new title, both in gratitude and anxiety. How much the Lord has already spoken about it and about you, youth group student, or how much the Enemy has been active in fighting back. How much I feel ready for this kind of job and how much I feel like I should still be the one sitting on the couch, rolling my eyes at the poor youth pastor who’s trying to get us to talk. If only you knew that’s what it feels like when Jesus calls you out of the boat and into something new.
If only you knew, that the two simple words of “youth director” carry a weight these days that I hadn’t quite imagined feeling this way.