When you work with youth, you receive the privilege of experiencing a full range of emotions. You get the giggles and hushed whispers for hopes of a new relationship, and the utter heartbreak when the relationship dies off. You rejoice over touchdowns scored, awards won, and valedictorian honors received. You counsel and mend broken friendships, crises of faith, and doubts about calling and vocation. All of these life events are part of the day to day of youth ministry, and it makes us feel pretty wanted and a vital adult in the life of an adolescent.
Then there are those moments you didn’t expect. The phone call in the middle of the night asking you to pick him up, and the subsequent conversation in the car on the way home deciding how to tell his parents that he wasn’t where he should have been. Or the message from the senior pastor saying a parent of your student has passed away, and you are at a loss for what to say or do.
Maybe its the week you spent in and out of a hospital room with a parent who can’t get any answers for their child. Or you notice that one of your students is wearing long sleeves, when its 80 degrees outside, and won’t go to the youth pool party, and you know its time for a confrontation about the dangers of self injury.
These aren’t the emotions we signed on for if we are being honest with ourselves. We’d love to stick to the fun times where there are no parents in jail, or divorcing, or disappearing. We want basketball games with good natured ribbing and team builders where everyone goes home feeling better about the group. We want messy games and laughter and deep theological conversations that end with everyone harmoniously agreeing to our point of view.
But if we start to get real about being part of the body of Christ, we did sign on for the messy stuff, because we signed on to be part of the community. The community where we don’t get to leave when it gets hard, where we need to be there even when its awkward and uncomfortable. We get to love students through the mess and the brokenness because we have a savior who loves us through our own mess and brokenness.
So if you are walking through the messiness of life with teenagers, keep walking, but make sure you have company. You need people in your own life to hep you stay healthy. If you don’t let your spouse, best friend, trusted co-workers help you to maintain boundaries it can get really hard to maintain your own emotional health. Have people around who can pull you up while you hold onto your student, and together we’ll make it through this.