When my former students get together, they love to tease me.
Usually their teasing follows a predictable route: they recall any number of instances where I was stressed out and I did something memorable—often chucking something across the room.
Don’t worry, I never chucked any kids across the room. They’re way too heavy.
Recently, one of my former students—now a lovely young woman—came halfway across the country to visit me. In the course of her visit, she inevitably brought up some colorful memories from the days in which I was her middle school youth leader. We laughed and smiled as we wove our way down memory lane together.
But then she said something profound, that she’d never mentioned to me before.
In recounting all the crazy middle school events I used to host for our youth group—Glow-In-The-Dark night! Play-With-Your-Food Night! Messy Twister!—she admitted that her favorite youth events were simply the nights we put on a movie and kicked back.
“How can this be?!” I thought to myself. “Movie nights were the lazy nights for me—the nights I hardly had to plan, in which we did nothing exciting or memorable at all!”
My student went on to explain that they were her favorite youth events because she was able to sneak away from the crowd who sat watching the movie, and hang out with me in my office or in our student center café—just casually sitting there and talking with me, the other leaders and the few other kids who chose to do the same thing.
To her, the moments that mattered most were the moments in which she simply enjoyed friendship.
Ironically, as I started to recall all these moments, I realized that many of those moments had happened in the midst of me being stressed and busy and overwhelmed by some other pressing task.
And perhaps those moments mattered all that much more because I was under stress.
You see, who we really are cannot be disguised in those hectic moments. When we’re not on stage, when we’re without script and when we don’t have a lesson plan or study guide in our hands, our true character comes out.
Let’s face it—our true character is pretty often flawed. Often, all those traits we try to so carefully hide (for me, my short supply of patience, for example) reveal themselves in those moments in which we’re unguarded and raw.
Here’s the thing with that flawed self, though—it’s authentic. And as we know, authenticity resonates with our students.
In a world where everything is perfectly packaged and posed, our students crave things that are real and honest.
And what does that mean to youth leaders?
Sometimes we need to worry less about being perfect and professional at all times, and more about really letting our true personalities—you know, the personalities that God Himself crafted—shine through.
We are, after all, sinful human beings who need a Savior just as much as our students do. And while we’re called to live lives worthy of our calling as Christian leaders, we’re not necessarily called to be bland robots who never crack open our true selves to those around us.
The most powerful relationships I see in the Bible came from people who truly lived their lives together. They weren’t the sort of relationships that came merely from sitting in class twice a week and dutifully taking notes, or attending a retreat or a workshop once a year.
No, the most powerful relationships came about when people lived life side-by-side with authenticity. It happened as they grabbed dinner, did chores, dragged nets and sailed boats together. It happened as they gathered crops or hunted or scrubbed the floor together.
Likewise, we can have powerful relationships with those around us by living lives of authenticity and truth—even in the midst of our stress and day-to-day frustrations.
Ultimately, those days when we’re pushing a broom together to clean up powdered sugar after donut-limbo or mopping up orange juice from our Play-With-Your-Food Night are the times that may impact our students’ lives the most.
I recently read a quote by Bruce Lee that gave me pause to think and reflect: “The successful warrior is the average man with laser focus.”
Our laser focus, as Christians, is to live in the knowledge that Jesus Christ forgives and adores us, and offers us an eternity of bliss to enjoy with Him—and to share that truth with others. As 1 John 4:9-11 tells us, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
When this message remains our laser focus—the truth that captivates all of our thoughts, actions and words—then we are truly living lives that reach all those around us.
And with that focus on Christ firmly in place, we can live authentically and uniquely, as God created us—even when we’re rushing to finish a Bible study on movie night with our students, or dealing with frustrations or trying to handle an unbelievably challenging load of duties.
Just perhaps not when we’re chucking kids across the room, though…