What keeps me going?

It’s a question I think about often–frankly, because sometimes I’m not too sure why I do this job. Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s a special calling. I know I’m working for God, my Savior, who made the ultimate sacrifice for me without whining about it.

It’s just that sometimes my job can drive me absolutely bonkers.

Can anyone else relate?

Let’s face it–youth ministry isn’t a job that many people understand. You work extremely long hours, juggling kids with emotions that they themselves don’t know how to handle, pouring yourself into simultaneously leading, teaching, organizing, motivating, challenging, cheerleading, counseling, and a thousand other roles. Often, I’ll bounce from dealing with a student having the best experience of her short life, to another who’s completely crushed and dejected and thinks his life is over. It’s a rollercoaster for me, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Lately, it seems like I’ve just been hammered with one thing after another. Challenges with leaders, parents, and kids have been my daily bread and butter.

Just this last week, I had a break-through moment with a student who was hit powerfully by a Bible study. I had been praying for this particular student for months, and was elated to find out that something had finally “clicked” in his head and that he was actually taking this topic seriously. I was even more excited when he closed our small group in an incredibly meaningful, deep prayer. I was actually so happy that I agreed to take him and a few other kids out to grab an ice cream cone after our event.

And then it happened.

We were joking around. He tossed an insult at me that hurt my feelings badly. Without meaning to, he shattered my good mood and had me reeling back, thinking to myself, “Why? Did that Bible study actually mean anything to him? How could he say something like that after the break-through we just experienced? What am I even doing here, if I can’t make a difference?”

Up, and down. Up, and down. The rhythm of our lives as youth leaders.

I’m a realist, so I’m not going to sugar-coat this whole issue. Yes, ministry is hard. I remember reading statistics when I was a college student, which said that most youth leaders burn out and quit after merely two years. I remember thinking, “How could you quit something you’re so passionate about?”

Now, I completely understand. It’s tireless, endlessly challenging, and thankless. Sometimes, you see the best that people have to offer–but just as often, you see the ugliest sides of people. And sometimes that ugly side appears in the form of an unhappy student or parent attacking your lesson, your ministry, or you personally. In those moments, it’s hard for me to remember that this job is actually a calling–it feels a bit like a ball-and-chain at those points.

But here’s the incredible part for me–God has always been my Rock, my “refuge and strength,” as it says in Psalm 46:1. He always knows exactly where to place that little nugget of truth and encouragement in my life, just when I seem to need it the very most.

A few weeks ago, I was particularly drained and frustrated. I had finished up a youth event, and happened to be chatting with one of my youth who just started high school. I asked her how things were going, and she responded by spilling her guts to me about all the difficult challenges she’d been facing. I’ll admit, I initially thought to myself, “Oh, boy, am I ready to hear this after the day I just had? I’m not really in the mood to play counselor!”

However, in the midst of listening to her pour out her hurts and frustrations, I began to realize something: she was weaving a story of hope through her high-speed stories of woe. She was telling me–without meaning to–how God was working through her as she walked through these challenges.

This student told me all about the reality of facing incredible peer pressure at her school and with her friends, and how she had chosen to actively stand up against it. She relayed to me, in no uncertain terms, that she knew she was a child of Christ and wasn’t called to live a life of sin, but a life that showed Jesus to everyone around her.

I was amazed at her attitude, and told her that I was proud of her. Laughingly, I said, “I know popularity is important to you, and you’re doing some pretty unpopular things. How did you get to be such a strong and resolute girl of faith?”

Her answer?

“You did this. You showed me that this is how I’m meant to live my life, as a Christian. You showed me that Jesus is more important.”

Now, I don’t relay this story to puff myself up. To be honest, I was so taken aback by her answer that I had tears of shock and surprise in my eyes. I had been feeling so unimportant and so drained, that to hear her validate my endless hours of work and prayers was like getting knocked upside the head by the Holy Spirit.

It was almost as if God Himself was hollering at me, “You goof, stop feeling sorry for yourself and just realize that I’m using you in My timing and to fulfill My purposes. Here’s your wake-up call to that–living proof that I’m alive and active in these kids you’re teaching! Maybe this doesn’t always make sense to you, and it might be difficult sometimes, but hey–I’m God, not you. Chill out!” (Only, I’m guessing God is probably a bit gentler and not quite as sarcastic as me, of course!)

I once heard a quotation that resonated with my spirit–“It’s hard to fall if you’re already on your knees.” As Psalm 59:16 says, “I will sing of your strength, in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.”

Have I mastered the art of always being on my knees in prayer, or joyfully singing praise to God in the midst of frustration? Goodness, no. I never will, this side of heaven. But even in my deficiency, the Holy Spirit is working through me to accomplish His will.

To answer my own question quite simply, it’s God who keeps me going. He’s the One who’s been there through every challenge, every frustration, every time I’ve cried into my pillow and argued with Him. He cradled me as I sucked my thumb as a baby, and He’s still lifting me through the troubles of my adult life. He knows every mistake and every flash of anger I’ve had as I work this challenging job–but He still adores me.

God–the Creator of all the stars in the sky and all the planets in the universe–adores you.

Let that thought keep you going.