I’ll never forget the day that a near-tragedy happened.
I was about eleven, wandering around the woods by myself near my home in rural Illinois. For some reason, I was bent on carving my name into a gigantic tree in the middle of the forest. I was halfway through carving the first “S” when my large pocketknife slipped and sliced my hand open.
In retrospect, it was a fairly minor injury. I merely gashed my hand with an incision about two inches long–but the amount of blood that gushed out had my poor eleven-year-old brain panicked. I packed my knife up and shoved a leaf on my palm to try to staunch the blood. Even though I wasn’t terribly far from home, I had a dire thought:
What if I die out here? All by myself, in the middle of a vast forest?
I felt utterly alone.
If we’re honest, I think a lot of us can admit that we feel that way in ministry. Often, it feels like we’re alone in our jobs, whether we’re full-time church employees on a large staff, part-time volunteers in a small town, or adults who just wandered in to help out and found ourselves smack in the middle of a job we don’t always think we understand.
(Psssst–even those of us who learned this stuff in college or have practiced it for dozens of years don’t always understand our jobs. It’s okay. Ministry is messy.)
As adults traversing into the complicated teen world of drama, emotional and physical chaos, and complex challenges, we often see things that others don’t see. And although I never want to underestimate the incredibly important role of parents and the vital influence they have in their children’s lives, we often see a side of their teens that they don’t see.
My peers who work in banks and police departments and offices don’t have a clue what my job entails. They have no idea what teens today are up against. They can’t fathom what it takes for us to reach these kids and share Christ with them.
And, to be honest, I think it’s hard for some of my staff members to understand. Like the proverbial iceberg, they only see the small percentage of my ministry that happens in the office and in meetings and events. They miss the vast bulk of ministry that happens when I’m away from my desk.
Judging by the number of leaders and youth workers I’ve talked to about this very feeling, I know that I’m not alone in feeling, well, alone.
Our feelings of alienation can spring from many sources–from being the only one at our churches who seems to actually care about teens, or from disagreeing with staff about the importance of student ministry and how it’s done. Perhaps you’re doing the ministry on your own and can’t seem to convince any other adults to join you. Maybe you’re given such a free reign that you wish others would ask what’s going on in your job, or maybe you’re being micromanaged so much that you feel the desire to reach teens slowly leaking out of you, like a deflated balloon leaking air.
Whatever circumstances you are in, know this:
You are not alone.
Even though it’s maddening, draining, hurtful, frustrating, humiliating, painful…whatever it is for you–you are not in it by yourself.
God walks with you, every step of the way.
Scripture comforts us with the reassurance that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), that He is with us in trouble, and that when we call on Him, He will answer us (Psalm 91:14-15). He promises us that we’ll have His peace when we trust in Him (Isaiah 26:3), and that He will strengthen us and help us and uphold us with His hand (Isaiah 41:10). Above all, Christ–who died for us and rose again, whose gift of Baptism assures us we belong to God’s family–Christ is with us always (Matthew 28:19-20).
That hardly sounds like a God who leaves us alone in our ministry to fend for ourselves, does it?
The feeling that there is not a soul who understands what you’re going through, that you don’t have anyone to go to, that you have no comfort or encouragement, that no one cares for you or your ministry–these are the deceptions that the devil uses to distract us from the reality that we do have a God who is present in our lives.
He knit us together in an intricate fashion. He knows every hair on our heads. He knows our thoughts, understands our secret frustrations and joys, sees our strengths and flaws, and understands our hatred of cilantro.
Ok, maybe the cilantro thing is specific to me. But I know God knows about it.
Sure, the conditions of our ministries may be far from perfect. We may struggle with feelings of solitude on a regular basis.
But none of us are truly alone.
The same God who walked with Moses and David and Paul walks with us. The God who performed countless miracles in the Old and New Testaments and still performs miracles today is our constant companion.
God is with us in our struggles, every time we feel isolated, when we’re beyond frustration. When we don’t know where to turn, or if we’re fearing for our lives–even if we’re just a scared eleven-year-old with a bleeding hand–God is always with us.
First published on youthESource on June 24, 211.