Youth Ministers: The Front Line

I am so grateful.  This past week we had over 50 youth ministers here for a retreat. It was a great time.  Sometimes, it can get really hard just ministering to high school teenagers who might or might not reject what you have to say.  It was rejuvenating to visit and talk with peers.  Others who believe the same thing that I do.  Others who are going through the same things that I am.  I had a wonderful time.

But something struck me on both nights of the retreat.  At the end of the night we just allowed the youth ministers to just share what they were feeling and what they were going through. . . . it was heart wrenching.

They were tired.  They were exhausted.  They did not have much to give.  The responsibility of the world weighed on their shoulders.  I can relate because I was a minister last year.  I know what it feels like.  I know what it feels like to be fighting everyone at your parish, to be pouring so much into teens who sometimes just don’t care.  I know what it feels to be striving for holiness and have no clue how to go about doing that.  I know how hard it is to fight the good fight.  It’s hard.

As they were sharing I got a really awesome image in my head.  It was an image of a soldiers barracks.  It is empty right now.  There is dust on the floor because people have been gone for so long.  Locker doors are partly left open in the rush to get out to fight.  The lights are off but there is sunlight pouring through the windows lighting up the room.  The water drips from a faucet.  There is just silence . . . . .  The room feels as if it has been empty for a long time. . . . .

Slowly the noise of someone coming down the hallway appears.  Not of someone walking or running.  More like a limp.  The feet are dragging a bit.  It is slower than normal.  The sound increases and noises of others coming behind the first person are audible.

When they finally get to the door, it swings open and they trudge in.  A small squadron of soldiers.  Their armor is sliding off their shoulders.  Swords are dented and rusted.  Sandals are ripped and torn.  Some feet have blisters.  They begin to take off armor, some just plop down on a bench with a sigh.  Others sit on the ground leaning back against their locker.  There is no talking.  Nobody looks at each other.  People just give each other a quick squeeze on the shoulder or a pat on the knee.  There is only thinking . . . . Reflection on everything that had happened since they first left that room.

When they left, there was excitement.  There was energy.  There were jokes.  There was laughter.  Now it is just silent.  Everyone is catching their breath.  One on the floor begins to massage his sore feet. . . . there is even some light snoring. . . .  It takes awhile, but finally someone grunts about some of the activity that happened out there.  There are some murmured agreements.  Another comment.  More agreement.   Someone leaning against the floor has his eyes closed. He begins to giggle in the silence.  Someone glances at him and asks what is funny.  He just shakes his head and begins to describe an embarrassing story of someone else in the group and the mess they got in but were fortunately able to get out.  Everybody else laughs.  The person who is in the story even chuckles.   Someone else offers their own story.  Others begin to share.  Some are funny, some are dangerous, some are just stories of thankfulness, some are stories of wishful thinking.  Before long, a couple people have gotten the entire group roaring with laughter. Some even laughing to the point of tears.  There is a lot of talk.  The once silent barracks is now full of sound and movement.

People get up and move around.  Repairs are being made on their gear.  They are washing their wounds.  Some are stretching and some are beating out the dents in their armor.  A couple hours go by.  Stories have ended and there are only occasional jokes and conversations.  Everybody is at work.  Preparing . . . .

Time goes by and silence once again creeps into the room.  People look at each other every once in awhile and give each other smiles of encouragement.  A soldier in the corner begins to pray.  People suit up their gear as soon as everything is fixed.  Some sit again and relax.  Others spend sometime jumping and running in place to get warmed up.  They are preparing . . . . thinking about the next time they go out.  What will happen next time? How will I come back?  Can I do this? . . . . But, there is no thoughts of regret or going back.  Joining this army was the only thing for them.  When they first joined they knew there was no other place for them.  There is only one leader that they are willing to follow.

Silence begins to lengthen.  Everybody is just waiting now.  They are praying, they are recuperating, they are preparing.  An alarm rings in the distance.  Slowly as one they get up.  They collect their weapons.  They put on the final gear and begin to trail out the door.  Their step is stronger.  Their armor and swords are gleaming with a shine that cannot be caused by anything on Earth.  They give each other encouragement and prayers.  Some are strolling out with arms on each other.  Some are filing out by themselves using that moment to prepare their minds.

The room empties out.  You can see the dust in the sunlight.  A couple things have been left behind and now sit alone on the benches.  A helmet is hung up on a hook.  A breeze blows lightly through the room.  Windows have been left cracked open to allow the heat of the day to escape.  The battle rages outside but in here there is always silence.  There is always a peace that the group can come back to to regroup.  The room is a place that allows healing and growth to happen without distraction.

Thanks youth ministers.  I know how hard it is to be on the front line.  And I love you for it.  LOVEstrong

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