The value that we place on something is directly proportional to the amount of time, attention, and energy we give to that one thing. For example, if NFL football is important to someone, it can be assumed that they spend a lot of time watching football, checking statistics, tracking specific teams and players, and analyzing games. In addition, they may spend time in the off-season following players, keeping up with the who is drafted to what team, and even watching incoming college students as they continue to develop their game. Therefore, in this example, the time spent on NFL football communicates to anyone that it is important to that person. If this is true for something like football, or any other interest, then it is certainly true for our faith. If faith is something that is important to someone, then they, too, spend a lot of time nurturing their faith by attending Mass, reading scripture, praying, reaching out to those in need, and even becoming involved in their parish. Does this notion hold true for a high school teen?
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to watch one of our teens (let’s call him Kyle for the sake of this blog) play in a high school basketball game. Kyle recently finished his senior year of high school and was one of the leading scorers on the basketball team at a nationally recognized Catholic High School. And believe me, he had the three-pointers to prove it! In addition, Kyle has already signed a full-ride scholarship with Northern Arizona University, where he will be attending this fall. With all that being observed, it is evident that Kyle plays at the elite caliber of sports, at least one in which he will continue to pursue at the college level. Over the years, he has put in countless hours of training and practice to achieve the level of success he has throughout his many years of playing basketball. Basketball is important to Kyle, which is reflected in the amount of time he has spent with the game over the past several years.
Often, this tends to consume a teenager’s life, be it sports, theater, academics, clubs, extra-curricular activities, or a combination of any of those things. Perhaps the amount of time they spend on any of those things may be out of their control; it is, to some degree, reflective of important things in a teen’s life. Excelling in sports, achieving academic success, performing on the stage, or being a part of any group with a common mission are all important things and time consuming for teens.
The issue, however, comes when we turn to the topic of faith. Because of the busyness of teens, it often means that the one thing that gets cut from their life first is their faith. Out-of-town tournaments give good excuses for not being at Mass on Sunday. Studies at night overtake the amount of time that could be spent in prayer. And weekend performances drain the energy from teens where they do not want to show up on a Sunday night Life Night.
Getting back to the example of Kyle, what many people may not know, is that he attends Mass every Sunday. He also comes to most Life Nights (except for those he would miss if he were out of town at a basketball tournament), serves as a leader on our Core Team, and is one of our teen leaders in the Edge Middle School program. This is a teen who is dedicated to basketball, but he also is dedicated to his faith. He has broken the mold that we see too often for someone who is busy with sports and academics and eliminates the time spent on their faith. Kyle has communicated that his faith is important, and his actions support the importance of faith in his life.
This raises an important question: how does a teen like Kyle find a way to be committed to sports, academics, and his faith while so many other teens struggle? In Matthew 6:21 Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there also your heart will be.” If our Catholic faith and our relationship with God is something that is truly a treasure in our lives, we then place it at the center of our lives. When this is done, it can become a priority over anything else. It does mean that we do not spend time on other important things in our lives. It just means that our faith comes first.
What are the ways that this is best achieved and put into motion? If faith is truly important in the lives of teens, if they have truly discovered it to be a ‘treasure,’ then how are they to balance sports, clubs, activities, and even academics with their faith. Here are some suggestions:
- Build your weekend around Mass. As a teen looks at their busy weekend filled with practices, rehearsals, and studying, the first thing that gets cut from the weekend is Mass. Instead, decide on Friday what Mass on Sunday you will attend, and stick to it. Based on your schedule, this may mean attending a Mass in which you must wake up a little earlier, like the 7:30 am. There is a reason why churches typically have 5-7 Masses on the weekend to accommodate the schedule of any parishioner. Take advantage of your parish’s full Mass schedule, and do not let Mass be the first thing that is cut from your weekend, as it is the most important thing you will do all week. Remember, Mass is the source and summit of our faith!
- Layout your Calendar for the Season. Typically, a teen will know their game calendar, tournament calendar, or performance calendar ahead of time. They certainly know when semester finals are taking place as well. Based on these dates that may not be movable, a teen can decide which Life Nights, Retreats, or events they can attend during that season. Youth ministry calendars should always be accessible and distributed in a timely manner to allow teens to compare calendars and decide what can be attended.
- Stay connected. If a teen misses a Life Night, what can we provide as ‘makeup?’ While it may not be practical to offer three or four different times a week for the same Life Night, are there materials that a teen can use to stay ‘in the loop’ on what they may have missed? There are parent letters that can be emailed out as well as discussion questions that can be used at home. Social media can even be utilized to give a brief synopsis of the theme or topic discussed in Life Night, or even give a challenge question for the week.
- Pray. While prayer is typically one of those things that make it to many lists that you will read on this blog, we must remember prayer is what roots us in our connection and our relationship with God. It helps to consistently place God at the center of our lives. If we can place God at the center of our lives in prayer, then this can be reflected on the field, on the court, on the stage, in our studies, in our interactions with others, and most specifically, each day in our lives.
God wants to be at the center of our lives and everything we do. While it is important for teens and us to have a variety of other things that become important in our lives, will God be at the center of our lives, and will we continue to encourage teens to place God at their center?