I have been leading the youth group at my parish for almost four years now, based on the LifeTeen (www.lifeteen.com) model. I started out with lofty expectations and these past years have surprised me with almost the exact opposite of everything I expected. It has been a journey and I can now say I am glad God didn’t give me what I expected… he really did give me something better. Here are the top things I am learning. I say am learning and not learned because I have a sneaking suspicion God will have to give me some more lessons on each of these points before I really do learn…
- God’s time is different from my time: I had really high expectations when I started leading my parish youth group: I wanted 30 teens right away, a dynamic band to play in mass and instant experience from reading lots of articles about youth ministry. Now, almost four years later, I still don’t have any of those things and I realize God doesn’t operate on my time schedule and expectations. This brings me to my second point…
- God’s idea of success is different from mine: The youth group still hasn’t “revolutionized” the parish and the afternoon mass the way I would like, but it definitely has revolutionized my life in every way possible and the lives of the teens that participate.
- Perseverance is more important than success: Or loving without fail, as Mother Teresa would say. (“Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”) Looking back at all the times I’ve wanted to give up (and the one time I actually did… then regretted it and went back), I can’t believe how much I would’ve missed out on if I had. The best really is beyond the hard times.
- I am just an instrument: Not only do I brush off criticism I receive about the youth group more easily, knowing I do my best and it’s not really within my control, but I also brush off compliments more easily… also knowing it’s not really within my control. When something incredible happens, I am amazed and I am learning to be thankful for God allowing me to take part in it, instead of attributing the success to myself.
- It really does get better with time: I can say without a doubt that I become a more mature and experienced leader everyday, and that with the passing of time I understand better and better what is essential. Also with time, relationships get deeper, trust gets stronger and more surprises happen.
- If you love them, they will listen to you: I heard a priest say this once and it really resonated. I can truly say after all these years that I love those teens. Sometimes they break my heart and other times they make it overflow with joy and I would give anything for them. They are listening to me… and this is a tremendous, terrifying gift.
- I am loved so much more than I love: The greatest compliments I have ever received have come from these teens, and their words are indelibly recorded in my memory. On my last birthday, after I had quit and then returned to the group, instead of being mad at me, they threw me a surprise birthday party! It was the kind of party I had imagined, but I hadn’t been in the country on my birthday to be able to do it… and they did it for me. See my post about it here.
- The Church is a family: The youth group has made this reality incarnate in my life. We are truly brothers and sisters… we argue like family, but we are also blessed by the special, intimate ties characteristic of close relationships and guided by our mother, the Catholic Church.