“Yeah, I guess.”
See, Kelsey and I were on a walk reminiscing about our childhood. She shared about the time one of her youth leaders grabbed her by the hair in anger and I shared about the time my youth leader grabbed me by the throat and called me an “Effing B.” Nice =)
So what does that have to do with Bob Marley? I’ll tell you in a minute.
Growing up I was constantly in trouble. I was never an angry or disrespectful kid, but I was always looking to have fun, and not at the most appropriate of times. But I had the feeling that the adults around me just kind of tolerated me. My dad was the youth pastor in our church and I had a sneaky suspicion that they all just kind of put up with me… because of him. I always wondered whether they ever actually enjoyed me or truly accepted me. With all of my ridiculousness, I had that feeling, in the pit of my stomach - never truly feeling known.
I remember two of our churches youth workers taking me and my friend Matt out for pizza when we were in 7th grade. We were so excited that they asked us out and we had an amazing time with them. I really loved these two amazing leaders and we felt honored to be with them.
But my fear of not being safe was confirmed when, a couple of days later, my father told me that they had shared with him that I was way too silly and that I had said a few “over the line” comments at lunch. They actually told him that they didn't think he had disciplined me enough. If they only knew :)
But I remember having that sick feeling again and I knew I had blown it. But my 7th grade mind couldn't get my head around exactly what I had done to offend them. I was really hoping I was safe to be myself - to be a 7th grade boy - I guess not.
I’ve been a youth worker for 25 years now and I know the frustration of trying to have a conversation with a 7th grade boy. But if these youth leaders had just looked a little below the surface of that goofy kid, they would have found a very sensitive boy. A kid who really loved Jesus and was wide open to their investment. But they never spent any more time with me, and I always wondered if I was safe to be me, whatever that me was in that moment, on that day.
Now back to Bob Marley.
I was interviewing for a position 6 years ago at a church in Greenwich, CT. I was in this beautiful home on the water, sitting around the table with a bunch of wall street hedge fund people, wearing my Bob Marley t-shirt. Will they hire me if I’m not wearing Vineyard Vines or Brooks Brothers? Will they hire me if I tell an off color joke and wear my flip flops? I was very intentional, doing all of this on purpose. But I just realized today, on the walk with Kelsey, this goes back to youth group for me.
Yes, my youth leader did indeed grab me by the throat and curse at me… ugh! But I guess at times I’m still that kid wondering if my youth leader likes me.
We are all in relationships with amazing students, many of whom constantly feel misunderstood. They are always wondering if you actually enjoy them, accept them, like them. The essence of what we do is to create environments where students can experience the warmth of God. We have the mission of helping them realize that God not only loves them, but he really likes them, and they discover that through us. We let them know that the God of the universe enjoys them, just as they are. What a divine calling!
I just love it!
And by the way, I did get that job in Greenwich, CT and I never wore Bob Marley again.