I did your job once and remember it well. I was 22 when I started and had energy like I could only wish for now. I was willing to do anything to give my youth a good time, even if that meant climbing on the church roof to watch fireworks on Canada Day or suggesting we all walk to 7-11 in our pajamas at 3 in the morning at a sleepover. Waivers? What waivers?
One year I had planned a youth retreat out of town that required a long drive on a bus on an isolated highway. The weekend it was planned, there was a terrible snow storm settling in for Friday night, and parent after parent called to suggest we postpone it. I didn’t see the big deal. The youth were excited and I didn’t want to let them down. I mean, accidents are very rare and we could drive slowly.
When some parents finally said they would keep their kids home whether it was cancelled or not, I relented and postponed the retreat to a later date, but I was totally frustrated. Why did parents have to be so PARANOID? Why couldn’t they just RELAX and let their kids have some fun? Didn’t they see the life-changing potential of this weekend? Didn’t they TRUST me? Didn’t they care about their kids’ faith?
The questions came up again and again as I vented to friends or other youth leaders during my two years as a youth pastor:
Why is that parent not willing to send their child to camp? It will be amazing!
Why won’t they let their kid do the mission trip overseas?? Missions trips are life changing!
Why do they seem so anxious about everything? Why do they ask so many questions? Why do they have to hover as the bus drives away whenever we go somewhere? Why can’t they just CHILL OUT?
These seemed like very reasonable questions to me.
But now – I’m a parent, and this weekend, I am sending my eleven year old son on his first youth retreat. On a bus.
And it is three hours away.
And it is supposed to snow.
And I am so sorry, beloved youth pastor, to have asked you every question I was ever asked. Plus a few more. (I am also sorry, in advance, for lingering at the bus and also for how many texts I will send “just to see how things are going.”).
But this is what I want to say to you, since I didn’t understand it then.
It’s not because I don’t trust you.
It’s not because I don’t want my kid to have fun.
It’s not because I don’t, more than anything, care about my child’s faith.
It is about some other things, that I didn’t understand back then.
It’s about me learning to share my child’s faith journey for the first time.
Up until now, all this stuff was the stuff I did with my child. Now, I realize, you are taking a role that marks a real change for me. I am thankful for you and I know my child needs more than his parents to teach him about God, but it is also hard to hand him over on a bus and not be going with him. Not to be the one he is asking about his faith questions. Not to hear where he is struggling. Not to be part of the fun stories and memories. To share this journey with you is a big change. Important, but hard.
It’s about this happening faster than I was ready for.
Youth pastor, I feel like it was yesterday that I nursed my child in my arms. I know that you see the already-very-grown-up boy that is ready for things like packing his own suitcase and moshing to worship songs, but I can’t help but still see him as the child that needed me to cut up his chicken fingers and sang along to Veggie Tales in his car seat. This all came faster than I expected, and it’s still a bit jarring.
And it’s about this being just plain HARD.
This child is part of my heart. And his faith is the thing that I long for most for him. It is hard to trust someone else with this important task, to invite you in, to remember that it is not about trusting you – but trusting God.
(It is also hard not to worry about driving in bad weather, I now realize. Sorry very-reasonable-parents of my youth group…)
So, dear youth pastor, please be patient with me and my questions. Send me a text once in a while. Tell me the good stories….tell me the bad ones. Keep letting me be part of this and feel like we are doing this together. Remember that we are a team, and that the mere fact that I am handing my most loved and precious gift over to you for this weekend is BECAUSE I trust you – even if all my questions seem to say otherwise.
(Also, please check the snow tires on the bus and for the love of all that is sacred make sure the bus driver doesn’t speed and also remind my kid to change his underwear).
And, one more thing, before I sign off –