The end of a school year brings with it the whole gambit of emotions as those of us in youth ministry take the opportunity to reflect upon the journey of the past several months. It is in this time of reflection that we revisit the “highs” and “lows” of the year, give thanks for students who have come into our ministries for the first time, lament those who, for one reason or another, have drifted away, and load up on caffeine as we gear up for the holy chaos that summertime will surely bring.
The end of the school year also brings with it the moments when we say “goodbye” to graduating seniors as they prepare to head off to the next phase of their journey. Just as it is for teachers, coaches, and especially parents, this time marks the best and hardest time for a youth minister. It is in this time that we celebrate the journey of our students, marvel at their growth, and give thanks for the time and the memories that we have created together. It is also during this time that our hearts break just a little as we know that our students are “moving on up” and we know that no matter how we spin it, some manner of “goodbye” is coming.
So as we prepare to make this transition together, here are a few things I want my graduating seniors to know as they take their next step:
1. You are a beautiful child of God.
I know I tell you this all the time, but I’m going to tell you once again (and again, and again) that you are amazingly wonderful and created perfectly by a God that loves you more than you will ever understand. This is important for you to hear now because as you prepare to head off to college you will have people try to convince you otherwise. You will have all sorts of people telling you that you’re not good enough, smart enough, or “trendy” enough. You will face rejection and you will see relationships come to a screeching halt. You will feel lonely and you will, at some point or another, question your value. When these moments come, I pray that you will be able to reach down into that place deep inside your heart and remember that God loves you and God did not make a mistake when you were created. No matter what you experience please know that you belong, are capable, do not need to compromise yourself for anyone else, and that you have so very much to offer to the world.
2. You will make mistakes, and that is okay.
It’s true, you will. You will sleep through alarm clocks, park in reserved spaces, and forget about a paper that is due at 8:00 AM the next morning. Sometimes, you will do less than intelligent things. Remember how I tell you to “Make Good Choices?” Sometimes you will, but sometimes you will not. You will buy clothing of questionable fashion (or practical) sense, you will eat pizza every night for a week, and you will take spontaneous road trips to the middle of nowhere. No matter what happens, please know that making mistakes is part of life and that mistakes are only bad if you do not learn from them and seek to do better in the future. Do not be afraid of taking risks because this is the best time of your life to explore new possibilities and put yourself “out there,” for this is how you grow.
3. You might begin to question your faith; this is healthy.
No matter how strong and secure in your faith you perceive yourself to be, there might come a time when you begin to question what you believe and why you believe it. You will find yourself surrounded by people who possess a wide variety of beliefs, both within and outside the classroom you will find yourself exposed to many different concepts, perspectives, and ideas and you will hear things espoused that you never have heard before. You might realize that Sunday morning is the one time during the week when you can actually sleep in so it is possible that you might not go to church regularly Through all of this, it is highly possible that you might begin to have questions. This. Is. Okay. As a matter of fact, this is more than okay, it is good. College is meant to be a place where you are challenged and refined. Do not feel guilty about asking questions and for coming at things a little differently than I (or anyone else) taught you. You need to claim your faith for yourself.
4. You CAN come home again
Perhaps you have heard the saying, “You can’t go home again?” Yeah, that is one of the dumbest things I have ever heard. Of course you can come home, and you will ALWAYS have a home at this church and within our Youth Ministry. This place is your safety net. This church loves you and will continue to love you all the days of your life. The people here care deeply about you, they want to hear your stories and continue to be a pillar of support for you. If there is ever a time when you just need to get away and come back to familiar ground, you have an open invitation and you will always find sanctuary here.
5. You will ALWAYS be one of my kids
This is true. You are stuck with me, and I with you. There will never be a moment ever again where I will not care about you, pray with you, encourage you, laugh with you, cry with you, and do whatever I can to help you succeed in whatever it is that you seek to accomplish. Outside of your family, I am your biggest fan and your strongest cheerleader. I desire nothing more than to continue to hear your stories and to share in your journey. I will never judge you, condemn you, or ridicule you. If you ever find yourself in a bad spot, you call me, and I will do whatever I can to get you out of it. We are in this life together.