There’s an old Christian song that tells us about the seasons of the soul:
The season in the rain will end at least
A season full of pain will surely pass
The reason will be plain someday when love reveals its core
Such are the seasons of the soul
(Jamie Owens Collins – Seasons of the soul)
In our spiritual journey with God, there are always ups and downs. There are beautiful mountain tops that we never want to leave, but there are also valleys of the shadow of death that make us struggle and stumble. Our walk with God has its good and its bad seasons. It’s a comfort to know that these bad seasons are just that: seasons that will pass.
But what if we are in that rain, in those storms or in a season full of pain? Does that disqualify us as a youth leader? Should we quit temporarily, or even permanently? Can we minister to students when our own soul is crying out for God?
Yes, we can. And we should.
Teens are looking for authenticity more than anything else. They want people in their lives who are real and they long for a faith that is real. A faith that is never put to the test, that never encounters any hardship isn’t faith at all. If you are transparent about your season of rain or pain, your teens will relate to that. They need to know that God is there every step of the way and that He is right beside us when we walk through that valley. It’s a beautiful and powerful example you can provide.
Of course there’s a limit to what you can and should share with your students. They are still students, young believers and you shouldn’t burden them with knowledge they can’t handle. While it’s good to share your struggles in general and communicate that you are going through a rough time, it’s probably wise to not go into too much detail.
A second aspect is that often teens and students will love the opportunity to be there for you. Especially when you’ve been with a group for a while and you’ve been there for them, they will feel valuable when you share your struggles with them for a change and when they can serve you in some way. Help them make this practical by offering suggestions for how they can help you besides prayer.
When my husband became quite ill and had to go in for a serious surgery, our small group of students stepped up to help us. They cooked meals, brought groceries, helped clean and babysat for our son who was still a baby then. They felt grateful to be able to do something back for us after all that we had done for them.
Dealing with doubt and anger
But what if we have doubts, what if our faith is rocked to the core and we don’t know what to do anymore? Can we minister to students when our soul is in doubt, angry and confused?
Maybe, maybe not. It depends.
Doubt in itself is okay and I’d love for Christians to be more open about this. Students often feel like everyone has it all figured out and they’re the only ones with doubt. So sharing a reasonable level of doubt is okay, good even, because students can relate to that. I’m talking about the level of ‘I don’t understand why Jesus healed everyone and doesn’t heal me’ or ‘Sometimes when I pray I feel like I’m just talking into space’.
Anger in itself is okay as well and again, I wish there was more room for this in the church. Look at the Psalms, how much anger and doubt and confusion is expressed there? And they’re at the very center of God’s Word. If you are angry with God, it’s no problem to share this. Students should know that it’s okay to be angry at God, to ask Him ‘why’ when something bad happens, that He can take it.
But when your anger and doubt touches the very core of faith, when you start doubting the existence of God, the saving work of Jesus on the cross, when your doubt and anger are so big you can’t see anything else anymore, that’s when you need to take a step back. Our job is to minister to students, to bring them closer to God. Anytime that your own struggles keep you from doing that, you need to disqualify yourself.
Feeling like a hypocrite
A last issue I want to discuss is the feeling of being a hypocrite when we’re struggling ourselves so much and yet we’re on that stage giving a message. I’ve been there myself, knowing that I was far, far away from God and yet I had to stand up and give a talk. How do you deal with that?
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not wrong, as long as I’m not pretending to be in a place I’m not. That doesn’t mean you have to say something about what you’re going through (let’s not treat the pulpit as a therapeutic place) or even that you have to preach about topics that relate to where you are, it just means you don’t pretend to be perfectly fine. Be authentic without necessarily sharing the details.
Have you experienced such seasons of rain or pain in youth ministry? How did you deal with your role as youth pastor then?