When I first got started in youth ministry, as an intern not too long ago, one of the things that surprised me was how much reorienting was a part of my job.
Yes, at the heart of my job is always Jesus, but it was the some odd student for whom the heavy lifting rested at a table with open Scripture and heavy exegesis (not that that there is anything wrong with that student J).
The heavy lifting, the hard work of youth ministry as so often been the work of uprooting lies- the often subtle, subversive lies that have so wormed their way into hearts and minds with such tenacity and depth that the work of removing them is so exhausting and long that the temptation is to turn away and pretend like they aren’t there, to accept them as “well, that’s just the world we live in.”
These types of lies can be so sneaky that you have be looking carefully just to catch a glimpse. You will catch them in the all too familiar “phishing for compliments.” We write this off as pathetic, attention-seeking behavior, but more often than not, I believe these are the “cool” “non-needy” ways we learn to make it known to someone, anyone, that we need truth to be spoken to us.
We see them in those glib and often self-deprecating comments that a young person will throw out about how they are “losers” or “ugly” or “don’t care anyone thinks.” And in those moments, if you look, you can see a flicker of desperation, a longing that someone will contradict them and tell them that this isn’t true, affirm their worth and loveliness.
A girl I worked with once made the comment, with a laugh in her voice, “I doubt any guy would ever want to marry me. The most I could probably hope for is to end up someone’s dirty mistress.”
It was a joke, she laughed. But I stopped her and asked her, “why would you say something like that?”
What followed was a long talk about self-worth, respect, gentleness and how much she is valued by Jesus.
We see them in off handed comments and behaviors and beliefs about the world.
“I’m not like other girls…”
“Boys will be boys…”
“Girls are so much drama.”
“Stop crying. Be a man.”
The movement away from a certain race on the bus.
The quick aversion of eye contact from the other standing on the corner with a sign.
The side-eye at the man in the pew in front of you who smells, or the girl whose skirt is just way too short. These tiny, seemingly private and harmless ideas, that build up over so long and dehumanize us and the people around us.
I grew up believing that girls were drama. That the high-maintenance girl was the worst thing you could be. I believed that lie. I heard it in every movie, song, and in the words of the people around me. I was thrilled every time a guy friend would tell me, “you’re not like the other girls.”
But what happened was I grew up into a woman that to this day struggles so much with being honest about what I need. Because that temptation to be perceived as “no drama” and “chill” and “low-maintenance” is constantly at the back of my mind.
So I fight that lie now with the youth I work with, because it’s much easier to start uprooting those lies now when people are still trying to figure everything out, then when you’re an adult and think you’ve got it all figured out.
Not in a mean or bullying way, not in a shaming way, not by going off on a rant or tirade that would leave them shaking. But by asking questions, promoting dialogue, challenging ideas with humor, honesty and affirms the worth of our humanity.
This doesn’t mean you don’t have a sense of humor, or you are too sensitive, it means discerning between harmless jokes between friends and comments that come from a seed that was planted, that on some level they believe to be true. A seed that if left unchecked could grow into an entire outlook on life.
So, when a youth group kid made the joke that, “If Harry Potter were a girl he never would’ve gotten anything done because he’d be worried about breaking a nail,” I don’t jump down their throats with a feminist tirade but instead took the moment to talk about the beautiful story of friendship and support and respect that unfolded in the books, and how Harry Potter would’ve died in the first book if not for Hermione 😉
It’s the long hard work of reorienting people toward the truth of their value. And I have found it to be long hard work. It has seemed to me that people are much easier to convince that they are trash then it is to convince them that they are valuable.
At the heart of this goal is always Jesus.
He is in that business too, the work of not just saving our souls for heaven, but changing us here and now, of taking the way we see the other, the world, and ourselves and turning them right side up.