When You Work With Youth
Something started happening to me when I started working with youth.
A lot of things happened, a lot of things changed, but one specific areas of my life changed, because working with youth, more than most things, helped unearth the disconnect that existed between what I said and how I felt internally.
I’ve written on here a bit about becoming comfortable in my own skin, the journey to finding my honest voice, asking for what I need, and what it has meant for me to be confident in God’s calling in my life, without apology.
A lot of that came through long, hard work; from long conversations with friends, from mentors, and from counselors. But so much of the way those truths settled into my soul and absorbed into my thoughts without my even knowing it.
Because I work with youth.
Because I sit across from teenagers who can’t imagine someone would see them as worth loving. I tell them that I love them so much (and I do), and how deeply they are loved by Jesus (they are)- but that week I verbally assaulted myself because I kept dropping the same ingredient while I was cooking dinner.
Because I sit across from exhausted students, who stress themselves sick over sports, GPA, homework, family, and relationships. And I work with them on how they can make space in their lives, how they can leave room to breathe- but that week, I laid in bed hyperventilating and crying because I felt so overwhelmed.
Because I hold young girls who are crying because they look in the mirror and don’t like what they see. I talk to them about confidence, self-love, beauty-standards, and about how, yes, they are beautiful, but not as much as they are kind, brilliant, strong, resilient or funny- but later that day I wore a t-shirt over my bathing-suit, not because I wanted too, but because I hated how I looked.
Because I watch young men struggle through with asking for help, showing their heart, or engaging in anything that may be seen as “feminine.” I tell them about how the manhood that Jesus shows them doesn’t require ego, or false bravado, but is daringly vulnerable and humble- but that day my feelings were hurt and I needed to talk, but I didn’t want to look needy, so I ignored it and pretended everything was okay.
But soon this starts to change- it was slow and I didn’t even notice it at first. But when this is so much of your day, it can’t not change who you are. It can’t last for long as just something you tell people, without the truth of those words coming full circle on you.
Because when I work with youth and I am sobbing in a dressing room because something doesn’t fit right, I think about my students, and how I would never want them to feel like this, and I would fight tooth and nail until they believed how beautiful, and worthy they were.
And I am finding the beautiful truth that when so much of your job is to speak love and the honest truth of God’s heart for people, it’s hard not to start internalizing it yourself. The more life we speak into the people around us, the more we find ourselves being resuscitated and newer, better versions of ourselves are brought to life.
And that is happening slowly in myself, when negative self-talk creeps up, I start thinking of my youth, and how I want to be a person of integrity when I am teaching them how to reframe their thoughts. When I feel the anxiety rising, I remember the grounding and coping techniques I have shared with the youth, and how important it is for me not be preaching about making space for quiet and rest when I’m tearing my own hair out trying to be busy.
I’m not done. I haven’t arrived by any means- my self-esteem can range from this:
And it’s exhausting sometimes for the people that I stumble clumsily over requests for help.
Sometimes I still internally thrash myself when I leave my lunch at home, even though I placed it by the door and set an alarm to remind me to grab it.
But I’m learning. I’m learning to be gentle with myself. And I’m so much more aware of it now (even when awareness doesn’t always make it go away), now when I start down that road the names and faces of students I love are a big part of what keeps my feet firmly planted in the reality of who I am in the eyes of God.