What voice are you in the lives of the students you serve? You might have more than one voice. Some days our voice may be encouragement. Others it might be conviction. Still, other days it might be laughter. We play so many different roles for the students in our lives. And it differs with different students and with different ministry contexts.
However, there must be one common characteristic of our voices, regardless of the content of our speech. We must be people who speak Truth.
No matter what we are saying, no matter where we say it, it's too important not to be people who are constantly pouring God's truth in to our students' lives. I'll never forget a powerful interaction I had with a teenage girl. She was struggling. I was watching her at her breaking point. And during the course of an emotional conversation, I had the privilege of being able to powerfully speak God's truth into her life. I quoted Jeremiah 29:11 and Psalm 139:13-14 to her:
"'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'" "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
I reminded her for what felt like the millionth time of 1 John where it talks about how we can be sure that we are children of God. I concluded with one of my favorite verses from Isaiah 49:15-16:
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."
As I spoke truth to this broken but amazing girl, I could not help the tears that welled up! I laid out the person God had created this awesome child to be. I spoke God's truth into her life! "The Lord loves you SO much that there is no way that he can forget you," I said. "He has written, engraved your name on his hand where he can look at it and see YOU each and every day." Her hurt turned to embarrassment, before (finally!) a gleam began to shine in her eyes. As we gazed at each other I concluded with, "No matter what anyone tells you, THIS is the truth!" It was a powerful moment I hope neither of us will ever forget.(I know I won't.) I'm sure you have had these moments, as well. They are the heart of what it means to be called to be a youth worker. Speaking truth into teenagers' lives is a vital exercise for us. And, sadly, we may be the only ones in many students' lives who are doing it. A friend of mine recently relayed a statistic from Stanford University about words spoken into the lives of children. On average in households where parents are professionals and highly educated, 80% of the words spoken by parents to children are positive. Only 20% are negative. Children's ears are filled with statements about how smart, fast, beautiful, or clever they are. In the average middle class family, where parents have some form of college education, a child will hear about 50/50 of positive to negative statements. However, in the average lower class family, where there is little education beyond high school, a child will hear negative statements nearly 80% of the time. Only 20% of the things people say around them will be positive. These children's ears are filled with negativity: you are dumb. You are slow. You are ugly. You are unwanted. You are not enough.
This is heartbreaking, as it flies in the face of the tremendous value God sees in every single one of us.
Teenagers need to hear the Truth about who they are! And you may be the only one who will bring this truth to their lives. Recently, I sat on my couch with a vibrant young woman who is petrified that she will never be anything more than her older sister, who is in jail. She's worried she'll be "stuck" in the Projects in a job that she hates forever. Why? Because she has been told this! Her mother has told her she might as well accept that life is hard and you go nowhere. She feels bombarded constantly with "what she is not." Se rarely gets to hear who she is! The sad reality is that when you're constantly fed lies you begin to believe them. As youth workers, we absolutely must take seriously the call to be the voice of Truth in these students' lives. We must let them know that God does not want any of them to merely survive. He longs for them to THRIVE! Brick by brick, so many students in this generation are building walls around themselves. Before we'll even call them "grown ups," they'll have shut the world in, when they believe that they are shutting it out. They will harden their hearts. It's up to us to speak Truth. God's truth alone is capable of powerfully casting a vision for all that He intends for us to be.