Every once and a while the series of lesson plans I make for my youth kids were actually meant for me, and they just get to listen. And when I say every once and a while, I mean basically all the time. So this summer when I planned a 6 week series on doubt, I just thought it would be something cool and different to do in the youth setting. I had no idea God was going to use it to completely scatter all of my focus and challenge me to name where I really am in life right now. When I actually write that down, it seems dramatic. I wish I could say that was untrue. While I lay awake last night at 3:20 am, here a just a piece of what began to run through my head. I doubt that I will enter a new decade in 2 weeks. But in exactly 16 days, I turn 20. Though there are no major life accomplishments that accompany this particular birthday, it still continues to blow my mind. I feel like it was yesterday that I was making omelets in my 4th grade class. Or running every morning the summer before 7th grade in hopes of making the middle school volleyball and basketball teams. Or putting marching band bibbers on for the first time. Or giving my speech at high school baccalaureate and graduation. Or moving into college. While all of that feels so close that I could touch it, my conversations now consist of debates on where I will attend grad school and how I plan to use the last of my time at Furman. I just got here; how can I be leaving already? I don’t feel like I should be getting older and becoming an adult, and yet it continues to happen every single day. And as I continued to lay there this morning, I realized that I am about to teach a lesson to middle and high school kids that I don’t fully understand myself. My questions of “what good can come from doubt?” and “what control do we have over the attitude we create towards life?” were meant way more for me than they were for them. 16+ hours later and I’m still pondering the dubiousness of where I am. The reassurance I continue to cling to is that my job as the youth pastor to these kids/young adults is not to lead them through the vast and extensive knowledge that I possess (or pretend to), but rather to do life WITH them. Because in essence, we’re all just as lost in doubt as the fellow Christian/friend/classmate/relative/human beside us.
Friday and Saturday of this weekend sponsored our annual EVM Fall Retreat. Of course, this was destined to be an event of excitement because I truly love EVM. But I had no idea what God was planning to do. The topics of discussion were similar to years past and what I thought was fairly predictable. Love God, love neighbor, and love self. Easy, right? The doubt I had before was merely an ice cube compared to the iceberg that was ahead. After pushing through defining prejudice and how we live with that (because that’s a light-hearted way to begin), we pressed on the concept of loving yourself. What does that look like? Why do we struggle significantly more with this part? How can we love others like we’re called to do in the Gospels if we can’t truly love ourselves? This hit me like a ton of bricks. And from there, we persisted. Each individual (all 28 of us) was given an index card. We had to write the lie of a phrase we most often tell ourselves when we struggle to love ourselves. The index cards were then folded in half and handed to Maria. Anonymously, each one was read aloud. “I’m socially awkward,” and “I’m ugly,” and “I am not good enough” rang through the dead silent room. The emotion was tangible. The unique part was the reaction that followed. Our responses immediately rang “that’s not true” and “I wish I could do more to encourage and uplift the people who feel this way.” And that’s when Maria brought it home. She asked, “how many of you would be friends with a person who talked to you the way you talk to yourself?” Mic drop. Heart skip. Deer in the headlights stare. And it’s that kind of slap in the face that proves doubt has potential. Doubt causes us to question, to challenge, to reach out. You would never stand for another person to talk to you like that. You would never let your best friend neglect health and safety and purpose in their life just for the sake of a lie. Moreover, that is exactly what it is; a lie. Those words are never true. So just as we took those index cards to the bonfire and lit them up for the worthless trash that they are, we should all use our doubt to ignite something better, something brighter within ourselves.