When I took the leap and decided to become a youth minister at my new church, I faced my own heavy expectations. A cradle Catholic, I was certain my knowledge and faith would far exceed all of the other volunteers, many of whom are still in high school and recently went through Confirmation. High school students, after all, are self-absorbed punks who have no respect for others and no regard for religion or morals. Right? From my own experiences, my image of the youth was considerably distasteful. I fully prepared myself to be the beacon of light, the change that brought these misguided high school youth “leaders” closer to Christ.
Is anyone really proud of their high school years? Do any of you look back years later on high school and think, I really did have it all together back then? If you answered affirmatively to that question, you are either lying or still in high school (and you will discover years later that you were lying). My high school persona was as arrogant and foolish as so many others; I cursed too often, I drank, smoked, and disrespected my parents and other authority figures in general. Many of my actions were focused on getting a rise out of my peers – most of whom shared similar unholy interests. Seeing as how it has only been about five years since I graduated, I anticipated that most high school teens, including those in my new location, had the same morals and motives. I was ready to use my own story, my own faith to set them straight.
As months of youth group meetings went by, I befriended many of the teens, but I was making little to no progress. The youth group nights were going great, but my role was more reserved than I had intended. Suddenly, it hit me. These students were not in need of some faith transformation. In fact, these “punk” teenagers turned out to be young men and women of such strong faith, capable of inspiring so many others and leading them to God. Every Wednesday night, an atmosphere of community, hope, and love came to life in a large part by the twenty-two teenagers who willingly give their time to serve others. They weren’t just outstanding youth ministers, they were outstanding Christians. They weren’t just exceptional teenagers, they were exceptional people. Their brains may not be fully developed – but their hearts certainly are. I had failed on my mission to change these youth. They had changed me.
We’ve all heard the age-old saying, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I agree with this wholeheartedly; however, I would like to add to it. When you see others creating positive change, stop and take time to appreciate them, to praise them, and to share them with the world! I spent hours fretting over how I could “be the change” in an environment in no need of it. But there are many places that are in great need. Anyone who regularly watches the news likely understands our world’s need for a positive difference in the limelight. Amid the violence, racism, abuses and political differences facing our world, I have found a great beacon of hope, of truth, of positivity. I hoped it might have started with me. But someone already beat me to it.