I wrote this a year ago after some time with some former youth. I’m currently working on a sermon that brought it to mind and decided to share it again.
I’m starting my thirteenth year as a youth pastor at the same church. That is a really long time in youth ministry and a really long time as a youth pastor in the same church. I remember my current youth when they were mere babies and the first youth I had in my ministry are now having babies.
Over the thirteen years, I’ve shared countless moments with hundreds of teenagers. I honestly don’t have a number for you but I do have names. Names and faces; joys and sorrows.
It is important to remember the joys from the years. Those memories are life-giving and often help spur continued years of ministry. I recently experienced reunions with a couple of youth that had taken the Prodigal Son route and when they were ready to return home, I’m so grateful that I could help demonstrate God’s grace and love to them. I can’t capture in words how much joy that brought to my life to see them let go of baggage and grab hold of God again. It is worth it all to see them come Home, to see them shed the guilt, pain and burdens.
But I still remember the time when they “left”. When our relationship was broken or distant. And there lies some of the darkest moments for a youth pastor (and pastors and parents and pretty much any human that loves another human).
I’m not very good about reaching out to people sometimes. I live in my head and my heart a lot and I don’t say what I should say. Sometimes the emotions are so strong for me I don’t think I can say them without crying. (You all know my propensity for crying.) Sometimes I’m too scared to put it out there because I’m afraid of being hurt or rejected.
But if a card was sent every time I thought of you or prayed for you, your mailbox would be constantly overflowing.
I love you. Just want you to know that.
It doesn’t matter where you’ve been.
I’m sorry that I’ve left you alone. I didn’t know what to say and if you wanted to even hear from me.
I miss you.
Despite what you might think or feel, I’ve never stopped loving you.
Nothing you’ve done would ever keep me from caring about you.
Nothing you think or belief – no matter how different you think it is from my beliefs – could ever cause me to love you less or dismiss you.
My silence isn’t judgement. My silence might be fear – my fear of being rejected, my fear of bringing more harm to our relationship, my fear that you might be right in how you feel I’ve wronged you, my fear that I’ll push you even farther away.
For all my current youth and former youth
I love you.
Sincerely. No BS. No churchy talk.
I simply want you to know that I’m still here and that I still love you.
And more than anything – God loves you and will never stop loving you. His love is like this father’s crazy love for his son.