I think one of the hardest battles that I’ve had to consistently struggle through in youth ministry is keeping hold of myself.
From the day you interview, through to meeting the kids for the first time, sitting in Eldership meetings, and talking with concerned parents, you are constantly working with varied and changing expectations. You listen actively, you discern the needs, and you respond with the subtitles required to pacify, subdue or waylay the particular ethics on the table. This can often mean keeping yourself in a constant state of pliability.
After years of this, I wonder how many youth workers today feel like their identity is spiritual putty – or in consistent flux. Foundationally wobbly, this youth worker becomes an increasingly good actor, increasingly desperate for internal stability, and increasingly fearful of being ‘found out.’ At it’s worst, this becomes a hollowed out shell with Nike labels and an iPhone.
The sense of this is hauntingly familiar in Johnny Cash’s rendition of the song ‘hurt.’
Very very rarely a strange things happens in music: A song actually changes ownership from the original writer to a new cover artist. I can think of two, maybe three times that this has happened. Hurt was written by Nine Inch Nails, but was redone as a stripped-back acoustic cover by Cash just a year before he died. The last lines wobbled out in his aged, baritone voice as,
‘If I could start again,
a million miles away,
I would keep myself,
I would find a way.’
Hidden in these notes is a strong sense of personal history. A fear of wasted time, and loosing touch with who he could or should have been. You feel these words testimonially deep – you know he means them.
Sometimes I feel a whisper of that same fear in me: Do I really know who I am. Have I kept a clear hold of myself? Have I spent so long trying to navigate the many expectations that I forgot somewhere who I am?
The answer this this – and any identity crisis – is not to look inward. That’s the humanist, or enlightenment (or dare I say millennial) approch. The answer is to look to Jesus Christ. Our identity is discovered and shaped by our proximity to Him. Our nearness to Jesus sculpts us like marble.
Dear youth worker: Keep a hold of yourself… by keeping a hold on to Him.