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Friday, March 04, 2005

Putting my Money where my Mouth is

A few days ago, I made a post about how I've been contemplating the nature of weakness in the Christian life.

It's amazing how passionate we can be when we start thinking about God's truth, his power, and how much his grace can change our lives. And then God tells us to put our money where our mouth is.

I'm still reeling a bit, so this will probably be more random ramblings than a coherent thesis followed by support, conclusion and a few nice points of application. My LIFE is application! The basic story is that I lead a small group of high school girls in a youth group. I normally have four or five girls, all of whom have very different personalities. Over the last few months of getting to know them, I've really come to love them all - it's been really fun to 'hone' my teaching skills and to help them wrestle with issues in their everyday life. It's hard to walk with God in a real way in high school. I know. High school was not that long ago for me, and I don't think you could pay me enough money to do that again. Been there. Done that, and got many t-shirts.

But I digress. The point is that I feel for them, and I know that a lot of them have a much tougher time than I ever did, as a result of many different circumstances.

But there's this one girl. The last two times our small group has met, she has dominated the group. I can't complete a sentence without her interrupting me. I can't teach my lesson because she's saying that it's stupid. "I don't believe in God." "God's dumb." "I'm not going to trust God; God's mean." And it's not so much that she's genuinely wrestling, it's that she doesn't want to believe; she doesn't want to wrestle, and she doesn't want to let anybody else wrestle either.

Basically, she's rude and it's all I can do to make an effort to keep some semblance of the group going. Nobody shares prayer requests anymore. In fact, nobody really says anything, except when they giggle at something she says. After the last meeting, I described the feeling as akin to punching a brick wall.

It's honestly one of the most helpless feelings I've had in a long time. It's not the helpless of watching a friend suffer and entrusting her to God's loving hands because I know that I can't heal her gaping wound. It's the helpless of using every means within my grasp - short of physical violence or extreme verbal abuse - to simply be able to put 5 words together in a sentence without being interrupted. It's the helpless of preparing a lesson about how awesome God is and how much he loves us and watching it become little pieces of paper for her to throw at her friend. It's the helpless of giving a really good seminary-student answer to what I thought was an honest question and hearing about the cute boy in her art class in return. It's the helpless of thinking every thirty seconds of an entire hour, "Can we be done yet?" And it's the helpless of having one of the girls verbalize that same thought towards the end of that painful hour.

Weakness, Lord ... it's beyond humbling; it's humiliating to be shut down by a 15 year old girl. Weakness, Lord ... help me to learn how to be faithful to you and in my commitment to these girls even when I'd really like to just curl up in a ball in the corner. Weakness, Lord ... even when I think that I can be a good teacher and I have good things to say, you show me that it's more important to trust you. Weakness, Lord ... any semblance of self-sufficiency that I feel in helping other people is demolished. Weakness, Lord ... I feel so empty, I don't know how I'm going to go back in there again next week and love that girl and try again. Weakness, Lord ... I can't imagine what will touch her, but I know that nothing and nobody is beyond your grasp.

You see, it's not a theoretical, "God is glorified when I talk about my weaknesses as though that's the part of me he likes best." It's a reflective, "I can't possibly do anything else in my own strength in this situation. I have nothing to offer here." If I thought I was making a difference in these girls lives, I've let go of some of that tonight. If I thought they respected me, I don't glory in that anymore. If I thought they even liked me and thought I was cool, I am no longer deluded.

And it's here that the Gospel reaches into my life. I see how much of my "filthy rags" I've been hanging on to. How I've got cool-with-the-high schoolers-righteousness. I-don't-really-wrestle-with-fear-of-man-righteousness. I-have-theological-answers-righteousness.

Here's a theological answer for me : “We will never have enough confidence in him unless we become deeply distrustful of ourselves; we will never lift up our hearts enough in him unless they be previously cast down in us; we will never have consolation enough in him unless we have already experienced desolation in ourselves” (John Calvin; read this morning for class -- very timely!).

And I'm thankful. I'm thankful that God is teaching me how to be faithful in a difficult time. I'm thankful that it's really not that difficult. I'm thankful that he promises that his Word will not return empty. I'm thankful that his Spirit is working in their hearts, even though I can't see it (faith is the conviction of things not seen). I'm thankful that I still desire to love these girls and to serve them and to make a difference in their lives. I'm thankful that he's giving me this opportunity to make the Gospel more real in my life, emptying my heart of myself and learning to trust my redeemer.

So here I am, actually boasting about my weaknesses. And the reason is so that God might be glorified in and through me, and so that Christ's power might be perfected in me. And strangely, I find myself right now saying with Paul, "All the more gladly."


At 3:15 AM, March 05, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

And you missed Marilyn's Pizza for that? Boy, did you get the short end of the stick. Just kidding.

So how do you think that you are going to resolve this situation? I'm just wondering what you next step is.

At 7:18 AM, March 05, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

We could ask the same question of Jesus - he missed out on heaven for THIS? for US???

It would certainly seem like Jesus got the short end of the stick.

But he did it because he loved us, just like Molly loves her girls. If she didn't love them, she wouldn't be passing on Marilyn's pizza to try and get-through to them.

Now Molly's no messiah (who is?), but she does care - you can hear it in her voice, in her frustration. The problem is, the only thing they are really interested in at this point in their lives is themselves.

Which is just like us in our unbelief.

When it comes to God, most of us are little punk jr. high girls - you, me, all of us. We think we're cute, we're proud of our insolence, and really we're just being pricks.

Its so easy to get bent over the idiodic behavior of others and completely miss the log in my own eye.

And that's what I appreciate about Molly's post: she's not just ranting about these girls - she's letting the light of God's word illuminate the darkness of her own soul. She's looking at her own little jr. higher in the mirror.

And as a result, God is working in her (you can see it, can't you?). And eventually, God may use her to work in these girls or in others. Maybe even you Charles! :-)

God works through weakness and suffering, because he desires to make us into people who are broken of hoping in ourselves, who realize he is the only one we can trust for everything.

At 7:19 AM, March 05, 2005, Blogger Christian said...

And just for the record, Marilyn's pizza was on fire last night...

At 8:46 AM, March 05, 2005, Blogger Molly said...

I hope you're speaking about Marilyn's pizza being on fire in a metaphorical way :) And I'm glad that I get to enjoy Marilyn's cooking weekly anyway.

Honestly, Charles, I'm not sure what my next step is. Several things I know I want to do are:

* Make sure that I'm not resenting her - but actually loving her - when we have our next meeting (next Friday) - this is crucial or I'm going to destroy all changes of having a relationship with her and show her that the Gospel is real in my life.
* Somehow communicate to the other girls that I appreciate their ongoing participation in the group
* Sit down and give her an opportunity to vent some of whatever is triggering this. Even if she won't talk about it, I want to make sure that she knows that I care about her and am continuing to go after her, and that God is doing that in an even bigger way. I'm thankful that the Bible is full of stories about God pursuing people as they continually reject him.

One of my friends reminded me yesterday about a story one of the founders of our seminary used to tell. He saw a little girl sitting in her dad's lap slapping his face. The only way the girl could slap her dad's face was if he were holding her -- but she still showed her defiance to him, and he continued to hold her. That's how we are to God - we reject him, but the only way we are able to do that is with the gifts that he has given us. It's helpful to have pictures like this in my mind, first of all for myself (as Christian pointed out) and secondly for someone who is rejecting God at the moment.

The Bible tells us that it is God's kindness that leads us to repentance. Apart from any specific action plans, I want to shower her as much as I can with God's kindness, with the hope that her heart will break, she will see the darkness in her own soul, and she will turn back to God who alone can restore her.

Now, how to communicate that to a high school girl is a huge challenge!

At 12:14 PM, March 05, 2005, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

My wife and I have been talking about the things they don't teach you in seminary to prepare you for ministry as it really is in the "real world." Sounds like God is giving you that class extra-curricularly.

Do keep us informed how it goes.

At 2:49 PM, March 05, 2005, Blogger Charles said...

See, take a good joke, and Christian has to ruin it with Theology. ;)

Good luck with that Random Mind.

At 3:43 PM, March 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I might suggest a one on one with the little darling. Often, when part of a group, kids (and some adults) act differently or put on a show. When alone you usually find a very different person. Maybe you can reach her then.


At 2:59 PM, March 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aside from skipping the study and putting "The Addiction" in the VCR, you are on the right track with your "three things." Keep it up...


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