It’s winter right now in the Midwest and as I stare out my office window it is a common sight that many share (unless you have a higher IQ and have moved to a ministry in one of those warmer places in the country that sounds like a mythical land to those of us who own snow blowers, wear scarves and boots not as fashion statements and use words like “lake-effect snow” or “wind chill” …I digress). It is winter though and grey skies known as the “permacloud” have moved in overhead and there is little expectancy to see the sun again for quite some time. There are piles of dirty grey snow that has been plowed up into corners of parking lots. And as you look around at the trees all you see is barrenness; large greyish brown trunks with a skeleton of branches and sticks that look cold and lifeless. And in a surprising moment to me, staring at the trees made me think of the students in our ministries. I mean who hasn’t looked out while preaching and felt like it was a room full of cold, barren and seemingly lifeless skeletons right? Ok, before you stop reading the wintriest and most depressing blog ever I promise there is a point to this and a good deal of hope!
You see I’ve lived in the Midwest long enough to know that winter is not permanent, although some years it feels that way. But when I look at those cold and seemingly lifeless trees what I know is that they are not dead and that there is indeed life in them. That the purpose of their creation, the shade they have to offer and the fruit they are to bear all simply lies dormant in them. I am no arborist, but I can tell you that trees go dormant in winter and they slow down all their systems, much like an animal going into hibernation, but they are still very much alive. But in the midst of cold temperatures, gray skies and barren trees it can be hard to see the life that is there. Life that is currently dormant, but it is waiting and it is ready to spring into a full fruitful life at the right time.
When we look out at our students and we see complacency, when we see lackadaisical attitudes, when we see a lack of fruit in their lives we as youth workers have a choice to make. We can become frustrated with the student, we can lose hope in them, we can be discouraged by the environment around and we can choose to focus on the lack of fruit and visible life. Or we can dream about the life that we know lies dormant in all students, we can pray for the hope of Jesus to bring that life to reality and we can create positive, life-cultivating environments for students to be in. Written like that it of course seems very obvious which approach to have but in the busyness of life, family and ministry I’ll be the first to admit that the perspective struggle is real. I find it so helpful to keep coming back to the truth that every student in my ministry is very much alive whether they are living a fruitful and purposeful life now or if that abundant life that Jesus offers is lying dormant within them.
So when we encounter students that seems as lifeless as a barren tree on a frigid January day in the Midwest, may we choose to see the vibrant life that lies dormant within them. May we choose to love them and care for them, may we pray that they would encounter Christ and may we do everything we can to shape our ministries and communities into a place of warmth and life that calls forth every student to live their lives to the fullest!