Recently I had the chance to speak about Sticky Faith link to at Family Camp at Mount Hermon Christian Camps. Every year our family attends this camp with about 60 friends. The time hearing God’s word, worshipping under the trees, devouring ice cream, and soaring down the zip line has become one of our summer highlights.

One of my favorite events at camp is the communion and sharing that occurs on the last night of the week. In previous years, about ¾ of those who shared have been adults with the remaining ¼ being teenagers.

This year it was a 50/50 split.

Teenager after teenager raised their hands, eager for a chance to share what God had showed them. Of the almost 20 kids who shared, by far the biggest theme was their need to practice one of the themes discussed at camp: forgiving others.

12 year-old after 12 year-old raised their hands to describe how they needed to forgive others.

In my heart, I wish that teenagers were loved by family, friends and youth leaders in such a way that they didn’t feel like they had so many people they needed to forgive. But in my head, I know that we all sin and love others dysfunctionally.

As few observations about what students shared that may be relevant to the way we teach and love students:

  • Sibling strife. Many students shared how they had been wronged by siblings, and how that conflict had developed a wedge in their relationships.
  • It’s never too early to talk about forgiveness. Some of the most poignant sharing came from 12 year-old boys who described how they had been hurt by others. (Note: in later discussions with my seven year-old daughter, she thought of people she needed to forgive.)
  • Little hurts still hurt. We often tend to think of forgiveness in the context of nudging students who have been physically, verbally or sexually abused to (at some point) learn how to forgive their abuser. In this campfire sharing, little hurts—like parents who seemed too busy or an older brother who was unkind—added up to big pain.
  • The power of community. I could tell by the way that the teenagers sitting near those who were sharing responded that most of the kids who shared on the microphone with the entire 400 or so folks gathered had already shared what God had showed them about forgiveness to their small group of five.
  • Rooted in Jesus’ forgiveness. The only way. The only way. The only way (do you get that it’s the only way?!?) that you or I, or a 12 year-old, has a chance of forgiving others is because of the way Jesus has forgiven us. Forgiveness flows from the cross.

What are you learning about forgiveness in your interactions with teenagers these days?