Helping Students Find Faith in the Dark
I remember the morning well.
I was standing in front of my youth group about to begin my talk, and suddenly I just couldn’t do it. Life had dealt me a blow, and I felt as if I’d be faking it if I continued as I had planned.
I took a deep breath, stepped around the music stand, and faced my students. My eyes dropped to the floor before I spoke:
“Guys, I was planning to speak on God’s faithfulness, but I have to be honest this morning . . . I’m not experiencing God’s faithfulness. I’m having trouble with the verses I’m about to teach you, because of what’s going on in my life.”
I was afraid to look up.
I was in charge of their spiritual well being, wasn’t I? And this morning I was letting them down. But when I did look up, I was amazed at what I saw: The eye of every teenager in the room was fixed on me. (I believe it was the only time in my ministry this ever happened.)
They couldn’t wait to see what I would say next.
When I began my lesson, I shifted from being in front of my students, presenting Jesus to them, to being with my students, needing to experience him myself.
That morning stayed with me as a youth minister. And it has colored the way I’ve done ministry ever since. Our tendency as Christ followers is to give testimonies and talks after our challenges are resolved. But it can be more powerful when we share our testimony before the resolution has occurred. Because the middle of the story is where people live.
Eight years later, I went through a broken engagement; and during that time, I was speaking all over the country. I was devastated, but I had to show up.
I felt like Peter after Jesus started saying some hard things and some of his followers had walked away.
Jesus turned to Peter and said “What about you? Are you going to leave, too?”
And Peter said, “Where are we gonna go?” (Gonna is Greek for”going to.”)
Peter’s question was my question:
Where am I gonna go?
I felt as if the God I was serving had let me down. But I still had to show up and speak. So I made a decision during that season to share my story before it was resolved. And at the end I would finish with these words:
“I trust God isn’t finished with my story. I have no idea what he’s going to do, but I believe he’s not through.”
People were inspired. Faith was strengthened. Because the middle of the story is where faith is lived.
I recently had a book published called Finding Faith in the Dark: When the Story of Your Life Takes a Turn You Didn’t Plan. This book is not just my story—it’s other people’s stories, too. It includes people in the Bible who experienced confusion, heartache, and loss.
It’s about where to find God when he’s not doing what you want him to do. Up to this point, I’d written creative how-to books for youth workers. But this book is for your soul. And as a side benefit, it will equip you to minister to your students’ souls. Especially when you—or they—are in a dark place.
In my book, I introduce the concept of middle-of-the-story theology and how that perspective gives us courage to live the dark seasons of our faith. During those seasons, I’ve discovered that we often need to “widen our gaze” in order to experience God’s presence.
Certainly that’s what Job found out. After Job had greatly suffered, God took him on a world tour, and Job was able to put his suffering in a bigger context. When Job saw all the things God had done and how big God was, Job ended up repenting.
Something big had to happen to his perspective for him to do that.
My story eventually had a happy ending—but it was the loss and pain that made the story what it was. Because in the dark we discover things about God we wouldn’t see any other way. And when we come through those seasons, we move from having a God shaped by our faith to a faith shaped by our God. And isn’t this the kind of faith we want to nurture in our students?
Maybe at the end of the day, Finding Faith in the Dark really is a ministry tool. But my biggest prayer is that it will first minister to you.
Bless you as you pour your life into your students.
LAURIE POLICH SHORT is a speaker, author and associate pastor of Ocean Hills Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, CA. She has spoken to more than 500,000 people in her ministry career, at youth conferences, women’s conferences, denominational gatherings, music festivals, colleges and churches around the country. Laurie is a graduate of UCLA and Fuller Theological Seminary, a former youth minister and trainer, and the author of thirteen books for youth and youth workers. She was on the speaking staff of Youth Specialties for fifteen years, and is listed as one of Compassion International’s featured speakers. She has worked as a youth pastor (First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley), an adjunct professor (Azusa Pacific University), and an associate minister (Ocean Hills Covenant Church).
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.