I can find Jesus in a Wendy’s better than I can find him in the woods.
I told this to some of my roommates the other week and they thought it was quite funny. I am hilarious, am I not?
But I mean those words wholeheartedly.
I don’t find God in nature the way that others do. I just don’t.
That used to make me feel weird. Like why does everyone around me want to climb a mountain and watch the sunset together? That’s a lot of hiking. I’m not down for that.
Why do people get up at the crack of dawn to sit out on the patio and listen to birds while praying and reading? I don’t want to hear birds as I pray. I want to hear the sound of coffee brewing.
And I know now that that is okay.
Yes, nature is God’s creation. We are meant to appreciate it and see the beauty in it all. And there are times when I do. When I went to the beach this past April, I saw a porpoise dive above the water for the first time. It took my breath away. Never before had I seen anything so majestic.
But there aren’t any porpoises in suburban Georgia. There’s just trees and damp grass.
And I have found that I connect to Jesus a lot better indoors. It’s just the way I’m wired.
Up until a couple years ago, I didn’t understand that ALL people are wired differently.
Some of us connect to God through worship. I am one of those people. One of my favorite parts of my morning is when I have Jesus Culture praising God through my earbuds while I carefully fry eggs on the stove.
Then there are others who connect to God through studying. They’ll read commentaries upon commentaries, and sometimes they’ll have one of those Bibles with one translation on one side and a different translation on the other. They just want to soak in the Word and pour themselves into the studying of every phrase and punctuation mark. I admire their thirst for knowledge so much.
There are also people who connect to God through other people. They will sit down over tea and have meaningful conversations about faith and life. And when they leave, they feel like they caught a glimpse of the face of God through the well-spoken words of a well-intentioned friend.
Some connect to God through acts of service. In the lending of a hand to a brother or sister in need, they resonate with the sacrifices and selflessness Christ displayed toward themselves.
Then there are those who connect to God through prayer. They just pray and pray and pray. They are warriors of prayer, slaying the attacks of the enemy through declarations of God’s promises.
And there are, of course, those who connect to Him through nature.
And none of these methods of seeking the Lord are better than any other. It is a privilege to be able to seek God in our individual ways. He is not only inviting, but also personal.
I used to think it was strange when I would stand next to people during worship at church and they wouldn’t sing or raise their hands. We’re worshiping the one true God, dude! What’s your problem?
Maybe there was never a problem at all. People are just different. And the silent worshiper in church could turn out to be the most studious learner of the Bible or the most earnest prayer warrior. You never really know.
So that’s why I like to ASK people how they connect to God rather than just assume they’re exactly like me. And when they tell me they love nature and being out in God’s creation, I just smile, nod my head, and say, “That’s really cool. I like that… but still definitely not for me.”
I’ll go find Jesus in a Wendy’s and you can go find Jesus in the woods, and then we can come together and bring what we have found because we’re all on a pursuit together. How does that sound?
When people hear that I work with the middle school ministry at my church, I get this response nine times out of ten: “Wow, I could never do that.”
I don’t know why middle school ministry is made to sound so rough and scary. They’re just tinier, less evolved high schoolers. Yes, they get crazy and are going through weird stages of puberty, but I would pick middle school ministry over high school ministry hands down. Not to say there’s anything wrong with working with high schoolers. I just feel the same way about that as many people feel about working with middle school. Totally not my scene.
In case you have any curiosity as to why on earth working with middle school would be appealing, I am going to give you MY side of things. I think it’s time to set the record straight.
MY TOP TEN REASONS FOR WHY I LOVE WORKING WITH MIDDLE SCHOOLERS
1. I am one.
I’m pretty sure I’m a middle schooler in a college student’s body. You know how in middle school you liked to experiment with fashion and giggle about boys and be super obnoxious? Yeah, I never outgrew that phase. I can work well with middle schoolers because they basically consider me one of them.
2. They’re the right kind of weird.
High schoolers and middle schoolers are both weird, but it’s a different kind of weird. In high school, weird often means that you have really intense feelings you share on Tumblr. In middle school, weird means you watch anime and wear glow-in-the-dark earrings for the fun of it.
I like the latter kind of weird. I’m more prone to enjoy watching anime than sitting down and talking about ex-boyfriends.
3. They’re easy to talk to.
If you’re ever in doubt on how to carry a conversation with a middle schooler, try following my A-B-C plan.
A: Ask about movies.
This is almost always my fallback if I have nothing to strike a conversation with. I guarantee you that every middle schooler watches movies. Unless maybe they’re home-schooled. But that’s a different story.
“Hey, [insert name here]! Have you seen any good movies lately?”
“I saw Divergent.”
“Oh my gosh! I heard that was so good! Who was your favorite character? Is it worth seeing in the theatre?”
“Yeah, I love Triss. You should totally see it.”
B: Be weird.
Pose strange yet almost philosophical questions.
“Do you ever wonder what it’d be like if dinosaurs were still around? Do you think we’d eventually domesticate them?”
“Have you ever wondered if maybe you see some colors differently than other people? Is your shirt really blue or am I just seeing it as blue?”
Also, don’t be afraid to break out into song.
“HEEEEELLLOOOO THERE, LEAAAHHHH! LOVELY DAAAAY WE’RE HAVING TODAAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!!”
If they sing back, you made a friend.
C: Convince them that you’re interested in school.
I use the word “convince” because I am usually not genuinely interested in their classes. Like some of the middle school girls will get together and complain about this one teacher, and I’m just totally lost because 1) I don’t have that teacher, and 2) I don’t even go to their school.
But for the sake of carrying a conversation, I tend to inquire about school or extracurricular activities because that’s what their days usually contain. They don’t have careers or ministries or kids. They just have school and home. That’s what matters to them, hence it has to matter to us.
So, here are some sample open-ended questions:
1) What tests or projects did you have this week?
2) Hey, aren’t CRCTs coming up soon? What’s your least favorite subject and why?
3) Which sports or instruments do you play? How often do you practice?
4) What are your teachers like?
And there you have it. My A-B-C’s.
Now if I were working with high schoolers, I’d imagine my conversations to end up like this:
“Hey, [insert name here]! Have you seen any good movies lately?”
“Yeah, I saw [insert indie film I’ve never seen here]. It’s really obscure. You’ve probably never heard of it.”
“Oh… was it any good?”
“I feel like it revealed the depth of our humanity in the grotesque and raw nature the characters were developed and portrayed. The director really understands the relations between the cosmos and our infallible mortality. [insert more weird lingo I don’t understand here].”
“Hey, do you ever wonder what it’d be like if dinosaurs were still around?”
4. I’m less clueless than they are.
With middle schoolers, I feel like I have the upper hand in that I’m beyond their age by at least six years. That means, I have six years of experience that they have not yet lived, which I can thus encourage and counsel them with. Not only did I survive middle school, but I somehow made it out alive from high school, too. And now I’m in the big bad world of college. Middle schoolers understand that I have knowledge they have not.
Whereas I’m just as clueless as most high schoolers. We’d both be banging our head into the wall from not knowing which major to choose.
Middle schoolers don’t have to worry about majors or careers or the potentials of marriage just yet.
They do have real worries. But they’re of a different kind. And I feel a whole lot more equipped to bear those burdens with them than I do with high schoolers.
“Hey, you get made fun of wearing Crocs? It’s okay. You rock those Crocs. I’ll wear them, too” [high-five]
5. They boost my self-esteem.
They don’t know yet how awkward and strange I am because everyone older than them is automatically labeled as cool and awesome. When I stopped by my church to surprise visit the middle schoolers this past Sunday, I got about four or five hugs within the first five minutes as they were gushing about how much they missed me. And all I could think was, Man, I sure am awesome.
If I worked with high schoolers and came back to visit after a month of being gone, they’d probably look at me unimpressed, Starbucks in one hand and iPhone in the other. “Oh, hey… you’re back.” I know they would be nowhere near as excited because 1) I don’t have an Instagram and that automatically destroys my street cred, and 2) they have their own cool friends so why do they need me?
I’m not the cool older sister to high schoolers. I’m just the girl who’s slightly more mature and slightly older.
But with middle schoolers? I could tell them to jump off a bridge and they might actually do it. They’d think it was an improv game.
6. They’re disciplinable.
Tell a middle schooler to sit down and shut up, and they’ll do it. It’ll be a struggle for them at first because their mind is racing like 80 miles per hour, but they’ll be too intimidated to argue or blatantly disobey.
Tell a high schooler to sit down and shut up, and you get a whole lecture on how you’re not their mom and they don’t have to listen to you and they’re sick of people thinking they can disrespect them and they just need to fight the man.
You see, middle schoolers are trained to listen and respect. They haven’t yet entered the ninth grade, where all rebellion ensues and adults become the number one enemy.
7. They’re in danger.
Now I’m all for mentoring high schoolers as they deal with some of the most extreme pressures of life. High schoolers are automatically more susceptible to drugs, alcohol, temptations for impurity, self-harm, and rebellious behaviors simply because they have more access and more opportunities. They need support and encouragement and coaching.
But middle schoolers need encouragement and coaching, too, and it’s especially important this is not overlooked.
Middle schoolers can get into those kinds of harmful behaviors, but usually there’s not as much opportunity as there is for high schoolers, which is great! It means there’s still time to help them choose the better ways of life before they cross paths with such things. I want to walk with middle schoolers and see a love and reverence for God instilled in them before they reach those opportunities.
However, we live in a society where more and more dangerous things are being introduced into the lives of middle schoolers. Drugs are making their ways into these schools, the pressure to be skinny and fit in is at an all-time high, and there are more opportunities for stumbling into sin due to social media and changing standards of society.
We can guide and pour into high schoolers as they are inevitably surrounded by these things, but it’s also vital that we invest in middle schoolers and encourage them to stay on a righteous path BEFORE and RIGHT AS they are becoming surrounded by these things.
Middle schoolers are in danger, too.
8. It’s not hard to impress them.
Want to throw an event that is sure to impress middle schoolers? Have a DJ and free candy.
Want to throw an event that is sure to impress high schoolers? Have a DJ, free candy, glow sticks, paint ball, water fights, sumo wrestling, a celebrity appearance, and a hookah. I’m kidding about the last one.
It’s not that hard to impress middle schoolers because they haven’t seen it all yet.
9. They aren’t all over social media.
Sometimes I have to fight to get middle schoolers’ attention because they’re on Instagram or playing a game. But at least I’m not having to fight Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, AND texts from fifty boys, which is sort of how I feel when I’m trying to talk to a high schooler.
10. They’re just fun.
I LOVE working with middle schoolers because they know how to be fun. Yes, a part of them is scared of standing out and being judged by their peers. But once they get past that feeling of awkwardness, they really do know how to be fun and comfortably crazy. I like seeing them that way because it gives ME permission to have fun, too. We’re weird together, we laugh together, we play games together, and we randomly dance together. It’s just the middle school way of life. And right now that’s all I need.
I know that some people prefer high school ministry to middle school ministry because high schoolers are less hyper and tend to be more serious, but I am all for that hyperactivity and less serious stuff. Those things really are great, too.
I like being able to walk into the middle school room and see kids playing ping pong while screaming at their top of their lungs. It’s wild, but it gives me a boost of life. So I run up to them and yell “HEEEEEYYYYY!!!” right back. They love that.
I like that things tend to be less serious because it keeps me young and refreshed. Working with high schoolers sometimes hurt. It’s hard to pour yourself into a high school girl as she deals with depression and struggles with her purity. You so badly want to see her free from that stuff while knowing you can’t ultimately change her mind or her life. No matter how consistent you are with your encouragement and prayer, there are those who will walk away from their faith in the course of their high school career. And it will be painful to watch. Many will graduate and go off to college and leave this town behind without second thought.
I just want to thank you, high school leaders and mentors. Thank you so much for pouring into high schoolers because it DOES make a difference. We need you. You are an important part of the body. You are helping raise up leaders, the next generation of world-changers. You deal with hard stuff, but you don’t quit on your kids. Just as Jesus has never quit on us.
And middle schooler leaders and mentors, thank you for embarking on the crazy, sugared-up adventure that is known as middle school ministry. People won’t always understand why you work with this demographic, but I do. It IS rewarding. Sometimes the greatest results aren’t seen, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t making a great impact. Middle school is treacherous, too, but having leaders like you working in a safe, God-filled place like church gives kids the freedom to still enjoy being kids.
Both ministries are needed. And sometimes middle school ministry gets discounted. But here me out when I say that it’s the one of my favorite things in this world, and I can’t imagine trading it out for anything else right now. When you see God move, you realize ministry is a lot bigger than you. Middle school ministry is no exception.
It’s bigger than me, and I am enjoying and learning from just about every second of it.
I’ve been in Clarkston (see previous post for details) for almost a month now, and it’s been hard.
Not so hard that I want to leave or I’m not enjoying my stay. It’s just the kind of hard where you know you could curl up on a bed and sleep for days if somebody would let you.
I miss my family. I miss having Tuesday night dinners with my grandparents. I miss watching Glee with my mom. I miss being able to talk to my boyfriend every day. I miss phone dates, television marathons, and ice cream outings with friends. I miss sleeping next to my dog every night. I miss my church and the middle schoolers I work with.
But I know I’m supposed to be here.
Well, I haven’t figured that part out yet.
And I have to keep telling myself that it’s okay to not know.
I’ve been beating myself up for being so clueless. Sometimes I have a lot to do; sometimes I’m free all day and just wander around aimlessly. Setting out lunches, making copies, and running errands are my specialty, but there are days when it feels like that’s not enough.
I keep trying and trying to not waste time, but sometimes that’s how time feels: wasted.
Like I could be doing something more, but I’m not sure what.
Here’s what I’m starting to think: God, in His sovereignty and by His grace, uses His people… even when they don’t feel like they’re being used.
I think about the people in my life who have impacted me, encouraged me, and challenged me in ordinary, non-exciting times. Many revelations have been had over coffee at Starbucks. Warm feelings have been exchanged over brief smiles.
An impactful, godly life sometimes looks a lot like an ordinary life.
Could it be that God is found in my own ordinary moments? That the things I am finding mundane are godly and important?
I pray that this is true.
Maybe as I set out lunch each day I am showing these interns I care. Maybe my offers to pray for the girls I live with will be received with more gratitude than I could ever know. Maybe the way I do the little things shows that I can be trusted with the bigger things.
The truth is, anyone could do a lot of the tasks I take care of. But for this summer, these tasks have been entrusted to me.
And no matter how ordinary or seemingly unimportant they are, I want to treat these things like they’re special.
I don’t HAVE to spend my summer serving here in Clarkston. I didn’t HAVE to commit to this and leave my family, friends, and home.
But I GET to.
What a privilege to be a part of something bigger than myself. I might just feel like a useless pinky right now in the grand scheme of the body working together, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be times I can be a helping hand, listening ear, and loving heart.
I hold on to the belief that God uses His people for His glory— in the highs, lows, and in-betweens of life.
When I’m wondering why I’m here, I’ll tell myself this.
I still don’t have answers, but I have faith.
I first want to preface this post by saying that this is not the original.
The original was going to be posted days ago yet I held off because a part of me was worried that I was going about this the wrong way. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t writing out of a bitter heart. I want my motives to be right and my intentions to clearly come across.
After prayer, repentance and reconsideration, I came up with this.
I am sorry if anything I say offends you. Yet I am not sorry for anything I have written. There’s only so much I can filter before I start to feel dishonest. These convictions and these feelings of mine should not have to remain hidden, and I pray that they are well-received.
CONFESSION OF A LONELY
When I sit in the dining hall on my college campus, I can’t help but notice the lonely people.
You know who they are. They walk in alone with their plates, they choose a small table for one, and then they sit down to begin their hour-long meal in silence.
Sometimes they will pull out a laptop or a book or an iPod. But even with their distraction, there’s a certain air of sadness about them. They’ll look up from their book or phone and kind of scan the room, and not because they’re looking for someone. No, they are secretly longing for the community that everyone else in the world seems to have. They are longing for a friend.
Two days ago, I sat across from this girl who spent thirty minutes scraping food around her plate and staring at people around the room. She wasn’t holding a book and there was no laptop in front of her. She didn’t even have earphones in. She was fully aware of her surroundings and yet was taking no part in it. There was no one to take part in it with.
From the looks of it, she was a lonely.
It is apparent that there is a distance between “the lonelies” and the rest.
And I call these people “the lonelies” because they aren’t loners. The word “loner” in our society has a connotation of choice. But no, these people are different from loners. They are lonelies because their lonesome status is neither chosen nor desired.
I feel like I notice these people so frequently because I am a lonely too.
It’s taken me a long time to write these words because I’ve been afraid of what people would think or say about me. And I am silently rebuking any lies that I’m believing about the worth of what I’m going to say next. I have been trying to write this post for months and it’s finally time. This does matter. I’ve had enough of this longing in silence.
I am writing this on behalf of all the lonelies:
There’s a word buzzing within certain communities of believers: “family.”
I have gone to Christian gatherings, house churches, bible studies and the like, and this word tends to be brought up a lot. “Guys, we are a FAMILY in Christ.” “We are brothers and sisters in Christ.” “We want to be a place where everyone feels like they belong and they can be open and honest– because we are a family.”
I know that that is a beautiful picture: a group of people who are not related by blood or legality yet still commit to regard the group as a family in which there is love and closeness and open communication. I do believe that this is one of the most important roles of the church. I do believe this is how God intended things to be. But I also believe that there is an element of miscommunication and misunderstanding within these families, at least as far as the lonelies are concerned.
Here’s the problem that I see: the majority of people long for family and close community, but it is often only a special group of people that actually gets to experience it. The special group of people I’m referring to are the people who are social enough, energetic enough, cool enough, extroverted enough, outstanding enough, or thought of enough to be included in the family.
Why do I believe this? Because I’ve seen lonelies begin the scary journey of finding their way into this “family” only to be overlooked or dismissed. These people are overlooked or dismissed because they don’t stand out. They aren’t regarded as cool or interesting. And no one will actually say or directly think these things about them, but many of their actions imply them.
The lonelies will be invited to events over Facebook but no one will say to them, “Hey, I wish you would come. I want to see YOU there.” The lonelies will be greeted at these events or gatherings and perhaps meet a person or two, but no one will say to them, “Hey, what are you doing tomorrow? A couple of my friends are eating lunch in the Commons. Want to join?” The lonelies will be recognized around campus and someone might wave or ask how they’re doing in passing, but there’s not enough time allotted to the lonelies for them to even begin formulating a true answer.
The lonelies are often hurting. And yet no one wants to help them get out of that hurt. People just assume that because the invite is extended, the job is done.
But being part of a family of believers requires more than a general invitation.
If you want to see a lonely join your family, then you have to realize that these lonelies may be so used to their isolation that they don’t even understand what joining would even mean. They are afraid to risk vulnerability. They are afraid of going to gatherings and not knowing anyone. And they are hurt when every interaction is surface level and no one actually wants to take the time to dive into who they really are. They want intentionality and personal invites and inquiries into their lives, and they don’t understand why no one offers.
I hate saying this, but this is what I’ve seen and how I feel: there is an unspoken standard that people are required to meet to be part of these “families” of believers.
And yes, I am implying that there is favoritism within these communities. I have enjoyed every Bible study, gathering, house church, and event I have gone to, but there is a subtle method of favoritism within most. It doesn’t mean these communities are failures or mean or ungodly. It just means there’s something lacking, and that lack unfortunately is often only noticed by the lonelies. The outsiders who always remain on the outside. The newcomers who always feel new.
This is a harsh statement but I MUST say this if there is to be any introspection or change:
From a lonely standpoint and outsider perspective, these families often look like cliques.
And it would be dishonest of me to not admit that I have carried this opinion and perspective around with me for quite some time.
I have observed these families and even began to turn up my nose at them because all I can see is this clique-like element that I can’t stand.
As a lonely, I feel as though I’m on the outside of everything. And there are numerous reasons for this: I started working more and realized I needed to rest and retreat for some time. My best friend moved away and the other few friends I had became really busy. I live at home with my parents and commute to school. I’m an introvert and have a hard time engaging in activities or feeling included.
I wasn’t always a lonely. I was once very much a part of these communities and I did feel included. But because of the before-mentioned circumstances, I had to take a step back. A part of me thought that even though I was swamped by other priorities, I would still be thought of.
Yet when I stopped going to these things, I realized that no one seemed to miss me. I don’t get invited to hang out. I don’t get the opportunities to sit down with people and explain my struggles, wounds, and hopes. I’m overlooked. Or if I take the initiative to try to make plans with people, I get vague answers and nothing happens. “Yeah, girl! Let’s get coffee sometime!” I’m still waiting on many coffee dates.
And I know that this might not make sense to everyone because there are events all over Facebook and there are nice greeters at every gathering and from the inside everyone seems really accepting and nice.
“Jessie, if you want to be part of the group, then you just need to jump in. We’re a family. We do want you!”
This is the most important thing you could possibly learn about the lonely mentality: We don’t just want an invitation. We don’t know what to do with an invitation. We need PERSONAL and INTENTIONAL interactions.
And if this doesn’t start happening, then more and more lonelies will become loners. They will CHOOSE to be alone.
Instead of longing and striving for that social interaction and close-knit community, lonelies begin to like being alone and withdrawn. They’d rather be by themselves than feel like people are forced to be in their presence.
I’m confessing right now that that’s where I’m at. I’ve become a loner. I know that I tend to be standoffish and aloof. I’m ultra quiet and pensive besides the few witty or sarcastic remarks thrown here and there. I may even come across as intimidating. But people assume I choose to “do my own thing” because I’m just independent and well-off when in reality, I’ve been FORCED to be alone and now don’t know how to be otherwise.
But the loner Jessie is not the real me.
The real me loves the idea of being a part of something more. I want a family of believers where I can feel welcomed and appreciated and loved. I want to have that core group of girls who actually care about my life and would enjoy having lame sleepovers with me. I want it all, the whole college experience. Yet the college experience is not lived by everyone.
There are lonelies all around you and they come to your “families” expecting more only to end up leaving disappointed. Community is not meant to be a once-a-week thing. And if you make it that, then you’re going to keep unintentionally excluding until all of the lonelies stop trying.
Just like I’ve stopped trying.
And please believe me when I say that I’m not just trying to play the victim card. As a former “family member”, I was guilty of the same exact thing. I am sorry that I so often overlooked lonelies and never thought twice about their desires or needs. I had so many opportunities to personally invite and truly INCLUDE these amazing people, but because they didn’t meet my standard of “cool” or it required too much effort to be intentional, I chose to stay comfortable with the friends I already had.
For those of you who have been hurt by my distance or lack of effort: I am sorry. I am working on being intentional and I know I’m far from perfect. But I love you and I don’t think you or I ought to be lonelies anymore.
I know I can’t fix the entire system, but perhaps writing this is a start.
Before I bring this post to a close, I would also like to say that I love everyone who is reading this, whoever you are, regardless of whether you feel as though this was intended for you. I am never going to name-call, point fingers, or judge you. I have no right. I am just as guilty of everything I have spoken against in this post. This post is not intended to condemn, but rather to offer a new perspective.
I DO believe that believers can form a beautiful family rooted and established in Christ, and I do believe that many groups and communities have already done an amazing job at doing just that.
At the same time, I know there is still much room to grow for many. My hope is that we ALL become more inviting, inclusive, and intentional.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)