Being in youth ministry something that we talk all the time about is relationships. How to be a good friend, how being a good christian means that we love one another and what that looks like. Something we don’t always talk about are romantic relationships. There is an unspoken tension that exists where some youth pastors think that it should be a conversation that parents ultimately have and parents hoping that youth pastors will take care of it. Students are left in the middle most likely learning from the internet, television, movies and their friends. Personally, growing up I can’t remember too many conversations about the birds and the bees but I remember learning from my parents how to treat woman and how to behave in a romantic relationship. I’ve been married for over 6 years now and I’ll never be the perfect husband but I do remember the first time I knew I was going to marry my wife. I was living in Monessen, PA at the time and my wife was then a junior at Georgia Tech. Sounds kind of crazy to say that not that we were so young but it just felt right at the time. I was living in a church and when I walked down to the kitchen area and was greeted by one of our favorite community members, Jim Williams. I started to talk to him about visiting my girlfriend over Christmas break and how excited I was to spend some time with her. He hit me with this question: “Have you ever wondered what it would be like to love your wife liked Christ loved the church?”
When I heard it I knew that I had no idea if I could ever do that, but I knew I wanted to try and I needed to try with this amazing girl. It’s that type of seemingly random question that doesn’t end up in conversations with youth a lot. Students are trying to live what they consider a good life. Their definition of good might vary from self satisfaction to living to love others but I truly believe no one sets out to be an evil person. They want to be a good person and have a good life. In these talks we often leave to others I wonder how I will talk with my children. I know that scripture says that we should train up a child in the way they should go and they will not stray from that path so I hope that I can set a precedent of having those awkward and tough conversations from the very beginning. This way, it’s not weird or awkward for them to ask me about sex, dating, God’s plan for romance, why bad things happen to good people ect…
As a youth pastor it is part of my job to have these tough conversations. To teach God’s plan for sexuality, to talk about the eschaton, and even the all powerfulness of God in a broken world. While living in an increasing world of information, internet deep dives, and an increased sense of never being shocked by a crazy story I see in the news. So as I randomly think about things I wonder about these conversations. In my head I can see myself with my future teenage son or daughter sitting on the edge of their bed giving them a look like, hey, you know what we have to talk about now. But does it need to be this way? I can imagine a time when these conversations aren’t difficult but come about naturally in everyday dinner conversation. I imagine not being shocked to hear shocking statements in a good way.
I have no idea how to be a parent, I’m not sure I should be giving advice but working with students I know that all the work that I try to do to bring them closer to Christ, to point them in the direction of the cross means that a lot of the time I need to embrace hard conversations. Jesus didn’t shy away from these, in fact he started many of them. From romantic relationships, to what it really means to love your neighbor as yourself. These hard things are to be embraced not avoided. Obviously this is easier said than done. There have been plenty of times that I have all the intention in the world to suck it up and talk about the hard things only to have last minute nervousness have me bail on the topic. What I’m hoping to bring out of this post is an embracing of the idea of the hard. To never offer simple answers when the questions are complex and to explore what it really means to love. When real love recognizes real love the only reaction can be to produce more of it. It can be difficult, awkward and weird. But so am I and these conversations can’t be avoided when the stake are this high. We know that as Paul says: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6)