“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” -Michelangelo
The great gift of any great artist is the possibilities that they see where many of us see nothing. One of the reasons I will never be that kind of an artist is that I can’t see the sculpture in a hunk of rock, the picture on a canvas, or hear a new song in my head… but I am grateful for those who do, since they provide for all of us a perspective on beauty we’d never discover on our own. But my work serving teenagers is not that much different because I, like so many other teachers, youth ministers, and chaplains, see in teenagers such incredible potential, often buried beneath fear, arrogance, insecurity, and brokenness that we spend ourselves trying to bring that potential out.
So to all of you, I write a few simple thoughts, hoping you might learn to see in yourselves what I already know:
1. You are loved. There’s an inner need inside of all of us to be loved, to be valued, to be appreciated. To experience true, genuine care – to know that we matter to someone else. And there is very little that people will make some people do stupid things to try and earn – compromising their values or their integrity or even trying to pretend their someone they aren’t. The truth is, though, that you are loved more than you can imagine. St. Augustine says that: “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” This is one of the key things Jesus came to teach us – just how much God loves us (John 3:16), as we are. But He loves us too much to leave us there, because there’s so much more we can become with Him than we’d be on our own.
2. You are willed. That’s right: you’re not an accident. No matter what circumstances brought you into being: a loving family, a “surprise” for parents later in life, a one night stand, even a rape – the fact that you exist means that God wanted you to be here. Amy Welborn says that “God wanted you to exist, to live, to hope, to dream, to help, to to love, to be.” And He has used the circumstances of your family – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to make sure you’re here. Even if your family didn’t want you, please know that God wanted you here. He’s put you here for a reason… which leads me to the next point:
3. You are needed. Part of being a teenager is feeling a little out of place. You’re going from childhood to adulthood – which means you’re no longer the child you once were, yet you’re not quite an adult yet. I remember vividly tripping over my feet as I grew, and my voice cracking… and I wondered, as many others do, whether I really belonged here – in my family, my school, in this world. The fact is, though, that we need you here. The human symphony is somehow incomplete without your voice in the choir – our team is short a player without you ready to play. God loved you into existence and willed you into being because He wants you to do something and to be something in this world. His words through the prophet Jeremiah make this crystal clear: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). With that future full of hope in mind…
4. I am so sorry you’ve been through so much – but it will get better. We’ve all had our share of hard days. Some more than others – and for some of you, the pain you carry inside me is heartbreaking. Know that Jesus weeps with you for all you’ve suffered (John 11:35) but will never, ever leave you alone. And he’s promised that future full of hope in a place where ever tear will be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). Please don’t give up – and if you need it, seek out help from myself, your teachers and counselors – because we all want to help. Many of us have our own history of pain or wrong choices… but these moments have not defined us – and they don’t need to define you. St. Teresa of Avila says that we should have confidence in the God who loves us: “Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things pass, God does not change. Patience achieves everything, whoever has God lacks nothing. God alone suffices” (Prayer of St. Theresa of Avila). It’s that sense of peace I pray you will discover in knowing that you don’t endure any of this alone.
It’s been my hope over the years I was in a parish and this past year I’ve been blessed to work full-time in the schools to try and get these ideas across to you – on retreats, in your classes, and when we’ve been hanging out. I’ve written about it on this blog, tweeted and written about it on facebook, and I’ve tried to present it to you in song. It’s one of those things I pray daily some of you will come to understand because I think knowing that you’re loved, willed, needed, and that whatever you’ve been through, things will eventually get better would help you feel a whole lot more comfortable in your own skin – and save you a lot of pain and heartache.
Regardless – whether you get this or not – I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still be praying, writing, and trying to share the love and peace which surpass understanding with you. I hope in my own little way I can help you discover the incredible work of art that you are, even if it’s buried or as yet unseen. God is the master artist – and you, his masterpiece.
“Each of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” -Pope Benedict XVI