Yesterday I posted about our student retreat and the toxic words spoken into our students' lives.
I want to write about how we tried, and continue trying, to combat those. We can't erase the memories of those words from students' minds. We can't erase the impact on their hearts. But we can do something. Here's what something looks like for us:
1. At our retreats, each participant has an envelope with their name on it. Throughout the weekend we encourage participants to write each other encouraging, fun, funny, affirming notes. At the end of the weekend, each participant takes his envelope home to read their notes. I've heard from several parents since we returned from the retreat, expressing their gratitude for these notes. Nothing combats toxic words like true, life-giving words.
2. Saturday evening of the retreat we discussed the toxic words. That's when students wrote them and laid them at the altar. But we didn't leave it there. We gave students an opportunity to go to an adult leader standing in the back of the room. It could be their small group leader, a young adult they admire, or someone they had just met the day before. The students could approach those adults, and the adults would speak and pray affirming words into their lives.
This was a powerful moment for those who participated. You see, our church is blessed with committed adults who plan lessons, lead Bible studies, and manage chaos for ninety minutes every week. And sometimes those adults wonder if they're getting through, if all the hard work is resulting in any spiritual growth. Saturday night, we all got to witness the powerful ways in which God is using these small group leaders.
I stood teary-eyed with pride and awe as I watched lines of students approach their small group leaders. I saw teenage guys and girls cry on the shoulders of their pastors. I saw small group leaders cry as they hugged and spoke truth over their students' lives, and as they saw that all their hard work has made a difference. I watched adults I've known for years compassionately and confidently pray with students. I watched adults read words from the Bible over their students' heads. I watched young men for whom I was pastor be pastor to teenagers.
3. During breakfast the last morning, I noticed all the young male chaperons were missing, and they don't often miss meals:) I found them standing in front of all those envelopes with participants' names. One by one, they were laying hands on the envelopes, praying truth over every single student and chaperon. They had spoken words to students the night before, they had written encouraging notes and placed them in the envelopes, and now they were going to God with words on behalf of these students. Parents of teenagers in our ministry, I hope you appreciate the impact of these young male role models for both our guys and girls.
4. I also encouraged the students to write 50 positive statements about themselves. I don't want our students just to be victims; I want them to go on the offensive with words. I want us to fill them with healthy, positive, life-giving words. But I want them to speak life-giving words into their own lives, too. I want them to own and to believe that they are worthwhile, important, sons and daughters of a loving God who made them in His image. I want them to write down those words in a list that they can re-visit when toxic words are thrown their way, so that they can remember what is true versus what is trash.