“I’ve got National Honor Society on Mondays, Soccer practice Tuesday through Thursday with occasional games on the weekends, and then Friday I am hanging out with friends from school. On Saturday I am working on college applications, and then Sunday I have my SAT class after church!”
That is ABSURD, but it is not an abnormal schedule of the typical ambitious DC teenager in my youth group. So does that mean we can hang out two months from now? Or should I just plan on hanging out with you in church? And should I just stop planning youth events that you just say no to anyway? These are some of the questions I find myself and my staff pondering on occasions. This area is busy and that can be a good thing but how can we as youth pastors encourage rest in a world where so much of their schedule is packed to the brim?
Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all of your work. That is what Scripture tells us in Deuteronomy 5. In this high-powered area it feels like the idea of a Sabbath is long gone. I am not in control of my students’ daily schedules, but I feel an obligation to be able to speak truth to teens and their parents about this issue.
To many it feels that a day with every second planned is a state of order, but in fact it’s chaotic. When something falls through in the schedule it throws off the whole day for the parent: suddenly he or she can’t get that late-day workout and now must to pick up and entertain his or her child. For the teens, if there is nothing stimulating for an hour during the day, they find themselves crying out in boredom.
Our teens have lost the desire and capacity to reflect and meditate on something because there is never any space for it during the day. They are taught and observe that what they need to do is constantly push themselves into exhaustion – because that’s how this world works. How do we as families and as youth pastors push up against this?
As a youth pastor I think about creating a youth group that allows for this reflection and meditation. And I want our leaders that work with the teens to realize its importance as well. We took all of our leaders on a retreat at the start of this school year and gave them 2 hours to reflect on some questions relating to spiritual goals for themselves and their small groups. I observed one leader who has a Ph.D. and is an exceptionally hard worker melt into his chair and lose himself in meditation. Later on he turned to me and said, “Nate I haven’t done that in a long, long time, thank you.”
On our retreats with students we work-in space for quiet time with the Lord to read their Bibles and pray. Jesus commonly took time away from the crowds and the people asking him for time to become rejuvenated through his union with the Father. I am thinking more and more that while this is important space to get on retreats, the real problem is that those really only happen once or twice a year. That is not real life. We need to create a sustainable pattern of rest during our day-to-day lives.
This hits super close to home for me because both my wife and I love building strong friendships, but with them come many Evites, birthdays, gatherings, trips, etc. We continually get invitations, and it gets very difficult when we are both already tired and need to say no to things. I think this is something our teens deal with on an even larger level.
I consider myself someone with tendencies towards being a people pleaser at times, but I am learning more and more how to become at peace with saying “no”. But how can we expect this to be figured out with our teens? It must be even more present in those who are still maturing. It makes me want to speak to this issue, more powerfully encouraging them that because of Christ we need to say no to a lot of good things. It is ultimately for our good that we do this.
We truly need a more robust understanding of the Sabbath, and this needs to be communicated to our students. They are in a season of their lives that is highly structured for them, and they are still maturing in making good decisions for themselves. We need to have grace in areas where they overbook or back out on us late, but we also need to call them to honor their commitments and find space and time during their week for rest.
Who do I know who needs to slow down? Do I?
Nate Robbins works in youth ministry in the Washington, D.C. area.