I am so proud of this blog post!

The kitchen drawer was jammed. When we bought the house, it was in rough shape, but two years of 3 kids pulling and slamming it, packing it full of coloring books, and letting markers drop behind it had done it in for good. It was hanging opening, reams of construction paper half falling out of it when my husband got home from work. He walked past the drawer and tried to push it closed, but it wouldn’t budge, so he leaned on it, wiggled it, and wrestled with it for a whole two minutes before the swearing started.

The crux of his frustration: “These kids don’t take good care of the things they have! We need to figure out how to get them to take pride in our home!” (expletives have been removed)

Stuck in drawer

Although I suppose it’s better for the kids to get the drawer stuck than for the kid to get stuck on the drawer.

Then today, I was talking about this article on the gay marriage debate on Facebook, and a friend commented:

I think we need to start with the notion of pride. It seems like pride is behind every sin. Yet we focus on the idea of pride in our schools, our athletic programs and eventually our careers. The word pride is painted on walls of many of our schools across the nation. I have seen children wearing athletic shirts with the word pride printed across it. We take this for normal. But would we respond the same to any other sin written in our schools or taught to our children? This has become so normal it barely registers a blip. We are setting our children up for spiritual difficulties by doing this.

Her comment got me thinking.  Is pride always a sin?  Does it always come out of a place of darkness and/or lead me into that darkness?

What about if I say I have Catholic pride?  Or that I am proud of myself for finishing my Master’s Degree?  Or that I have pride in my 8 year old son who went to talk with his Den leader “man to man” about the reasons he wanted to quit Cub Scouts instead of letting Mom & Dad take care of it all for him?  Or that I am proud of the teen who talked her friend out of having an abortion?

In my reflections on pride I came across Romans 15:17.

In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to boast in what pertains to God.

Paul was boasting about what God had done through him.  Being proud of God’s work is not a sin – it is worship.

The Devil cannot create anything new – he can only take what has been created by God to be good and twist and turn it into something ugly.  The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was not ugly or bad, but the Devil took the goodness of that tree, the goodness of the free will of Adam and Eve, and twisted and manipulated them into the ugliness of Original Sin.

Paul tells us that pride is good – when it is pride in what God has done.  Sometimes, though the Devil takes that goodness and manipulates it with our insecurities and selfishness and twists into something so ugly it is one of the Deadly Sins.

The Devil is in the details…

When my pride in my home (or car, or boat, or kitchen drawer) is about the object itself, or when I find my own worth defined by that object, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for the abundant blessings (that I live in a country where I have opportunities, that I have been blessed with the ability to get a job, that that job has blessed me with the money to buy these items), then it is a good and holy pride.

When my pride in my education is about how I feel, how I look, or how others perceive me, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for blessing me with the intellect, financial means, and opportunity to get an education so that I can better serve Him, then it is holy.

When my pride in my son is about his Den leader thinking I’m a good parent, or about self righteousness in my own parenting decisions, or even about wanting my son to feel better about himself, it’s a sin.  When my pride is really gratitude to God for the chance to pass along life skills that will create my son into a man who will serve God, then it is holy.

When my pride in that teen is about what a great youth minister I have been to encourage her to stand up to the dignity of human life, it’s a sin.  When my pride is gratitude at God working through me and through that teen to save the life of an unborn child, then it is holy.

Pride goeth before a fall…

The line between sin and holiness, between holy pride and the sin of pride is thin and incredibly nuanced.  It’s a short hop from gratitude for my blessings into the idolatry of me.  It’s a quick slip from knowing I have dignity and worth because I’ve been created in God’s image to believing that what other people think of me is what creates my worth.

Maybe I can avoid that slip by changing the words I use.  Instead of telling my son I’m proud of him, I can express the same thing by telling him I saw God working through him.   Instead teaching my kids to take “pride” in our home, I can get the same result by teaching them that our home is a blessing from God.  Instead of having Packer Pride, Loyola Pride, or Hawk Pride, I can be grateful for the community that those institutions have created and show my fellow Packer fans, Master’s graduates, and high school classmates the respect they have earned as individuals created in the image and likeness of God.

There's a difference between being finding your worth in your sexual orientation and letting that identity determine how you relate to God, and finding worth in knowing I am created in the image and likeness of God and letting that identity guide how you choose to live with your sexual identity.

There’s a difference between being finding your worth in your sexual orientation and letting that identity determine how you relate to God, and finding worth in knowing you are created in the image and likeness of God and letting that identity guide how you choose to live with your sexual identity. See…nuanced.

What do you think?  Is pride always a sin?  Can changing our language help us avoid the slippery slope from goodness into sin?

Youth Ministers – More Than Meets the Eye

Most youth ministers who are worth their salt will happily and proudly tell you that they went into this field of work because they felt called to it.  And, I definitely agree.  Being a youth minister is 100% a vocation.  You have to have a deep understanding of the overall mission of the Church, believe in the young Church even when they seem like a lost cause, and want nothing more than to equip, empower, teach, and lead those “lost causes” into the arms of Christ.

I’ve made it 7 years w/o owning a clown, chicken, gorilla, or any other type of costume.

But, there is a huge, huge, HAAA-UUUGE misunderstanding about what youth ministers do, particularly for people who aren’t actively involved in youth ministry or who don’t have youth of their own.  And, not surprisingly, the teens don’t “see the forest for the trees” so to speak.  They (and many others) think that youth ministers spend a lot of time “hanging out with teens” or “going on fun trips” or “getting pies in their faces” or “eating pizza.”

While all those things are undoubtedly things that most of us have done (what youth group would be complete without pizza or messy games?), that’s not WHAT WE DO.  Those are things that happen that we participate in.  We don’t pursue this calling, this VOCATION, just to go to summer camp or water parks.

So, here is a very, very short list of some of the roles/jobs that are required of youth ministers…some of the things that people may not realize that we do on a regular basis.

1.) Teacher & Google

Our number one job is to catechize the youth of the Church.  We have a responsibility to teach them the truths & teachings of the Catholic faith in a orthodox way that they can understand, discuss, and process.  And, not only do we have to know and understand WHAT we’re teaching (and do so in a systematic way), but we have to be ready to be a human Google about any and all faith-related questions.  No matter how prepared you think you are, teens have an amazing talent of asking the most random, outside the box, unexpected questions that you DIDN’T plan for.  But, you’ve got to be ready to answer.



2.) Event Planner

Every single week, at least once a week and sometimes more than once, we have to event plan.  From food to engaging activities to handouts to prayers to atmosphere, every detail has to be lined up and ready to go.  We worry about enough to eat, the right lighting, the sound system working, the teens having a good time.  Every.Single.Week.  And, on top of that, there are ACTUAL parties we plan – Fall Kick Off, Advent Party, Retreats (at least 2-3 a year), Senior Dinners, etc.  We get really good at knowing how much food to bring and what kind of music sets the right mood.

 
3.) Spiritual Guide/Moral Compass
We are in constant conversation with the teens who are in the youth group (some more regularly than others).  And, that means constant questions about their spiritual lives, making moral choices, living rightly, etc. come up. Some teens are very open and keep you up to date on everything happening and want your advice practically daily.  Others will hit you up via text, phone call, Facebook message, etc. only when there’s a big problem or they feel confused, anxious, need prayers, lonely, sad, whatever emotion.  We have a huge responsibility to be in direct conversation with the Holy Spirit on a regular basis so that we can do our best to respond and guide these young people into the love of Christ.



4.) Supporter/Cheerleader
Games.  Concerts.  Performances.  Buying what they are selling for teams, choirs, groups, etc.  We are there as much as we can.  We are supporting them constantly via social media.  We have to be aware of big tests, auditions, games, college submissions, try-outs, whatever so that we can ask about it, cheer them on, and support them through the process.  We have to encourage them when those things take precedence over Church things (as they do, more often than not).  We feel their joy when they succeed and their hurt when they fail.

5.) Reference

If there’s a college scholarship, organization, group, or job that needs a reference letter for a teenager, we have probably written a recommendation, filled out a form, or answered questions over the phone.  If a kid is regularly involved in the youth group (and, heck, sometimes if they are not!), the youth minister is generally #1 on the list to ask for a recommendation.  And, boy, those things can be difficult to write sometimes!

6.) Confidant

On many occasions, we are brought into serious situations happening in teens‘ lives, families, and relationships.  And, I do mean serious.  From deaths of family members and friends to abuse in homes to suicide attempts to drug problems and teen pregnancies (just to name a few), we’ve all been there.  We’re often contacted first by the family or been told in confidence about something before a counselor or police officer.  We’ve lost sleep, cried, sought counsel, prayed and prayed and prayed some more.  We’ve watched pain unfold, seen teens leave the faith, and, thankfully, seen healing and growth, too.

Ultimately, the vocation of youth ministry is a call to LOVE a very specific group of people in ways that are very specific to their needs.  And, it’s anything but easy.  It’s an uphill battle 90% of the time.  It’s a thankless job where maybe 10 out of every 100 teens or families ever offers gratitude for what you’ve done.

But, we don’t say “yes” because it’s easy and we don’t do it to be told “thanks”.  We do it because it’s part of the mission of the Church – it’s OUR part of the mission.  Though my time as a youth minister will soon be coming to an end, my love for the young Church has not and will not ever change.  Being a youth minister has formed me into the adult, wife, mother, and friend that I am.  I am thankful I was called to it.