The students in our religious education program are required to attend a certain number of retreats before receiving the sacrament of confirmation in our faith. A retreat is a removal of one’s self from the world to focus on a relationship with God. While we confiscated a total of six cell phones over the weekend (and no telling what other devices were smuggled in), for the most part the kids cooperated and participated.
I’m having a hard time returning to the “real world,” as this experience was one of the most intense I’ve had. Some retreats I feel like I’m more of an observer and a helper. This was one of those retreats that I put together and executed, and I was intensely involved in the student’s journey.
We started out with my essay on “The Lesson of the Five Thousand,” then watched a YouTube video called “Cardboard Testimonies”. It was all about having a hunger for the message of Jesus and what happens when you let God enter your heart. We played some games (they ARE teenagers, after all), and the real work began on Saturday morning.
While the praise and worship was flat – our church has never done P&W and the kids were not used to it – we spent a good part of the day with a series of Scripture, reflection/journaling, and discussion, with each session building on the last. I took them from “where are you now” to “what do you think is good for you” to “what does God want for you” and finally to “what is God offering you”. We had some truly insightful comments from the teenagers in small group. We played a blindfolded obstacle course game, where their teammates had to yell directions to their “runner” to get them to maneuver the course correctly. Of course, the other team could play dirty pool and yell out wrong directions. We then had a discussion on how to hear God in our lives, and how do we know which voice to listen to, and how do we block out the noise to find our “true direction”?
But the icing on the cake was Saturday night prayer. I hadn’t actually figured out exactly what to do that evening, but after some of the revelations (particularly from my troublemakers), I decided to do a candlelight prayer service. The teens did prayer with a partner, and then each one came to me individually for some personal prayer. “J” is a teen that has always acted out in class, and he shared with us some very significant family problems, which caused him much anger. “C” admitted to carrying a lot of anger, also. So when “J” came up to me and asked me to pray for his family, I did so and then added some very personal prayers for him. While the girls were eager to hug me after prayer, “J” tried to leave quickly. I reach over and, grabbing his neck, pulled his head next to mine for a quick “head hug” and whispered in his ear “I really care about you, J”. This tall guy, who always tried to act tough and act out and always sought attention (which disrupted my class), had to wipe his eyes as he left his chair.
Forget the games. Forget the praise and worship. Forget all the other stuff. It is for those personal moments when I may have changed a life for the better that I stay up until 2:00 am preparing my schedule. It is for those moments, where I can touch a heart, that I work myself to a frazzle. It is for those moments, when God works through me, that I feel His grace.
And that makes it all worthwhile.