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Spirituality and Youth

 

The Rev. Brian N. Prior MDiv

 

I stood in the driveway watching the ambulance drive away, the rest of my family following directly behind. I felt completely alone. The chaos of the events that transpired in the previous ten minutes played over and over in my mind.

 

I had come home from playing with a friend on this President's Day Monday to find my father home sick. Enquiring on how he was feeling, my father assured me he was fine. "Just the flu," and he told me to go downstairs to play with my brothers.

 

Moments later, for reasons unknown to me, I felt compelled to go back upstairs. I entered the kitchen to find my father sprawled out on the floor. I quickly ran downstairs to summon my brothers. Immediately, one brother and I began to perform CPR on my father as the other one called for an ambulance.

 

After waiting what felt like an eternity, an ambulance arrived and hurriedly strapped my father to a gurney, then rolled him out the front door. At that moment my mother arrived and was instructed by the ambulance driver to follow him to the hospital. She instructed my older brothers to get in her car, and because at 13 I was too young to go to the hospital, my mother told me to go to the neighbor's house.

 

There I stood in the middle of my driveway, all alone. Then, quite unconsciously, I reached beneath my T-shirt and grabbed the cross that I had recently received from my priest. As I did so, I immediately remembered the words he had said when he gave it to me. "This is to remind you that you are never alone. God is always with you."

 

In this transformational moment the emptiness that I was feeling was immediately replaced with a sense of comfort and reassurance. It provided me with an amazing feeling of inner strength.

 

I have often reflected on this life changing occurrence and how critical my faith was in providing me with the resiliency to endure this very traumatic experience. Sadly, it was the first of many as I endured the death of five other peers by the time I graduated from high school.

 

In over twenty-five years of working with young people I have witnessed and shared the painful journey of loss with many adolescents. Sometimes this involves the death of friends or family members. More often, however, it is suffering which is either self afflicted or perpetrated by another. Either way the innocence of childhood is almost always abruptly ended.

 

Yet, amidst incredible loss and suffering I have observed a significant number of young people not only endure, but flourish into compassionate, productive adults. Consistently in my experience there are certain key factors that have enabled adolescents to develop a resiliency to traumatic occurrences in their lives.

This resiliency is not based on forming a hard shell, denying the reality of the circumstances they are faced with, or aggressively acting out. Rather, it is rooted spiritually in a deep sense of core values.

The first of these values is an understanding about in whose image they are created. When young people begin to see themselves as created in the image of God they begin to possess an inherent feeling of being grounded.

 

The second spiritual core value is that they are loved unconditionally. In the best circumstances the primary place this is lived out is in a familial setting. Young people who feel that they are loved not based on their actions or choices good or bad, but rather for whom they are as children of God live their lives out of love and not out of fear.

 

The third spiritual value is an innate understanding that being created in the image of God, and being unconditionally loved as a child of God, they also are uniquely gifted. With the assistance of parents, mentors and peers young people begin to discern not only those things they are "good at" but also what they really have passion for. As importantly, they also begin to not only understand but also accept that there are some things that are not their gifts.

 

The final spiritual core value is a clear sense of belonging. This is shaped when young people find themselves connected to a community. This is not just any community, but rather one that nurtures, supports and encourages the spiritual values of being created in the image of God, that they are unconditionally loved, and that they are uniquely gifted.

 

These core spiritual values that enable adolescents to establish the resiliency to endure incredible pain and loss, in my experience, need a key factor to be in place: a mentor. While family is unquestionably the primary expression of where one is shaped and formed, adult mentors are the ones who "smooth the rough edges" of whom God is calling all of us to be. Mentors, whether they are youth ministers, coaches, educators, or neighbors, are critical in an adolescent's development. True mentors encourage, support, challenge and assist young people in clearly seeing who they are and who they can become. Nothing will be more beneficial in helping a young person understand their spiritual core values.

 

Once adolescents begin to grasp their spiritual core values, they will begin to possess a self perception and identification which will provide them with the resiliency to endure the pain and loss which is undeniably a part of the life journey. 

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