Spirit Breaker: When Life Disappoints Me

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Warning:  This blog post contains indelicate, unorthodox, inelegant, and unrefined locution not merely for the purpose of being vulgar or crass, but for the express intention of communicating intense emotions with appropriately magnified rhetoric.  All opposed should cease reading approximately midway through this article.  ~Respectfully, Overly Conscious, Dutifully, Protectively and Sincerely Yours, The Author.

As we each journey through life we find something meaningful to pour our heart and soul into.  For me, I find meaning in pouring myself into ministry to others.  But sometimes we meet with a challenge or road block that can be a Spirit Breaker for us.  Sometimes it’s losing something that we’ve invested ourselves in that causes heart break.  Sometimes the heart break takes the form of rejection by someone that we have loved or someone that we have given our best to.  For me, that is the worst Spirit Breaker.  It takes a long time to heal from that kind of heart break and it takes a true act of the will to love again.

Josh, talking with students

Let me give you an example of this kind of Spirit Breaker.  Back in 1996 Josh was a Senior in Bible College.  We had been married for about a year and a half.  That summer our son was born, Josh was working on his internship and holding down 2 part time jobs.  Then he returned to classes in the fall and added that load to his back as well.  He was working very hard.  In the middle of his internship under the youth pastor at our home church, the youth pastor resigned!  Josh finished his internship (a.k.a. worked for free as the youth pastor) and in the fall was hired part time to officially fill the position.  He worked full time and was paid part time.  He graduated the following spring with a degree in youth ministry and more than a year of experience already under his belt.  The next 8 years were both fantastically successful and fantastically painful as we poured ourselves heart and soul into the youth group. We loved those teenagers more than they will ever know.

We graduated 8 classes of teenagers.  We played a part in the development of a couple hundred teenagers during those 8 years.  The best part was being a spiritual influence, mentor, guide, and leader to kids in various stages of spiritual growth from 7th grade to 12th grade.  The worst part, the Spirit Breaker was when kids would make bad decisions even when they knew the right path to take.  As youth leaders we could only stand at the side of the road of life and shout words of encouragement or caution.  We couldn’t force people to follow God.  We couldn’t force people to behave right.  We couldn’t force kids to stay in the church after they graduated from high school.

It was more than heart breaking to see kids that we had prayed over, cried with, and poured our heart and soul into then leave the youth group and turn their hearts away from God.  We felt like failures when we saw some of our teens floundering inspite of our best efforts to lead them on the right path.  We loved those kids and tried to show them God’s love.  When things went bad, we had to remind ourselves that these kids weren’t rejecting us, they were rejecting God.

Compounding this heart break, this sense of failure, was the lack of support– sometimes open hostility- that we experienced from some of the parents.  We used to joke that Moses had the right idea:  he killed off everyone over 20 before he lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.  Of course that was a joke, and we had a few amazingly supportive parents on our side, but it was just that the disgruntled ones complained so loudly and some were on the church board.

Josh had a particularly devastating experience when a deacon who had kids in the youth group swore at him and complained that the church would be better off without a youth pastor.  This deacon immediately went on my “list of people I do not like” and it was really hard to minister to his kids after that.  I could have let that be a Spirit Breaker for me, but I chose the high road and chose to keep loving the kids even though their dad was a jerk.

(Readers of sensitive constitution should omit the following paragraph.)  I can’t tell you how many times I was horrified and humiliated by a parent when we were in youth ministry.  I had one guy stop me in the church lobby on a Sunday night to complain that there were not enough teens in church on Sunday nights so his kid didn’t want to come either.  Then in the same breath he complained that I was looking a little sloppy for church- I was wearing a T-shirt and cargo pants.  I wanted to tell him, “Screw you!  I don’t drive your kids to church, you do!  And I can wear whatever the hell I want, no one is paying me to be here or to abide by a dress code.  This is probably WHY kids didn’t want to come to church, because some self-righteous prick might criticize their clothing.”

Instead I again chose the high road (with a touch of smart-aleck) and said, “I dressed up nice this morning when all the grown ups were in church.  I figured there wouldn’t be as many grown ups here tonight, so I could dress more appropriately for ministering to teenagers.”  I was shocked that someone would be so critical of me personally.  It was like I wasn’t even a human being in this parent’s mind.  I was giving my all in a “job” where I never received ONE paycheck and this was the reward?  Spirit Breaker.

But I always had hope that I was making an eternal difference for some kid out there.  What off-set all the heart breaking experiences in youth ministry were the times when a kid would really surprise us.  Sometimes a kid that struggled a lot as a teen would pull it together and become a strong Christian adult!  Surprise!  We never could tell how all these seeds that we were planting would turn out.  We had to keep the hope alive.

We just had to hope that we were making an eternal difference even though we didn’t see the evidence right away.  I remember on our last night at youth group, kids and parents were standing around waiting to talk with us and to say good bye.  A few hours later, as the crowd began to dwindle, a girl from a past graduating class came up to me.  She had driven 4 hours from college to say good bye to us.  Then she had waited in line for at least an hour to talk to me.  Ironically, I never felt like I connected well with this girl even though I tried.  I really did love her though.  She started crying and thanking me for the cards that I used to write to her.  Just that little act of attention meant a lot to her.  I was very touched.  Somehow I had made a difference in her life even though I didn’t know it at the time.

Hope.  It is only in thinking of the possible results of the millions of little acts of kindness that I can set aside the pain of Spirit Breaking experiences and to keep on loving and giving and working and sowing seeds into the lives of others.  My only hope is that somewhere along the way, something I do will MEAN something, someone will be touched by a little act of kindness, someone will see Jesus differently because I loved through the heart break.  And for me, that is the only way to overcome a broken spirit… hope for better.

“God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks.  It is a good thing to quietly hope for help from God.  It is a good thing when you’re young to stick it out through the hard times.”  Lamentations 3:24-26

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