By Kim McMillan, Director of Youth Ministry
Before I worked as a youth minister I was a preschool teacher. I worked primarily with 3 year olds. One day the kids were drawing pictures. I asked one of the girls to tell me about her picture. She told me it was a picture of God. Impressed, I told her that no one really knows what God looks like. She, in a very matter-of-fact way shared; “they will when I am done!”
It makes me smile even to this day because she had an image in her mind of the God who created her.
During the Children’s Liturgy of the Word last weekend, the Gospel reminded us about Jesus response to the question, What is the greatest commandment? “The most important one says: ‘People of Israel, you have only one Lord and God. You must love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.’ The second most important commandment says: ‘Love others as much as you love yourself’ No other commandment is more important than these.” Mark 12:28-31. Most of the kids understood the second most important commandment. No doubt because they had heard it in the form of, Treat others the way you would want to be treated.
I think part of the reason why they were able to remember was because they have an understanding of how they’d like to be treated. This gives them an experience that they can connect to. Loving God with all our heart, mind and soul can seem more abstract but really it is the foundation of our relationship with God. When we can imagine a loving God, who cares about us in a radical way, we can start to trust in Our Father.
When we can imagine a Father who sent His Only Son to live, die and rise again to save us, we can begin to sense how radical His love is. After we imagine Our Father, we need to develop the words to speak about what we believe. I know that words matter and having a vocabulary of faith matters. I think this is why I enjoy seeing the Children participate in Children’s Liturgy of the Word. When they get to listen to scripture and answer questions about what they have heard, they grow in confidence and faith.
In a New York Times op-ed article (“It’s Getting Harder to Talk About God”), John Merritt cites research that shows more than three-fourths of Americans today “do not have spiritual or religious conversations.” The reasons that people do not have these conversations vary but, the outcome of the lack of conversation around faith is a culture of young people who are less confident in expressing what they imagine, belief and trust about, Our Father.
St Mary’s press completed a study on the dynamics of disaffiliation in young people. That study revealed one of the biggest reasons young people cite for disaffiliating is because they felt a lack of opportunity to ask tough questions, express doubts, and wrestle out-loud with real-life issues.
Merritt’s research found that this lacking of language was not just around theological vocabulary, “but basic moral and religious words” such as “language about the virtues Christians call the fruit of the spirit—words like ‘love,’ ‘patience,’ ‘gentleness’ and ‘faithfulness.’
Why does all this matter? Because words have power.
It is in the context of everyday conversations that a vocabulary of faith develops.
It takes time, patience, empathy, understanding, curiosity, and humility all around.
The more we develop our language of faith, the easier it will be for our children and other adults we encounter, to see Christ in us in a way that increases their desire to know Christ.
If you are looking for others to have these conversations with, the young adult group has a few more weeks of scripture study happening. All young adults are invited to participate. You do not have to participate in all 6 weeks to be welcome. They meet on Thursday evenings in the rectory.
So I invite you to have a conversation… What do you imagine God looks like? How do you know God loves you in a radical way? What scripture passage most assures you that you can trust in the goodness of God?
I pray that the grace and courage of the Holy Spirit empowers you to speak your faith today and every day.