“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven…” – Luke 6:20-23

“… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” – Romans 8:26

Frustration. Burn-out. Depression. Loneliness.

If you are in youth ministry, it’s not a matter of if these happen to you: it’s when. Anyone who has been in ministry (or in faith, for that matter) for a reasonable amount of time realizes that we spend far more time in valleys and deserts than we do on mountains and meadows.

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The source of our pain is always different – a difficult senior pastor, an angry parent, volunteers that hurt more than help, a crushing critic – but the results are always the same. We, who were so passionate and so ready to plunge into this generation of students with the good news of the Kingdom find ourselves sitting alone in our offices feeling defeated, angry, and alone.

How did it come to this? Didn’t God promise us it would be easy? Didn’t He promise us success and growth, parents that love us and students that want to learn from us? Didn’t He give us His cross so that we could hook black lights and speakers up to it and wave it around on a Wednesday night so that we could teach students to do the same?

Sometimes I catch a glimpse of how far we’ve come from what the Kingdom looks like. Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry. The weeping. The hated, excluded, insulted. Theirs is the Kingdom, and they are rejoicing.

How do I do that? How do I rejoice in my frustration? How do I leap for joy in my bitterness? How do I dance when there is no one to dance with?

I’ve discovered that I’m not praying right. I’m asking for ways out of my struggles. I’m seeking spiritual backdoors to escape conflict and confusion. The Spirit in me is groaning that to be a citizen in God’s Kingdom I’m going to have to become like those who are already there – the poor, the oppressed, the hurt, and the dying. I’ve got to stop asking God to take away what I struggle with and instead teach me to rejoice in it. The solutions to my problems are not really solutions at all – they are changes in mind. Changes in heart. Changes in soul.

As I’m learning that the Kingdom is a seed in me, desperate to grow up and out, I’m also realizing that my life is the soil. Every piece of broken heart and every drop of wounded ego that falls to the ground makes this soil richer, fuller, and more able to sustain life. In ground like this is where the Kingdom is taking root and growing, where it’s branches are reaching out, and where it’s blossoms are bringing beauty – all because the soil was rich with my pain.

So I am trying. Trying to stop praying for an end to my weaknesses. Trying to understand that God is made stronger in them.

And maybe, just maybe, I’m beginning to understand what it means to rejoice.

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