I am a leader in the middle school youth group at my church. To say I love serving in this capacity would be an understatement. I began over two years ago leading a gaggle of 6th grade girls who thought they were so old (they were in youth group, you know), but who were each truly little girls. I have had the unique blessing to be their small group leader for each of their years in middle school. I have been able to watch them grow from wide eyed little girls to amazing young women. Having no children or family of my own, I very much view these young ladies as my spiritual children. This group has been vital to my contentment in my singleness as I pour the love I have for family and kids onto them. The past two years have gone smoothly. Each year I had a co-leader, but neither of them was incredibly committed. I assumed the role as leader, and settled comfortably into the routine. I was the one calling the shots, planning parties, keeping in contact with parents, etc. I had things figured out and established. They were neat and orderly, just the way I like them.
I was so looking forward to this upcoming year. Many other leaders can attest to the fact that the 6th and 7th grade years are more or less foundational years. 8th grade is when the girls start to struggle with their faith, ask deep questions, and really figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. I was excited to get to the meat of the word with them and, hopefully, guide them into a deeper walk with the Lord. As we prepared to begin this school year, one of the new leaders in the ministry, Sarah, was assigned to my group with me. I was quite excited to be working with her. The two of us have been friends for several years now, so I was excited to share my small group with her. We had our first monthly meeting in October, and we were both really excited about the upcoming year. Everything seems perfect up until this point, right? What could possibly go wrong? Well, let me just say, my sin nature got in the way… again.
Since I began serving, there have been two girls’ small groups with this grade. I lead one, and another female leader is in charge of the other. Things have functioned comfortably this way. I have my group, she has her group. Everyone knows what it expected of them, and everything runs smoothly. This year, however, there was a little hitch in our perfect little setup. The other small group had a drastic drop in attendance. The first meeting consisted of two leaders and three girls. This created an awkward scenario and was not conducive for studying the word and developing strong relationships. The leaders of that group asked if our groups could combine. After much thought, our pastor decided to merge our two groups. This has been much harder for me than I ever would have thought. I felt so torn up inside. I felt like my nicely constructed little family was being invaded. I now had to share my girls, my family, in a way I never imagined. My co-leader and I both felt uneasy about this decision. We felt four leaders for one group, especially four women, would lead to hurt feelings and stepping on each others toes. We both felt it would be “too many cooks in the kitchen.” We were very apprehensive.
After thinking and talking it through, we decided to give it a go. You never know until you try, right? At our November meeting, we were all combined. Things did not go well. Having four leaders seemed cumbersome, and the differences in the way our groups function became evident. I left the night feeling sick with disappointment and frustration realizing my nice little bubble had been burst. My deeper issue, however, was trying to figure out why this was bothering me so much!
After much thought and prayer, God began to reveal some deeper heart issues going on. There are many layers to my feelings, yet a few main themes popped up. Probably the top issue I discovered is the fear of being forgotten… of being unimportant to my girls. As a child, I felt I always had to compete with my brother for attention. It seemed our friends always liked him more. He was the popular one, the life of the party, the extrovert that everyone wanted to be around. This resulted in several memories that are burned into the deep places of my heart and have caused hurt and lasting damage. Most of these memories consist of my girlfriends coming over to play with me, and ending up spending time with my brother while I sat alone and hurting. One specific memory is of a birthday party of mine (I believe it was my 12th). My brother came home about half-way through the evening. My friends all rushed to greet him, crowded around him, and competed for his attention. They dropped everything in a heartbeat, leaving the craft we were working on neglected on the table. More hurtfully, however, was they left me sitting alone, feeling as unimportant as the scraps of fabric and forgotten glue sticks lying about. These feeling of hurt and unimportance have been the driving force of many of my decisions through my teen years. For so long I tried so desperately to be someone other than myself. I will admit it gained me friends, but I was left feeling exhausted and empty. In my heart of hearts I still felt unloved. The real me wasn’t getting love and affection. The fun, extroverted, life of the party Melissa was loved, not the homebody, bookworm, introverted Melissa. Realizing this though, helped me see a huge part of my apprehension for the year stemmed from my fear of being overshadowed. I now felt I had to compete with 3 other people for the love of my girls. I felt that all my hard work and investment in their lives was going to amount to nothing this year as they become enamored with these new leaders. For fear of losing their love, I wanted to keep them all to myself. This, added to the multiple other heart issues I discovered, have been caused me to see this year as daunting and hopeless.
This situation has really put my commitment to the test. It would be easy to simply walk away. They don’t need me. I have a very busy life. No one is making me work with the youth. My end goal in life, however, is not ease. My end goal is to become like Christ. Growth is rarely (never) fun. It stings when God shows us our sin. It hurts when we must die to self. It really is no fun at all when we must go through struggles, especially when we can just quit. What is must remember is God’s plan is GOOD. It is the BEST thing for me to follow. Even when it is hard and I feel like quitting, God’s will must win out in the end. Today I had a conversation with our youth pastor, Levi, about it. I believe my co-leader and I were still holding onto this glimmer of hope that if things didn’t go exactly as planned, we could just divide the group again. Without realizing it, this thought prevented me from giving my all to making the merge a success. I was holding back, hoping to not have to go through this struggle, hoping things would go back to the way they were. Levi made it clear we are going to be together the rest of the year. There is no possibility of things returning to the way they were. We are in this for better or for worse. I was surprised when I felt peace wash over me when Levi said that. It was in that moment I realized I was previously not committed to making this work. I was only pretending to make the best of the situation. Now that I know there is no going back, I can truly say I AM committed to making this the best year yet. This will involve much grace, love, and humility on my end, as well as a deeper trust in Christ and His love. This year may not be easy, but I am excited to see what God has in store, now that my heart is finally obedient to His will.
In a greater sense, this problem has shown me a lot about commitment in general. I think so many relationships and marriages fail because the people involved are not truly committed. Their dedication to the relationship is much like my attitude was in the beginning of this small group dilemma. They are willing to put in some effort, but if things get too uncomfortable, or things don’t go exactly their way, they will simply sever the relationship. What if couples had the view God just revealed to me? That no matter what, there was no going back. There was no out, no chance to change your decision. I wonder if people would begin to put a lot more effort into making their marriage flourish. I am just speculating, and I’m sure there is much more to relationships than just commitment, but as for me, I’m very thankful God is teaching me what it means to have true dedication to something, and to see it through even the tough times.


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