Well, I have done it again. I have watched a group of young people work their way through middle school and high school and then go off to college. And, once again, I have underestimated the toll it would take on me emotionally.
Just this past week the last few students from the class of ’10 left for college. They have been slowly trickling away for 2 or 3 weeks. And now, they are all gone. They attend their last youth service, say their good-byes, then they pack up their things and leave town. I know I will miss them, but it is not until they are gone that I realize just how much. I suppose it is the nature of youth ministry, something most youth pastors can identify with and experience at the end of every summer. After spending 4, 5, or 6 years investing in, pouring into and loving these students, the time comes for them to move on. My first time through this cycle it caught me off guard. I became nearly depressed when students I had grown so attached to left. Now I know what to expect, but it is still no fun.
I knew I would miss them, but last night, after the kids were in bed, and I had a moment to sit and reflect, it hit me. I became quite emotional as I lamented that my time with these students has essentially come to an end. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul said, “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.”
It is one thing to simply preach to people. It is quite another to share your life, to love those you minister to and to allow them to become dear to you. Learning to care more deeply makes you incredibly vulnerable. It makes you susceptible to heartache. But I am learning to be more like Paul, and despite these risks, I am “delighted” to do so.