It is the middle of August, and that means it’s time for one of my least favorite rituals as a youth pastor. In the next two weeks, a wide majority of my recent high school graduates are going to be leaving for college. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am SO excited for them. I love college, the growth and learning, the moving to a life that is independent. I do worry about many of them, but even in that, I know that God is good and strong, and we have tried to stand by their parents over the last seven years and shown them how to follow Jesus. That isn’t necessarily why this two-week window is so hard. I just miss them. I’ve been through this season of goodbyes over 20 times now in the last couple of decades, but yet, it never gets any easier. At all. I have faith, I know a new school year is starting full of stories and excitement and opportunities to pour into students and families lives. I LOVE that! Yet, I still am sad to see this class go on.
Last night, one of our middle school leaders was the first to say goodbye. She has to be at Purdue on Sunday. My long time friend and co-worker in the ministry this summer is heading back to his junior year at Liberty this Sunday as well. With those two goodbyes, I begin the process of saying goodbye, giving hugs, watching the tears, praying with them, and missing them.
It’s just one of the little, often unseen wounds that we carry as youth pastors. No one else sees it or knows it. We definitely don’t have conferences on it, or seminary classes about it. It’s just one of the small prices of caring, of loving kids, of pouring ourselves into them and hoping in the face of sometimes incredible odds that they will make it. Then they do, and they have to leave, to move on to the next phase Jesus has for them.
So, to all of my fellow youth pastors out there, know that as you cry a little, or may be a little melancholy over the next two weeks, it’s ok. You’re not alone by any stretch, and those of us out here do understand. You’ve done your job well, you have been the hands, feet, words, and heart of Jesus. He will never drop you, even now. Thank you for loving students until it hurts. I, personally, am proud of you.
If you want to know how to help prepare these students BEFORE you have to say goodbye, I am learning a ton from the folks at Fuller Youth Institute and their Sticky Faith work. It really is worth checking out.