Presence speaks more than words

This past week I enjoyed the incredible privilege of serving alongside high school and college age students on a work related mission project in the foothills of North Carolina. We spent long days assisting those in the community with home improvements needs that they had - everything from building handicap ramps, roofing homes, painting, yard maintenance, and hauling off garbage and debris.

During the week I sat down with a student who wanted to share some things that were on his heart. So much had gone wrong in his life the past few years and his story was heart wrenching to say the least. Parents whose marriage was failing, addictions that he was struggling to overcome, broken relationships that caused much pain, and more. As I sat and listened to his heart I realized that, beyond a few words of spiritual encouragement, there was not a whole lot that I could say to him. While I prayerfully attempted to point him in the right direction, I knew that I could not fix his situation. So I did my best to listen and be there for him.

Also during the week the youth group that I brought with me to serve in this community mission effort received some devastating news. A young man who was a fellow high school student with them tragically drowned in the ocean while trying to help someone free a grounded boat. This student was well-liked and respected by everyone. Captain of the football and basketball team, big smile, bigger heart, and bright future. And now gone. When the students got the news it absolutely floored many of them. They had classes with him. He was their friend. It hurt. And as I sat there I cried with them, because I also knew this young man well and loved him with all my heart. I didn't really have the words to say at that time so I just sat there with our other adults and we did our best to be available to the students. No hokey words of hollow encouragement or sermonettes about the afterlife. Just trying to be an available presence in the room with a bunch of hurting teenagers.

These two instances served to remind me that as adults we are often far too eager to speak words into the lives of young people that we think they need to hear when what they really need is just our presence. Teenagers are smart. They know that most of what tell them is true - they've heard us say it a million times. What they need from us and don't get nearly enough of is our time and presence in their lives without the lecture that typically comes along with it.

If you are active in the lives of young people or you have them in your home or community - which pretty much includes all of us - then you have the opportunity to invest in them in ways that will change them and they will never forget. Yes, speak truth into their lives and walk alongside of them. They need mentors now more than ever. But don't be afraid to just be there for them without having to necessarily do or say anything. The words of a Caedmon's Call song entitled "Center Aisle" ring truer now than ever: Words aren't remembered, but presence is.

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