When I was a youth minister, I took some time getting to know the kids on my leadership team. We would have meetings and talk and sometimes they would drop by after school and hang out in my office, telling me about their day. They accepted whatever it was that I could offer to them in my inexperience as a youth minister, and I accepted them, wherever they were in their spiritual walk.
After one of our first Youth Leadership Team (YLT) meetings, one of the parents approached me and said “I noticed three kids were not at the meeting today. I think we should set a rule that says if you can’t attend every meeting you are off the team.” We did have some guidelines set for attending meetings, but I had not been enforcing the rules.
Being new to the parish environment (and youth ministry itself) I wanted to answer diplomatically. “Please give me the words Holy Spirit”, I silently prayed….
“Mrs. Jones, if I showed up at your door and I had a present for you, how would you feel?” I asked. “I would think that was wonderful!” She exclaimed. “Would you think it was wonderful even if it was something you couldn’t use, or already had?” She seemed to answer quickly “Of course because I know it came from your heart, ” she understood.
“Well, it is the same with these kids. If they gave me a present wrapped in purple with a red bow, I would not give back and say ‘No! I wanted a YELLOW present with a GREEN bow!’ because they might feel rejected–like what they had to give wasn’t good enough. I know in their hearts they mean well. If they show up when they can (most of them cannot drive yet and rely on busy parents or a friend to get somewhere) and offer what they have, it is good enough for me.” She seemed to understand and her stance softened.
God’s mercy is immense. He loves us. That is for sure. When we represent the faith to another person, especially a young person, we must remember that we are the example of God’s love. If they feel God rejects them because their church has rejected them (for what was probably out of their control in the first place) we will do a great injustice. It isn’t easy, but with constant prayer to the Holy Spirit, and a well-intentioned merciful heart, we can bet we are on the right track.