Last week I had the privilege of going away to Lithuania for three days with a small team to visit a youth centre in the city of Kaunas. The purpose of our trip was to build relationships with the youth centre, to share ideas on the work that we do and to strengthen one another through prayer and teaching. The connections with Lithuania came from a previous trip that some of the team had been on before as part of the Escape and Pray project from the student charity Fusion. (Check it out its amazing: Escape and Pray).
While we were there I was encouraged to talk to the youth workers about the work they do in schools on relationships and sex education, especially since they have the same values of teaching about sex and its place in loving, healthy relationships. One area of work we also spent time discussing was mental health. There is a growing need, not just in the UK but across Europe and the world, to challenge the stigma surrounding Mental Health and support those who are struggling. We spent a lot of time praying with students who were struggling with the pressures of their assignments and exams. There was, however, another trend that I noticed. A lot of the students who came for prayer were putting a lot of pressure on themselves to do the right thing after their studies were over. These worries were not just reserved for the students though, a lot of youth workers we spoke to were sharing similar stories, of wanting to be doing the right thing for God. Worries for their futures, worries for their relationships, and worries that they would make the right decision in what they do in life. That’s a lot of worry! I noticed there was a fear of making the wrong choice or of failure.
On reflection I wondered, do we have similar worries, and do we inadvertently put the same pressures onto our young people. Sometimes in Christian groups, it's possible to use verses like Jeremiah 29.11, ‘For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’, out of context and in so doing create a gospel of ‘everything is going to be OK, all the time'. Do we communicate that a life of faith involves God having a path directly laid out before us and we just need to pray hard enough so that God will reveal that to us? If this is the case, we can end up living in our own strength, defining our own path, and not relying on Jesus, worried about achieving this standard. Or, if we understand a life of faith as what we do for God rather than what we do with God, we can become legalistic and miss out on a relationship with him by striving for something that we don’t need to. Hopefully this isn’t the case, but it is helpful to be aware of. Rather than spending all our energy pursuing God on knowing every detail of his plan for us, we need to encourage our young people in Christian groups to use time to rest on him, be still, and simply know that he is God. If this is our starting point, then we can experience more of God’s grace; for when we inevitably make mistakes, we know that we can rest on the one who restores us and brings us life in abundance.