This article was made possible by Science for Youth Ministry in association with Luther Seminary and the John Templeton Foundation. Learn more at www.scienceym.org or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/scienceforYM.
Let me tell you a story…
There was a young man in youth group who was very bright and insightful. He was a regular to Sunday school and had gone through confirmation as a 13-year-old junior high student. He was now an eleventh grade high school student. His mother wanted desperately for him to be a “strong Christian man” so she made sure he was at every Bible Study and worship service he could make it to. One Sunday, his mother pulled me aside and said, “I am worried about him. I think he may be losing his faith. He says he doesn’t know if he believes in God anymore. I haven’t asked him any questions, because I don’t know what to say. And honestly, it is breaking my heart. He can’t lose his faith! What do I do?”
The truth is we will not always have the answer to the questions of our students. But we can always create space for them to ask questions and express their doubts and fears.
I admit that I had never been in this kind of situation before. I had never had a student who expressed their struggle with the existence of God. As far as I knew, all of the students in the group never questioned God’s very existence. But here was my first case. All I could think of to do was talk to him. So, we set up a time to meet, without his mother. I only prepared myself with a lot of prayer and listening ears.
As we sat on the steps of the church that day, he began to tell me how as he learned more and more in science class he began to have more and more doubts. “I love math,” he told me. With his head hanging and his eyes low he said, “In math, there is always an answer. It may be difficult to get to, but I can always figure it out. With this whole God thing… the more I think about it… the more I realize I can’t figure God out. Especially with things happening in the world that don’t make sense.”
I listened as he talked about wanting to make his mother happy. But he just couldn’t shake all his questions and doubts. He wondered if this made him a bad person. He wondered if all this time he spent at church was a waste. He was trying to make sense of what he could touch and the God he could not. He asked me what I thought.
I wish I could say that my answer was eloquent and profound. But all I could offer him was this honest answer. I told him that we all have questions and doubts. I assured him that even the most church going adults struggle with what he was struggling with. I admitted that I struggled. I admitted that I was struggling. I told him that he shouldn’t feel bad, but that he had actually inspired me to wrestle with my own doubts and fears. I asked him, “Can we figure this out together?” He looked up and said, “Yeah, we can do that.”
Hope Versus Answers
I realized that I didn’t need an answer that day. And that was a good thing because I didn’t have one. But the offer of figuring it out together caused him to look up with a little hope in his eye. I had hope too. I had hope that together we would at least create a non-threatening space for honest questions. I had hope that giving him such a space might help him to work it out, in his own way and his own time.
He went away to college about a year after that conversation. We met just a few times during that year. I really wish I could say that our conversation turned him into a “Jesus Freak.” It didn’t. Well, not in the superhero way I wanted it to back then. I wanted to tell the story that he totally “got it” and we had amazing tales of sharing this Gospel story with the other youth. But no. We continued to talk. Simple conversations. Conversations about life… his life, my life. I prayed for him. We lost contact when he went away to college. My prayer is that he is still asking questions and still seeking God’s presence in his life and in the world around him. I pray that he is still “working it out” because sometimes that is where we meet God the most.
Exploring with Students
The truth is we will not always have the answer to the questions of our students. But we can always create space for them to ask questions and express their doubts and fears. It is also crucial for our growth as leaders to hear those questions and wrestle with them ourselves. Even at 39 years old, I still have questions. When I turn on the TV and see all the chaos around the world… even I still ask, “Where is God?” It is in the questions, doubts, and fears of our students that we stay alert and become more aware of where our own hearts are. Sometimes their space becomes our space. Sometimes God will send that one kid who needs space to force us into a space where we can meet God. Whether questioning or affirming there must be a space for everyone to express and allow God to meet us. And don’t we all need a space to encounter God? I know I do.
Rev. Aqueelah Ligonde is an enthusiastic speaker, preacher and leader. Her passion is to minister to and encourage people, especially leaders. She is particularly interested in the spiritual, physical, mental, and social health of youth, young adults, girls, and women. Currently, she is a Staff Consultant with Ministry Architects and the Site Coordinator for the Young Adult Volunteer Program of New York City with the Presbyterian Church USA.