I had an experience recently where I finally realized something and so I figured I’d share. After all, it’s taken me 37 years to figure it out, so here goes.
All of us have friends or family that we have spent considerable time with and invested a lot of hours in – trying to help them through problems, supporting them, teaching them and praying for them. I started doing that before I ever had kids of my own when I was a youth pastor. Now that I’ve got five of my own, I continue to pour into the people I love. It’s tiring, but can also be rewarding when you see someone implementing some of the Godly wisdom you’ve tried to impart in them – telling the truth, making tough choices, etc.
Well, it has always bothered me on a personal level when I’ve seen former students of mine, who I spent considerable time with and who allowed me privileged access into their worlds, who have taken a different path then the one I tried to show them and encourage them along. I’ve felt like a failure (even now that I’m a pastor I often feel the same way). I feel like I didn’t do a good job. Girls got pregnant, guys have abandoned the faith, some to the point of calling themselves atheists, kids have run away from home or moved out, others have quit school or moved in (often with their newest boyfriend/girlfriend), even now, people insist on divorce as the best option or fornication as an acceptable alternative.
So whenever I would catch up with a former student, I’d prepare myself to feel the tinge of failure yet again. It certainly didn’t always happen – some students are in ministry, some preparing for it, and others are married and making an amazing life with their spouse and kids as they follow after Christ.
Recently I felt that failure again. I saw a former student – one who was now a single parent – and was looking through some pictures she had. Some of the pictures were from when she was in my youth group, on trips with myself and others. As I looked, I came across a picture that would normally send my home with my tail between my legs, wondering who was I to think I could make a difference in someone’s life. Of the 6 or 7 girls pictured, there was only 1 who I knew to be living out her Christian faith. Two were single, unwed mothers, two were married, (one to a divorced unbeliever, the other also to an unbeliever) and the rest had strained relationships with their parents or others (one is currently living, and most likely sleeping, with her fiance). Normally I’d be crushed.
But this time was different. I’ve spoken with these girls since they graduated and moved on – most everyone admits they know better – they just haven’t chosen to do better. And so I realized that I gave them every advantage, every tool and every reason I could, to choose the path of obedience and blessing, but THEY chose otherwise. I did what I could (and most of the their parents did as well) but still, despite the right teaching, the clear biblical guidelines, still THEY chose unwisely. And now many of them are paying the price with strained relationships and difficult circumstances that I’ll simply call consequences for sin.
Me, I don’t feel guilty this time. I don’t feel like a failure. In fact, I rejoice with the one in the picture who chose wisely and is living in the blessing of God’s unending grace. I see her joy, I know her family, I’ve held her children. Her life hasn’t been easy, but it’s been blessed. And it’s because she chose to follow God’s path, no matter how hard it’s gotten. And God’s been faithful to her as she’s been faithful to Him. So Laci, thanks for being an encouragement to me and helping me to realize that all we can do is show people what’s right and then pray for them to live righteously. You are a testimony – keep living right. We both know you’re not perfect, but at least you’re trying. Thanks.
For the rest of you – don’t look at the choices that other people make as your failures. You can’t own their decisions anymore than you can make them for them. When you’ve presented truth, when you’ve shared the way, do it with love, with conviction, with concern, but remember, at the end of the day, that’s all you can do (besides praying for them of course). We can’t make our children choose right – but I’m committed to letting them know and be clear on what IS right – and that’s all I can do.