I have been involved in Youth Ministry in one way or another since 2006. My current journey to becoming a teacher has shown me the importance of reflection. As I reflect on my Youth Ministry experiences and the wonderful people I have met over the years, one issue seems to always come to the front of my mind, and I feel the need to talk about it and speak to youth about it as well. This issue is Living in the Shadows.
This issue doesn't appear where you may think. It happens within those amazingly faithful, well-put-together Catholic families. You see them in Mass all the time. I have a lot of respect and admiration for them. For the most part, they are the token model of what I would like my family to be some day. They usually have more than four kids - two or more have graduated. Usually one or two of the kids has gone off and done some sort of 'Catholic God Stuff' - whether it be joining a ministry like CCO, FOCUS, or NET, heading to bible school, or entering the seminary. These kids are usually celebrated by the Catholic community for their openness to God's will in their lives, and their service of the Church (as they should be). They are giving up a year or more of their lives to discern God's will and serve His people. This is very noble and admirable.
My question is: What about the other kids?
Living in the Shadows
What about the other kids? What about the younger children? The siblings? Yes, they have amazing role models to look up to and aspire to be like, but I think that more times than not they feel like they are living in the shadows of their super holy brothers and sisters, and feel like if they don't follow the same path as them, they will be looked at as failures.
Now, I know for a fact that in most cases, this would never happen on purpose. No parents that I know would ever feel that way about their kids... ever!
The problem is, the kids can still feel this way themselves. And some of them do.
Every time I have spoken to youth about this topic, the younger children of these amazing families seem to connect with it. They can relate. One talk touched on how they shouldn't be so hard on themselves because God loves them no matter what. The conference I was speaking at had a lot of youth from very strong Catholic families in attendance, and as I was up there, I felt moved to touch on this topic. I mentioned that for those in attendance who have brothers and sisters who have gone before them and done cool stuff for God like join a ministry, take the pressure off yourself to live up to that and figure out what God wants for YOU. Some youth came up to me after the talk and thanked me. One young man in particular said, "before your talk, I hated myself". That hit me like a ton of bricks. I saw many students shake their heads in agreement with me. They can relate to this stuff.
What can we do?
Sometimes I think we forget about these children and assume they're fine because they come from stable, well-established, faithful homes. But the truth is, they are searching for purpose, meaning, and identity just a much as the rest of them. Sometimes they can be easily forgotten.
We need to encourage them and let them know that they don't have to follow the same path as their brother or sister who seem to have it all together.
We need to tell them that there are so many ways to holiness - That they don't need to do the same thing as their super holy brother or sister - That they can be holy in their own special way... their own quiet way.
We need to tell them that they have a purpose.
We need to encourage them in the fact that God has an amazing and unique plan set aside for them, and empower them to find it, own it, and embrace it.
We need to remember those youth Living in the Shadows of their family members and invite them out into the light of their own legacy, their own story, their own journey with Christ, and their own purpose.
We need to.
- Lance Rosen