In my mind, Exodus 3 presents to us one of the most dramatic scenes in the Old Testament. The shepherd Moses, living in exile from Egypt - an alien to both his native people and the family who raised him - encounters a bush that is burning "yet not consumed" (Exodus 3:2). From the bush, God calls out to him:
"Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” -Exodus 3:5
When we set a person, a place, or a thing apart as being "holy," we treat it differently. You don't treat a Church like a coffee shop - and the Bible isn't just another book on a bookshelf. Like most cradle Catholics, I've been raised to have respect for these holy things - learning to genuflect, bow, silence my phone, and take off my hat in all the right places. But since becoming a youth minister/chaplain, I've come to recognize another sacred space; the stories shared with me by those whom I serve.
Everyone has a story to tell: messy stories, difficult stories, painful stories. People may regard their stories as trivial because they aren't as dramatic as someone else's story... other people hide their stories out of fear or shame. Being a youth minister has put me in a privileged place to hear these stories - and I've heard many different ones over these past years. Some of these have been stories of angst, some of heartbreak, some of incredible pain and loneliness. I've found myself on more than one occasion to be in the right place when someone's story comes to me as a call for help - looking for assistance to get through a past trauma or current difficulties. When I think back on my own story, I am so grateful for the youth minister who had time to listen to me - and who walked with me through some of the more difficult chapters. It's a big part of why I'm a youth minister today - the hope of being able to help someone else make sense of their story. Others have strengthened my faith, as people have shared the way that God has been working in them. We call a lot of these stories "testimonies" - as people talk of the way in which God gets beyond their traumas or failures. There's a final group of stories that leave me humbled: when someone shares with me that I've had a positive impact on who they've become today.
If you're a young person with a story to tell, I pray you find someone who hears it and regards it with the reverence it deserves. Particularly if you're working through a particularly difficult chapter of your story - maybe even something you've never shared before. Know that we who work in youth ministry - some of whom contribute to this site - consider it a particularly amazing privilege to share in these stories. We treasure the opportunity to laugh with you and cry with you - sometimes both in the same conversation. Your struggles are not trivial to us - they are sacred, and they make us want to "remove our sandals" - as we stand with you in this holy ground.