You’ll inevitably sit in hot stadiums and attend parties full of people you’ve never met. Graduation is one of the many joys of youth ministry, but sometimes it’s downright hard on the transitioning student. They’re stressed, scared, or even just plain sad.
Seniors face a lot of complex emotions, but here are three that I’ve seen play a big role:
Feeling alone in their struggle
Here are three truths to help them combat these emotions.
Your life does not begin at your next milestone.
Our culture has created a monster made of high expectations. We have constructed major milestones into idols. People can become so focused on their next phase in life that they miss out on their current life. We obsess with life-checkpoints and their proposed timelines — driving, graduation, getting engaged, going into the right school, moving out, or even just the next grade. Don’t let your students fall into this trap. God wants to teach you something new wherever you are and whatever the season. Don’t let an obsession with the next milestone distract you from the current moment.
Uncertainty isn’t the enemy.
If I had a nickel for every time someone asked 17-year-old me, “What’s your major?” followed up by “Oh! What’re you going to do with that?” I would have like thirty dollars. Sure, that’s not a lot of money, but it’s a whole lot of nickels. Back in those days I would have said I wanted to get a PhD in literature — I don’t even like reading that much. When I went to school, I changed my mind so many times and that’s okay. Through a religion class, I discovered that I was passionate about scripture which lead me to studying pastoral ministry. I didn’t have that figured out in high school.
I wish I could go back in time and talk to myself during senior year. I stayed up late almost every night, absolutely stressing over what I was going to be when I grew up. I would love to just assure myself that I am going to find unreal fulfillment in the future and it looks nothing like my current idea. Your life-plan isn’t nearly as important as your character. Be sure that students know uncertainty is normal and healthy. You might change your mind a few times — that’s okay! Your present determination is far more important than your future occupation. Don’t focus on “what you’re going to do” as much as who you are going to become.
It’s okay to not be okay.
We want people to think we are strong, so we put up barriers. We build strategic walls around our hearts to fortify every disappointment and hurt. We can strive so hard to appear strong that we mask our struggles. Next thing we know, there is no one to help when the breakdown comes. Those walls do not protect you; they imprison you. Be sure that you have cultivated a safe place for a student to struggle when they experience pain. They might not get into their dream school, shoot, they might not get into any school. They might experience a painful breakup. They might really struggle adjusting to life outside of the structure of high school. Encourage them to break down the walls and take off the fake smiles. Instill the life-changing importance of being open and honest with a caring community.