Dear college student (or mom, if you’re reading this),
Right now over a hundred on-fire college students are en route to Tiger, Georgia to go to the sweetest mountains for John 15. John 15 is a retreat for former Life Teen Summer Missionaries. So many dear and wonderful people are about to attend perhaps the best retreat for Christ-seeking college students… You perhaps are one of them, but I am not.
I guess you could say this rambling of the heart is for the ones who aren’t going either, who maybe feel misunderstood. There’s a lot of grey area here, folks. Let’s explore that.
I am incredibly blessed that during and after my time working at LT camps I benefited so much with how John 15 united college students with their peers to encounter the Lord in a dynamic and charismatic way while at the same time challenging them to a higher standard in evangelizing to their ministries and communities at home and on campus. Working on summer missions is a life-changing experience, so much that I wrote about it here.
It is just so amazing to be home again in between the Georgia mountains. John 15 is so pure in that it allows these summer missionaries to re-encounter Christ in one of the camps they served at in order to allow re-focus and to process what He is doing in their life. When you step foot at John 15 there is a resounding energy of intense joy, in harmony with an overflowing amount of love between so many souls that deeply know one another through missionary community. Importantly, the Life Teen staff (let’s be honest, Lizzie G) is ultimately providing opportunities and practical steps for these young adults to rise to the challenge to create change and conversion in their ministries and culture. This is such a profoundly beautiful opportunity for the New Evangelization and the young church, so much that it simply cannot be broken down into words. So as to not chip away at its wonder with my ill-composed words I shall digress…
In my time on the John 15 retreat I was filled with an overabundance of joy reuniting with such treasured brothers and sisters, feeling refreshed in the time I got to sit in peace and surrender to the Lord. It is a retreat to trust in, to get lost in the Spirit in. This long-winded surge of the heart can’t discredit that. Often times, in the life of your regular Sunday crowd, it is challenging to allow myself to freely praise in the way I am most vulnerable and free. But the worship at John 15, wooh man… it is so good. Good is a key word here in describing God’s providence and joy for His children. There is such a yearning for the Holy Spirit, a great amount of community, worship at John 15 is always so good and so worthy of God who is always deserving of such perfect praise.
I’ve encountered a few people recently who have asked if I was attending John 15, perhaps you were one of them. Each encounter like this allowed an awkward silence as I gave an aloof “No…”, not feeling the most confident in how positively the response would be. Perhaps, “I mean, if you could go Nora then why wouldn’t you? Is there something wrong?”
The more I’ve gotten to contemplate this in my daily life and taken it to prayer, it truly is so simple and healthy: life moves on.
When you’re not a summer missionary and you’re called out of that stage in life, it ultimately just hurts because you feel like you’re saying no to the love Christ offers. That simply isn’t true. You are not alone… but you certainly feels like it. As much as I feel affirmed and at peace in that things end, moving forward, and I am in a season of growing, I do find myself being pulled in this odd sense of guilt. This of course leads me to other questions…
“Am I being prideful about my age?”
“Is this a wall I’m putting to create a divide between me and old friends?”
“Is it possible to move on and stick to old habits?”
“Am I perpetuating cliques and compartmentalization?”
“Am I discrediting fruits or graces?”
“Is this an opportunity for humility that I ‘m rejecting?”
My life is very much a stage of trying and doing. It’s my first few years of working with a salary, organizing a balanced life. In fact, I actually literally can’t go to John 15 because I don’t have enough vacation days from work. The hardest parts of my heavy heart is stressing over the fact that when you move away from such an important chapter in your life, there’s a part of you that wants you to keep dwelling in it.
Let’s be real: there is a huge temptation in the Life Teen Summer Missions community to stay well-informed and updated in the community life. Whose dating who, career paths, how school is going, the bits of gossip you hear. Don’t get me wrong, I love any day I get to sip on some sweet wine with Mary Blenke for a gal pal, dishing on what our old friends are up to. So there is this pressure to continue to cling to these social circles, which is only not healthy for the spiritual life when we’re doing it for the reasons that we want camp to be the only place where we are truly known.
We have all journeyed together to go outside of ourselves, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s when the sense of a communal goal (aka the daily life serving teens and parishes at camp) seems to fade and we are back to the daily sense of comfort, many of us go back into ourselves. And then there is the larger majority of people who do the opposite. The people who continually seek out those who, even though they’ve lost touch with, still seek old friends with such a radical love. Ah, the good healthy people. They pertain to the majority of summer missionaries. The ability to be intentional with these folks is such a beautiful thing. But can that be taken advantage of?
I feel the pressure to hold on to these people and these friendships in multiple ways that are both good and unhealthy. But as beautifully worded by Fr. John Ignatius during the session on Pruning at John15 2014, the maroon shirts, God calls us to be sanctified from what does not produce good fruit in our lives.
“Maybe God needs to prune your attraction to sin, or maybe it’s the amount of time and energy you spend on those long-distance friendships that you’re not called to invest in”.
It was in that moment I sat in the meeting room at Covecrest, where I could feel the Holy Spirit beckoning me to explore outside my realm of comfort. Particularly in community.
With temptations, anxiety, and a desire to be known and remembered aside… the Lord has willed me to a season of not fitting in with college students.
Oh man, that is some real vulnerability right there, something I’ve been wrestling with a lot lately. He has called me to work in an office and parish ministry (not with my peers) and glorify Him in my relationships. He has abundantly blessed the relationships that have formed from my time on Summer Missions but has also He has called me to surrender them to Him.
Reflecting on those words “surrendering those relationships” I desire that to accompany imagery of boldly holding my hands out in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Covecrest chapel. Wow, what a God fearing woman, right? What it really looks like is me silently weeping to myself while praying in my room with a meeting waiting for me in the morning and a to-do list waiting for me at my desk. This is really hard for me. This is my vulnerable heart to yours: letting things and people go is really hard for me.
In truth, I don’t want to seek the approval of college students and other young adults in my social circles. But I also want to embrace the love and joy that exists in them.
Ultimately, I have complete peace knowing how fundamental and formative those summers were, and that it is so good. Again, there’s the key word. It is so good that I get to keep moving and growing, exploring my vocation with a limitless God in my salaried life. Yes, at times the FOMO in me feels the temptation to seek those people’s approval. And of course I want to know how they’re doing and hope prosperity for them in their lives. The actions that I take are rooted in the desire to know and be known are good, but it must be directed in the right place. We need to be intentional in the communities that we are called to.
When you’re not a summer missionary, life keeps moving. You have to accept the graces in growing, but still have undeniable love for your fellow brothers and sisters. So my friends, have an amazing retreat. I just prayed for you that God fills your cup with everything you need.
With tender love,
P.S. Sing a good line for the “Go Tell it On The Mountain” game for me.