I’m so excited to host my first ever guest on this blog. Jen Bradbury is a story sister, and her words here are full of truth and depth. I posed the question, “What is the most important thing you want your kids to know about the love of God?” Her response touches a particularly special place in my heart as a former youth ministry person myself.
Recently, a student told me this story:
A Sunday School teacher shows her class a picture of a squirrel and asks “What is this?” A child responds, “Well, it looks like a squirrel but I know the right answer is Jesus. The right answer is always Jesus.”
As a youth worker, I fear this story is all too true. We’ve conditioned our church kids to know the right answer is always Jesus; Even when they cannot actually see Jesus.
In the same way, when we talk of God, we’ve conditioned them to know the right answer is always love.
When I ask church kids, “What’s God like?” most will say, almost reflexively, “He’s loving.”
To some degree, this is good. I want the students with whom I work to know, without a doubt, that God is loving.
However, my fear is that because this is our conditioned response, most kids don’t really understand what this means; Most kids don’t really know how God’s love differs from the love of others. And because they don’t, I worry that our constant association of God with love actually has actually reduced God into something he is not: A wimp or a doormat who we can trample over.
For this reason, as a youth worker who’s not yet a parent, there are two things I most want my kids – the students with whom I have the privilege of working – to know about the love of God.
The first is that the manifestation of God’s love is Jesus. I want my students to know without a doubt that they don’t have to guess what God’s love looks like; It looks like Jesus.
I also want my kids to know that God’s love is fierce.
Take, for example, the love of God we see in Jesus’ interaction with the adulterous woman in John 8.
In this story, love compels Jesus to stand in the gap between this woman and her accusers; To recklessly pursue the unworthy; And to offer this woman unmerited grace. Beyond that, however, the fierceness of God’s love demands the best from this adulterous woman, that she “Go and sin no more.” In the process, it changes her, giving her a new identity.
So it is with God’s love with us.
Its fierceness pursues us into the depths of our pain and sorrow, into the places we’d rather it not go; Its fierceness demands our best, not out of fear of punishment but in response to a love so much greater than any we have ever known; It lavishes us with undeserved grace and in the process, it changes us.
Ultimately, I don’t just want my students to know love is the right answer to questions about God’s character.
Instead, I want them to have truly experienced God’s love. Beyond that, however, I want my students to have been changed by God’s love so that they, in turn, can radically love and change others.
Wimpy love will never do that.
But a fierce love manifested in Jesus will.
Jen Bradbury is a career youth worker with a diverse spiritual heritage that makes her uniquely qualified for youth work. Jen currently serves as the youth director at Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, IL and writes for Youth Worker Journal and the Christian Century. She lives in Glen Ellyn, IL with her husband, Doug, and blogs at ymjen.com.