“What personal needs or needs of family and friends do you want to bring to God at Mass today?”
“I don’t need anything.”
Working with teens at an affluent Catholic school can be similar to working with teens at any other school. Teenagers care about many of the same things- relationships, being accepted, college, identity, and activities (sports, theatre, etc.) they are totally immersed in. Teenagers also struggle with many of the same things- parents divorcing, addiction to drugs or alcohol, depression and anxiety, loneliness, deaths of family or friends, and pressure from self, parents or friends.
Trying to help affluent, achievement oriented teens discover the role of service in their life has also revealed where these students’ hearts are hard in a different way.
In our particular environment, successes, accolades, and the power that comes from good grades and athletic prowess become gods. To need is to be weak. To struggle is to be ashamed of and to be covered as quickly as possible.
I am not immune from this; I often feel caught in the tide, bringing myself back over and over from the lie that my value is what I produce and how I perform.
When we cannot recognize, accept and voice the fundamental need that we all have, we break. I see it over and over in students, and I see it in myself. I see it in students when a test score or ACT score comes in too low; the disappointment feels shattering. I see it in myself when I give all that I have to completing my goals for the day, and come home exhausted and disappointed with myself for not showing up how I want to as a mother and wife.
When is the last time you said to your spouse, dear friend or colleague, “I need your help.” When is the last time that you said to God aloud or in your heart, “I need you. I can’t do this alone. I want you to show me what to do. Help me feel your presence with me.”
Here’s the thing about saying, “I need you” to God- it is who God is to fill that need with love, comfort, strength, peace, and joy. Sometimes we feel like God is far away. The reality is that it is the nature of God to be close. God came in Jesus to be close. God did not come in Jesus to highlight or manipulate our imperfection or inadequacies, but to fill our need with something better than what we could imagine or attempt.
Accepting that we are imperfect people, full of unmet desires, carrying heavy loads, and opening that up to another holds the possibility to change everything. Someone once told me that mercy is the willingness to enter into the chaos of another person. Whatever your chaos is, God is always willing to enter in to heal and love and just be with. It is only up to us: “I need you.”