Last night I ran my last youth group of my 25 year ministry career. I was doing fine up to then. I detached myself, focused on the call of Christ and refused to think about the people I am leaving. But like a smart bomb or an arrow to the heart, two sweetheart 6th graders came walking in my direction.
With a pout and sad eyes, Erin said, “I don’t want you to leave” and then she and Lizzy hugged me. Gulp! My heart hurt and, after a few assurances, I had to turn away because of tears welling up. Tears would have turned things into a mess.
I’ve felt loss at each year’s graduation banquet where I have traditionally read Phil. 1 to the group, but last night was even more intense. I felt as though I were saying goodbye to every kid past, present and possible in the future if I were not leaving. I felt for all of them at once.
Not to compare myself to Jesus at all, but I think I got a new understanding of His love for us all individually at the moment he hung on the cross. Erin and Lizzy’s hug connected me with them but simultaneously brought me back to Kyle, Tracy, John and Katie, Bre, Brit, Judy, Eric , Ralph, Jon, Michelle and Carey and hundreds of others. I saw all their faces going through my mind while hugging Erin and Lizzy. I traveled back to 1985 in my mind all in a couple seconds. Weird, huh?
I think God gives us His heart when we love and shepherd people. I think I have a new understanding of what Paul was feeling when he wrote:
Phil 1:7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight … (NIV)
My prayer is that others will shepherd these sheep I am leaving. I am leaving them with a number of awesome shepherds who will allow them to grow, question and find answers. I am thankful that I got the chance to train new shepherds who are now ready to pick up where I leave off.
But, truthfully? I gotta watch out for Erin and Lizzy in my remaining days at FBC because they might make me bawl like a baby!