A Reflection on Youth Retreat 2022

Last weekend, 18 youth and 5 chaperones set out for the Ozark Mountains for retreat. 7 of these people are new enough they have not yet been on a retreat with us! We played, cooked, and laughed a lot! We formed new relationships and bonded as a group. But most importantly, we spent time considering our identities.

Who am I and who did God create me to be?
What shapes my identity and
how is it transforming with me?
What is my unique way of giving and receiving love?

These are questions we asked with Moses, Esther and King David. I invite you consider these questions with us.

Who am I?

When Moses approaches God in the burning bush in Exodus 3, he asks, “Who am I?” but God doesn’t exactly answer that question. Instead, God says, “I will be with you.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

I wonder if the same is true for us. Perhaps God doesn’t tell us exactly who we are, but instead promises to be with us on the journey and calls us to use our unique identities for the liberation of all God’s people.

This retreat gave us the opportunity to “turn aside” and spend time in reflection, listening to God’s call. We took time to sit in the quiet and to “bubble map” our identities—naming several characteristics that define who we are.

Who did God create me to be?

God created us in God’s image. Perhaps when Moses asks for clarity about God’s identity, he is also trying to figure out his own. God answers: “I am who I am,” or better translated in Hebrew: “I am who I am, I was who I was, and I will be who I will be.” 

13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

Perhaps the same is true of us; embedded with a core “code” (as our middle schoolers called it) given to us by God, yet always in a state of becoming as we strive to live into our God-given identities.

This weekend we wrestled with the hard questions… how much of our identity is given to us? How much of it is shaped and formed by external forces and our own choices? Where is God in all this? We considered that perhaps we were each given a unique identity that is deep within us, but our transformation is dependent on how we respond to the world and circumstances around us.

What shapes my identity?

Esther had a unique identity as a female, Jewish, queen, living in Persia during the exile; some of these roles thrust upon her by external forces, some given to her at birth. She had a lot of reasonable excuses to sit quietly and ignore the needs of her people and yet she is called to more by her uncle Mordecai and the very specific circumstances that come her way. 

Perhaps the same is true of us. There are certain parts of our identities that are given to us and some that are thrust upon us; there are people in our lives who shapes our identities, hopefully calling us to be a better version of ourselves; and, there are circumstances that leave us with difficult choices. Perhaps, like Esther, we were created for such a time as this.

For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.” -Esther 4:14

We considered the roles that shape us and call us to reach our fullest potential along with the expectations that weigh on us and keep us from living abundantly. We wrestled with our own expectations for ourselves-where they come from, when they are helpful, and when they are harmful. We acknowledged that knowing the difference between helpful and harmful expectations can be quite difficult to discern. We gave thanks for the people and opportunities in our lives that provide us with guidance and clarity.

How is my identity transforming?

David’s identity undergoes radical transformation as he goes from shepherd to king. He has moments when he stays true to his unique identity, bringing peace and healing to an entire nation, and moments when he loses sight of who he is and causes harm. Through it all he learns and grows into a revered King—one worthy enough to be remembered as a key part of the lineage of Jesus.

Perhaps we are also on a journey of transformation. Perhaps our successes, our failures, and everything in between continue to shape us into who God made us to be.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you. –Psalm 139:13-18 

We spent time imagining what we wanted our identity bubble maps to look like in the future. We considered what kind of support we might need in order to make those dreams a reality. We acknowledged that life might have some unexpected twists and turns, but were reminded by the Psalmist that no matter what happens or where we go—we are still with God.

What is my unique way of giving and receiving love?

There is an African fable that suggests we were all born with a unique song. This song is sung over us before we are even conceived, when we are born, and throughout our lives—when we live into our song in big and small ways and especially when we forget our song. This fable is retold in the children’s book, What is My Song?, by Dennis Lynn, Shelia Fabricant Lynn, and Matthew Lynn. The authors suggest that we can discern our song by considering what absorbed us as children—what activity were you so absorbed in you didn’t hear the call for dinner? I wonder how you would answer this question?

Our youth have beautiful songs—they are creators, builders, and innovators whose unique identities are already changing the world. My prayer is that throughout their entire lives they have a community around them to help them discern, sing, and remember their songs. May we be this for our youth and for each other. Amen.

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