During Lent, our church has been focusing on prayer. This last Sunday I taught in our preteen ministry on listening to God. Doing a series on prayer has been very tricky with tweens–prayer is very abstract and tweens are very distracted. So teaching on listening to God? This girl must be crazy.
But I think it’s important, and so I do what I do best to teach biblical truths to middle schoolers: I tell a story about it.
The clearest time that God has ever spoken to me was when I was experiencing my call to ministry at the age of 17. This may strike you as crazy, but I didn’t always want to be a youth pastor.
I wanted to be Oprah.
As freshmen in high school, the big English project of the year was to do a paper on what we wanted our career to be when we grew up. I had no clue. I wanted to do something theatrical (if you know me, you aren’t surprised). I had gone through a lot of rough stuff, and so I knew that I wanted to help people. I also watched Oprah every day after school. She was so benevolent to others. I admired that. I decided that I was going to follow in her footsteps: I was going to go school for broadcast journalism, work my way up in the field, and eventually have my own talk show.
This made sense to everyone around me. So much sense, that I became Editor-In-Chief of the school newspaper. So much sense, that I won the senior superlative “Most Likely to Have Her Own Talk Show.”
I was on the Oprah track (okay, maybe not, but I wanted to believe it).
I was simultaneously extremely involved in my youth group. The church gave me refuge from my home and school life, and gave me identity as a struggling teen. I was involved in every aspect of the church, and I mean every. I sang on the worship team, played guitar, ushered, taught Sunday School, even praise-danced (say whattt?). I went on mission trips and was kind of my youth pastor’s side-kick.
When I was in the middle of my junior year, my youth pastor said to me, “You know Heather…when you graduate, you should take over the youth group.
I laughed. And laughed. And laughed.
But there was also a nudge inside of me. A sick feeling that I couldn’t get rid of. But I laughed it off some more.
There were more random people from the church who would come up to me and affirm the work I was doing in the church. Mind you: I grew up in a conservative Southern Baptist church. For people to affirm the leadership of a woman was pretty strange. And yet, it was happening.
I tried to keep laughing about it. I told my best friend about it, and she told me “Heather, that’s not funny at all. You’d be great at it.” I talked about it with a few other people—people who I thought would laugh with me. They all said that they could see me in that role. Even people who weren’t Christians affirmed that this was a good career choice for me. Even more than the whole talk show thing.
But I didn’t want to do it—I remembered thinking, “I am a hot-mess teenager. There’s no way that I could help other hot-mess teenagers.”
So I set out to prove to God that he couldn’t use me, and I began to sin A LOT. With every poor choice, I hoped to prove to God that he couldn’t use me to run his church. I’d even open the Bible, hoping that it would tell me that you had to be PERFECT in order to be a pastor or a teacher—and it told me all these stories about God using imperfect people. This only infuriated me.
It was the summer before my senior year of high school, and my sin had all caught up to me. I made some choices that hurt a lot of people, especially myself. I was feeling exhausted.
I was at summer camp, and we were worshiping God through song. I felt really heavy and had to sit down. I put my head between my knees and wept. “Lord, What do you want from me? I can’t continue life the way that I am now…but I also don’t think I should be a youth pastor.”
My list of reasons why was long: I’m a woman. I’m from a broken home. My family doesn’t understand. I might have to actually make changes to my daily life. What if a boy never wants to marry me? I won’t make very much money. I still think I should have my own talk show…
This is the one time in my entire life that I audibly heard God.
“Heather. Look up. This is what you’re meant to be.”
That’s it. That’s all I heard. A strange set of words. “Meant to be?” That’s so 90s Rom-Com.
And when I looked up, I saw teenagers around me worshiping God. I saw teenagers praying in their seats, like me, questioning God. I saw some teenagers crying, praying prayers for forgiveness. I saw some teenagers praying together, comforting one another. And it clicked: I was meant to be a youth pastor.
When I told this story to my preteens (with a few less details), I asked: Is this story about the fact that I audibly heard God’s voice?
Those smarties said “Nope! God spoke to you in lots of ways.”
And, I mean, God had to.
When I look back at my life, I can see how God was preparing me for this the entire time.
And since I accepted that, God is now molding my heart and creating new talents and gifts within in me to do this crazy thing.
And each week, I host a talk show with over a hundred students and leaders.
But my talk show doesn’t give them a free car…it gives them new life.