I get up at 5:30 a.m. every Friday to go hang out with high schoolers.
On a Monday night, you might catch me with them trying to blow a bubble while wearing a mouthguard, or shooting goldfish crackers out of my nose.
I don’t really want to wake up at 5:30 a.m., especially when I don’t even have Friday classes. And going to a high school lacrosse game isn’t exactly my definition of fun. Planning an event around high schoolers who say they’re going to show up and often don’t make an appearance is frustrating, to say the least.
But it’s all part of being a Young Life leader, and I wouldn’t trade all the craziness that comes with it for anything.
Young Life is a non-denominational Christian outreach ministry that aims to introduce all adolescents to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith. Young Life leaders aim to earn the trust of their friends — who range from middle schoolers to college students, regardless of their accessibility — by investing in their lives and modeling the love Jesus Christ first showed to them. Kids don’t care what you have to say until you show them that you care.
Young Life has ministries in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries around the world. In the Lehigh Valley, Young Life is at Liberty, Freedom and Emmaus high schools, Lafayette College and Bethlehem middle schools. I’m a volunteer leader at Liberty High School on Bethlehem’s North Side.
Most people don’t really understand what I do with Young Life, but it’s simple. I do one thing, and that’s love kids.
Young Life leaders love kids is expressed differently, but it all comes back to showing up — showing up for them in their lives when no one else will. It’s remembering their names when you first meet them. It’s going to their swim meets and theater productions. It’s inviting them into your home. It’s buying them a cup of coffee and asking them about their lives and then actually caring about what they say.
Young Life will tell you that being a leader is a 10 hour per week commitment, but it’s more like 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The programs that happen in those 10 hours don’t just happen. They take time to plan and prepare, and I’m always thinking about how to make them better. The high school girls I spend time with during those planned activities don’t cease to exist when I go home. I am in regular communication with them and they are constantly on my mind.
Being a Young Life leader has taught me to look beyond myself. It’s just not about me, in fact very little in our lives is about us.
Life is about love. I’m talking a bigger than you or me or the person next to you kind of love. This is not the stuff of scripted Hollywood romantic comedies or Nicholas Sparks novels, which might try to tell you love is a feeling or attached to a specific person.
Love is a choice. It’s an unconditional choice that says you are going to be there for someone no matter how many times they screw up, because people will let you down.
Love requires that you care about someone else more than you care about yourself.
This is a foreign concept in today’s world. Our culture is so self-centered. It says that getting to the top by any means necessary is all that matters, and money defines success. Yet there’s always more to strive for.
“I’m making more money now than I ever thought I could ever make playing football… Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think there is something greater out there for me,” said New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in an interview with 60 Minutes in 2005.
By anyone’s standards, Brady is successful, but worldly success was still not enough for him. Did two more Super Bowl rings satisfy him?
Last semester in our Friday morning Bible study with high schoolers, we discussed sacrificial kindness — being nice to people without any expectation of personal gain. My co-leader Bryce told our high school friends that they will always be successful when they are kind to others.
Why do I lead Young Life? What’s in it for me?
Admittedly, not much, but the high schoolers have everything to gain. When I was in high school, I had Young Life leaders too. They cared about me, and they didn’t have to. Their love and their introduction to the love Jesus Christ had for me when he died on the cross changed my life in a dramatic way.
That’s why I do Young Life. Introducing teenagers to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith is the kindest thing I can do for them, that I can do for anyone. I know because someone did it for me.
Being a Young Life leader is hard. It’s exhausting. Yet I am more fulfilled and joyful than I have ever been at any other time in my life, and it’s because I’ve taken the time to look beyond myself.
Emily Linderman, ’19, is an associate lifestyle editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at [email protected]