I got to spend the day today at a water park with my two kids, three of their cousins, and my sister-in-law. The best part of the day, for me, was the time I spent with my niece, the youngest of the kids, and the only one who had not been to a water park before.
The two of us started the day together. We went first to a big wave pool. My niece warned me that she doesn't know how to swim, and so I planned to keep a close eye on her. I especially planned to watch her closely in this pool where the waves can be pretty powerful, especially if you're 7 years old.
At first we stayed back where the waves aren't quite so high or strong. But for the next set, she wanted to be in the deeper water.
As the second or third wave of that set approached, I could tell that it would cover her head and push her around quite a bit. But for that wave, I was a few feet from her, farther away than I arm-length. I made my way up next to her as she disappeared for a third time under a wave. When she came up out of the water, I looked closely at her face (watching for signs of distress). What I got, though, was nothing but joy and delight. This pleased me a great deal. See, my own children are old enough that they're often often not too impressed by much, so I really enjoyed watching my niece experience such delight.
This is one of the things I enjoy about youth ministry. The opportunity I have, on occasion, to accompany young people as they grow and have the opportunity to experience new aspects of and angles on their life of faith fills me with joy.
Next week, at the ELCA youth gathering, there will be lots of teenagers (and some adults) encountering for the first time the wonder of being with tens of thousands of other people who are also having a similar sort of faith adventure to one another.
Unfortunately I don't have the opportunity this year to accompany a group to the gathering. However, I will be able to spend a couple days at the event, during which time I hope to be able to see for myself a different angle on the good work, and spiritual growth, that happens in that kind of setting.
And hopefully we'll all get to experience for ourselves something like the all-consuming joy and wonder of a 7-year-old at a water park for the first time.