This past Saturday was our church's annual 7th grade retreat. It's a pretty simple routine - drive to a nearby camp, enjoy the outdoors, do a few class sessions, go canoeing, pray a bunch, and head home in time for supper. The topic of the retreat is "Prayer & Forgiveness". Before we hit the road, I asked my friends on Twitter and Facebook, "anything you'd like to tell a 12-year old about prayer and forgiveness." Here are a few of the responses:
Dave - You can't live very long without either one.I love asking people (most of whom I don't see on a regular basis) to contribute to the youth ministry at our church.
Bill - What a great opportunity! God is with you.
Katey - prayer is like talking to a friend. you learn to recognize their voice even if they are trying to disguise it. you know their inflection when you get a text because you know them so well. that is how well you need to know God which means you have to pray a lot to know what He wants from you and to be able to hear his voice even in the most subtle of messages.... that is how i think of it at least!
For the retreat, we did two sessions on prayer in the morning, and two sessions on forgiveness in the afternoon. One of the big "ah ha" moments for the kids was a Bible study on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35). The turning point came when we unpacked the monetary units of "denari" and "talent".
If you're not familiar with my 3rd favorite parable, it goes a little something like this.
A master forgives slave an enormous debt - equivalent to 150,000 years wages. Later that day, the slave approaches one of his friends and gets mad when the friend isn't able to repay him 3 months wages. The slave begins strangling his friend and has him thrown in jail. The master catches wind of his slave's unforgiving heart and subsequently rescinds his pardon and throws the slave in jail until he can repay the debt.
The implications were obvious. God offers forgiveness on several lifetimes worth of sins. If we are unable to forgive the small things that others do to us, it seems the consequences are dire. Or, to paraphrase Mr. Miyagi -- "A man with no forgiveness in his heart is given an even worse punishment than death."
This really struck a chord with the kids. Having a healthy understanding of grace-based righteousness, these young Lutherans were more convicted by the master / slave / friend story than they were frightened by the possibility of going to hell for their inability to forgive. They saw themselves in the image of the slave. They confessed - through their prayer journals - the ways in which they have been forgiven...and the ways in which they were slow or even reluctant to forgive the sins of others. You could practically see their wheels turning in their minds and hearts.
We came to the conclusion that forgiveness is both beyond our understanding and beyond our ability. The human animal is wired for vengeance and not forgiveness. The forgiveness we offer to other people is not of our own doing. Forgiveness is the work of the Holy Spirit that transforms our eye-for-an-eye tendencies into helping our neighbors to regain their sight.
It's always nice when a day spent "teaching" teens turns into a day of personal learning and spiritual growth.