Keeping Our Young People in Church (Part 3): Ben

“What we love is what we orient our lives toward.   Christian liturgies shape our vision for the good life and aim our hearts towards God. ” — The Areopagus podcast, “Are We Doing Youth Ministry Wrong?”

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

These words have me taking a deep breath! As you know, I’ve been contemplating how to keep our young people in the faith. We want our young people to treasure Christ and His church.

Benjamin is a young man who is thriving in the Church and is making a big decision to commit his life to prayer and service. I want to share some of his story.

We’ve been blessed to know Ben since he was just 11. Already, he had a special twinkle in his eye, a spiritual awareness unlike other kids his age.   Ben always crossed himself when he ate even a bite of apple or sipped from a water bottle. If you told him you weren’t feeling well, he would say, “Lord have mercy” and offer a prayer on the spot.   From his tall stature, dark features and thick chestnut-colored pony tail, you can tell he’s part Cherokee. But, mostly, he’s all-American boy! At 21, he attends junior college and owns his own landscaping business. Like many of us, he comes from a family recently converted to Orthodoxy.

Talking with Ben, he takes great care to listen and give his undivided attention and I think this is part of the reason he purposely doesn’t keep a smart phone. I’m the one who is distracted and rushing things along. Yet, Ben takes his time and this is a good lesson for me.   Last month, we sat on my back deck and talked about his upcoming plans to visit the Holy Mountain in Greece and then to enter the Hermitage of the Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, West Virginia.

“What is it that draws you to the monastic life?” I asked peering out over my back yard.

“I’ve never liked change much,” he confided drinking from a glass of tap water. “I enjoy standing and praying and I know that when I’m at the monastery I won’t have to change or shift gears every day.”

I nod.

Ben is spiritually wise. I think I understand what he means. Ben has oriented himself toward a life of prayer and Christ. His compass is pointing straight toward the monastery, where he will pray for all of us his entire life. What a sacrifice and what a calling!!

Growing up in a non- Orthodox home, I never understood the idea that God can call people into the Monastic life. God gifts certain people with prayer and that gift overflows into those around them. Ben’s father, Jimmy, credits Ben for bringing a consistent prayer routine into their home: “He encouraged us to pray regularly! Then, it was his sister and the rest of us that were praying with Ben.” So, as it happened, Ben’s desire to pray positively impacted the whole house.

In talking with Ben and writing this post, I discovered something completely different than I thought I would: Sometimes it’s our children that point us to Christ! Our kids can help us get our bearings, but we have to be attentive. A small child, frequently scared by bad dreams, may be asking to have regular evening prayers. A teenager, apprehensive about the future may be asking for guidance on how to prepare. How do we respond? If we are brave enough, we can respond with the proper orientation. We will make adjustments like setting aside time each night to pray with our kids, or we will encourage our young men to look to God for answers rather than relying on themselves. We will establish Christian liturgies in our homes that become their hearts’ treasure.

Later in our conversation, I asked Ben what words of advice he had for young people. I think he was surprised at this question. “I’m not very wise myself,” he said. But, a day later, he sent me this:

“Everyone in our society wants to be different. But, what happens is that everyone ends up getting into the same temptations. All of us, though we want to be different, end up floating down the stream with all the other dead fish. To be different truly, means to not just do whatever you feel like doing, but to become like Christ; He is the only perfect and “different” one there is. To be different in our world means to get up and do your morning prayers and prayers before you sleep, and to pray without ceasing between both! Who does that in society after all? ”

Ben sent more, but these comments were enough to keep me busy for awhile. Isn’t this struggle really about me and how I respond to God every day? Looking at Ben and his life encourages me to be brave in the effort.

Just after Christmas, Ben will leave for the Hermitage of the Holy Cross!

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