Next week I’ll be speaking to students about “The Importance of the Individual.” I hope you’ve all heard this phrase – it was a favorite of one of my favorites, Lorne Sanney. Here’s the link to an article he wrote on the topic back in 1986!
The idea resonated with me early on because I didn’t come to campus feeling important at all. I came feeling disoriented. As a freshman music major at Illinois State University, the message was clear. Whatever talent I thought I had was not enough, and I had a lot to prove.
Maybe that’s why my initial interactions with The Navigators were so powerful. In one world I was hearing I was nothing special, and at Navs I was treated like the most important person on the planet!
That kept me going for a long time. I felt like part of a team and I didn’t want to let my team down. Spiritual maturity felt like something I could give back to my community. I thought of myself as a small part of the Body of Christ, and I wanted my little part to be as strong and healthy as possible.
I felt my importance as an individual was mostly about holding up my end of the deal. I mean, who wants to have a short leg, or a weak back, or a missing arm – so to speak.
Now that I’m a bit older, and will soon be sending my own daughter off to college, “The Importance of the Individual” has a much fuller meaning. Of course I hope she grows and develops so she can participate as a mature believer. But she’s my daughter. That’s why she’s important.
Parental love has given me a vested interest in her welfare that exists irregardless of her growth or ability to give back.
I was on campus during move-in day a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t help but tear up watching parents hug and kiss their children goodbye. I could absolutely feel what they were feeling and it wasn’t primarily excitement over how their children were going to mature and contribute to society some day.
It was the sting of being separated from the children they love. It was the pain of knowing the relationship was changing. It was the fear of not being able to protect them. It was just love being love.
Parental love is complex and rich and shred-your-heart into a million pieces deep. It’s the most profound love I’ve ever known. To know that God feels this way about me and about the students who are arriving on my campus – that is what “The Importance of the Individual” means to me now.
It means these crazy kids are beloved. Adored. God is not casually interested in their wellbeing – He’s vested, involved, and always longing to deepen the connection. His love for each of them is complex, rich, and shred-your-heart into a million pieces deep.
So, what gets me out of bed in the morning and what keeps me engaged in student ministry?
Knowing how few students know this. It grieves me to know many of them are facing the reality of adult life without a foundational understanding of God’s love for them – as individuals – simply because they are His creation – not because of who they can become – but because they are.
Having three teenagers in my home has given me a softer heart toward young people. The last years of highschool are very stressful for the majority of kids these days. They are under a lot of financial, social, and academic pressure. Most of them, as easy-breezy as they may appear on the outside, are carrying heavy loads.
“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
To follow Jesus as I minister to students means having compassion for them. Practically, as a busy mom, it means asking student after student after student – where they’ve come from, what they are studying, what their aspirations and fears are. It means smiling and nodding sympathetically when they describe what’s hard about being on campus. It means having softheartedness toward their season of life. It means working hard to communicate they are seen and heard and important in the present moment, whatever comes – growth or not, maturity or not, deepening faith or not.
When we look around Nav Night in the coming weeks and assess who God has given us, let’s love them so well alongside all the good training and development I know we all have planned. They are ALL important.