Eating pudding out of diapers, staying up entirely too late, playing basketball on the quad, singing songs around a campfire, and being a part of worship services are all things that occur during Purpose Weekend.
Arborlawn Student Ministry started the retreat last year with the theme being Purpose. We talked about the purpose God has for our lives and how we can find purpose in various facets throughout our lives. As we started planning for the following year we decided to keep the overall title for the weekend “Purpose Weekend” because when we look at our spiritual lives we ask many questions around this idea. What is the purpose of following Christ? What purpose does God have for ________? Why does it matter whether or not our life has purpose?
This year our theme was “REFOCUS.” Lance Marshall, associate pastor from First United Methodist Church Fort Worth, came and spoke about how concepts of photography relate to our spiritual lives. To avoid double chins and unflattering angles, we want our subjects in a photo to look up. In life, we come across these “unflattering angles” where stuff gets messy. We have a hard time understanding how God allows things to happen. Lance challenged us refrain from asking “Why did God allow this to happen?” and instead, “Where is God in the midst of this situation?” If we want to capture a great picture, we want the subjects to look up. God asks us to do the same. In the craziness of life, we must remember to look up towards Him and see how He is working in our life.
Lance also talked about how if you want to take an interesting photo, the subject is not in the center of the photo. Generally, good photographs have the subject off-center. He explained the Rule of Thirds concept that photographers use. For us – the important point is that the main subject is not in the center. If we focus our lives by serving God through serving others and not ourselves, our life, or picture, is more interesting. Let’s not be boring.
The series ended with the last photography concept – our subjects should always face the light. This is difficult. Most of the time kids will complain that the sun is in their eyes. So the temptation is to turn a group away from the source of light. The issue becomes that shadows fill their faces. We need to follow and chase after the light. Once again, this is hard. People around us will want to go the opposite direction and even stir us to join them. But Lance taught us that even when we give into the crowd around us, the light is always there. We can always turn back to the light, and God will accept us with open arms.
It was a blessing to have an incredible speaker bring these concepts to the students. Lance mentioned that his goal was for the students to have something to talk about during small groups. So after each worship service, the students rolled into small groups. Here, they discussed the concepts presented in the sermon. While I know it was hard at times for the middle school girls to stop talking about boys and focus on the subject, their leaders did a great job allowing time for both.
We ask students in college or recently out of college to lead these groups. This is an opportunity for our students to engage with young adults who are not typically around. Students are able to see how these young adults accept the call to follow Jesus. The leaders invest in the students all weekend, leading discussion questions, playing basketball, etc. These leaders make or break our weekend. We are so thankful for them to sacrifice their weekend, and to lead these students in a weekend in exploring their faith.
We also had moments of games and service. Our service projects this year looked a little different. Our senior high group went throughout the city of Aledo to hand out cookies and lemonade. Unfortunately, many places close their businesses on Saturdays. But they were able to share cookies with the fire station within the town. Aledo UMC just began their food pantry and the middle school boys helped Aledo UMC get their food pantry organized. Our middle school girls traveled to a nursing home in Weatherford to play bingo with a couple of residents. We had to pry our girls away from playing Bingo to head back to the church. These mission moments were brief, and they honestly didn’t all go according to plan, but the students still learned from them. The high school students learned how to persevere through a mission when doors are literally closed, and middle school students learned that doing things for others or with others could be a way to serve our God.
We ended our weekend gathering around a campfire singing worship songs. The stars were out, the weather was perfect, and you could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are so blessed to serve a God who uses things like youth retreats to show us how He is present in our lives. This could happen through various moments throughout the weekend. For some students – it might be a conversation with one of the elderly women they played bingo with. For others – it might be the words Lance prepared. And still for others – it could be the conversation with their leaders throughout the weekend.
We thank Arborlawn for allowing us to have a youth retreat and we thank God for showing up.