One of the numerous hats I wear in my life is overseeing the children and youth ministries at a progressive Christian church in Colorado Springs. This job is challenging at times, but also incredibly fulfilling. My favorite part of this job is working with middle- and high-school students.
Sure, teenagers can be challenging, but they are also interesting, passionate and thoughtful. Gathering with them for 90 minutes on Sunday evenings, whether virtually or in person (socially distanced and with masks on, of course) makes my soul light up.
We begin each meeting with a “check in” I borrowed from another youth leader; it’s called “Wow, Pow, How.” This exercise both serves as an icebreaker activity and gives the youth a way to reflect on their week. The “wow” is something good that they experienced; the “pow” is something not so great; and the “how” is a way they saw or felt God/the divine/the universe working in their lives.
While the teens generally don’t have a problem coming up with examples for the “wow” and “pow” portions of this exercise, the “how” often proves to be far more difficult for them to wrap their heads around. Even for adults, this can be a challenging and somewhat slippery concept.
Still, whether you believe in God/a higher power or not, I’m convinced this exercise can be a helpful practice. It reminds us of the good things that are taking place all around us and inspires gratitude. It suggests there is a synchronicity to the world and that we are all connected — both to one another and to the universe. It allows us to reflect on prior events and view them through a lens that is less mundane and more magical. It helps us feel less alone in the world.
Let me share with you some of the suggestions I offer the youth as they think about this topic, and a few of the incredible answers I have had the privilege of hearing them give.
First, the answer to “How have I seen God or the universe working in my life?” doesn’t have to be super spiritual. I think we too often draw boundary lines between the physical world and the spiritual or supernatural one. And yet, if — as we in the Christian tradition claim — God is with us, then there truly is no boundary between the two. As the wonderful writer Barbara Brown Taylor says in her book, “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith,” “Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish — separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two.”
Second, I tell the teens they don’t need to use “church language” or vocabulary to describe their experience. Not everyone was raised in the church; not everyone shares the same faith tradition. I tell the kids they can just use normal, everyday words to talk about a moment or event that felt special or electrically charged.
And finally, I assure them it’s OK if they don’t use the word “God” or the name of any deity as they share their experience now. Drawing again on the Christian tradition, we are called to minister to each other, to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world, to pass the peace of Christ.
After hearing these three suggestions, I see the youth visibly relax, and the stories begin to tumble out. One teen tells about trail running through the woods with his cross country team, and feeling connected to both his friends and to nature. Another recalls feeling particularly down and lonely at one point, and receiving a text message from her friend — at just the right time. An eighth grader was in the checkout line at the grocery with her mom: the woman in front of them discovered she did not have enough money to pay her bill, and this teen’s mother stepped in to pay it for her. One youth says, “I don’t really have a particular moment, but I just had this feeling all week, like the universe was working for me, working for good. Does that count?”
Yes, I believe it counts. It all counts.
So, as you go through your days, look around: open your eyes. Peer behind the curtain, into the spiritual realm. Dare to imagine that there is something bigger at work — not just in the world, but in your life, too.
Elizabeth Eden is a mom, writer, yoga instructor and musician. She lives in Northgate with her big, beautiful, messy clan. In her free time, she enjoys wine, dystopian novels and documentaries on quantum physics. Send her ideas and feedback at email@example.com.