I may be a youth pastor, but sometimes I don’t know what to say when a student comes to me for help. Case in point:
A few years ago, a teenager found me after a church service and told me about his home life. His words were emotional, but not soft. I think I remember him cursing a few times during our conversation. It’s hard to blame him, if I were in his position I might be cursing too. My response to his story didn’t come easy. I wasn’t speechless, but I wasn’t confident. My words tumbled instead of slid.
Then I said something that surprised me. It surprised me because I’m not sure where it come from.
“I don’t understand why this is happening,” I said. “I do know one thing, though. You’re going to find a way to keep going and when you’ve gotten through all this junk, you’ll be able to help someone else just like you.”
And you know what happened?
One of my favorite films from last year is Short Term 12. Short Term 12 is about a group of 20-somethings who work at a treatment facility for at-risk minors. The students who come to the home have been abused, strung up, abandoned, and broken. Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), a new girl at the facility, has more than her fair share of problems. Problems which, coincidentally, are not too far from the past experiences of Grace (Brie Larson), one of her assigned supervisors.
The reason Short Term 12 is such a beautiful story is because the film pushes its audience to grapple with the limitations and opportunities that come with our scars. During the movie, Grace must navigate the decisions that are packaged with ministering to, essentially, a younger version of herself. There’s a theme that can’t be missed. Short Term 12 explores the question of whether our prior pain should keep us from reaching others who share similar experiences.
Sometimes I call Jesus’ disciples chumps, because, to sum it up, that’s what they were. Read through the gospels. After years of walking with Jesus, the disciples still couldn’t grasp what he came to do. When their leader was eventually arrested—as promised—they ran. Peter, one of Jesus’ inner circle, is the most shameful of all. He denied his master when the pressure come. That my friends, is the definition of a chump.
Thankfully though, Peter’s story doesn’t end there. The New Testament goes on to tell us how he became a pillar in the growing church; the same growing church that would eventually shake the Roman Empire.
In a letter to a group of Jewish exiles, Peter wrote:
But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” 1 Peter 3:14-15a
What’s fascinating about this passage is that Peter—cowardly, timid Peter—is telling fellow Christians not to be afraid. And we listen because he has the experience to back up his words. Peter’s weakness, that he eventually overcame, morphed itself into a tool the apostle used to help others. Peter knows what it’s like to be afraid. Now, he’s going to encourage those who may feel the same way.
As we go through life, it’s tempting to believe our scars will disqualify us from making a difference. Our abuse, our mistake, our doubt, our divorce, automatically lock us in the past and keeps us from serving those in the present.
But, what if we looked at pain differently? What if we saw the past, not as a black hole, but as a centrifugal force that propels us to serve others? If you’ve ever gone through pain, real pain that can’t be soothed with mere words, you know that someone who hasn’t ever experienced heartache probably won’t be able to help you. As well-intentioned as they may be, their lack of relatable experience can actually become barrier to personal empathy.
It might be that the depression, cuts, and bruises you walked through yesterday could give you the strength and wisdom to help someone today. It might just be that you are the hope for someone that you wished would have been the hope for you all those years ago. Part of me wonders if Grace in Short Term 12 has her name for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, the film is trying to tell us that the grace we experience for our past is the same grace that allows us to offer hope to others in the present. For the Christian, we find this grace in God and the love he shows us through Jesus. That’s the grace we see in Peter. That’s the grace we see in the student who hung around my church’s youth group. That’s the grace we see in the sacrifice of Jesus.
Don’t let your mistakes, or the mistakes you’ve endured from others, disqualify you. Yes, there comes a point when we must first get help before we attempt to help the people around us. No, this shouldn’t stop us from using our experience to encourage others later.
I’m not sure why you had to walk through pain. I’m not sure why your had to see your heart break. I’m sorry you did. But I do know one thing, if you open up your life to grace, you’re going to get through this junk and eventually be able to help someone else just like you.