Youth groups take a lot of trips. Camps, retreats, the forest, the beach, other countries. When I was a youth pastor, we would travel everywhere for different reasons. Sometimes it was for fun, other times it was to accomplish a purpose like helping out a sister church in Mexico or giving teens a great week of camp in the summer. If you are not familiar with what traditionally happens when a bunch of teens meet at a church in order to travel together for a trip, let me paint a picture.
We start off as would any trip with a group of adolescents. Everyone begins to show up about 15-60 minutes after the decided arrival time. Fortunately, a seasoned youth leader has accounted for the tardiness in the plans. We see a middle school boy who claims he can get through a week of camp with the clothes he has on and the one extra outfit in his backpack, while an older high schooler drags her two 50-pound duffle bags she promises has “only the essentials.” All the dads get together to load the luggage on the back of the truck that will be driven by the one dad whose wife volunteered him for cargo transportation. The kids stake out their spots on in the 15-passenger van while the last one we were waiting for finally arrives.
This is where the church trip takes a turn not seen at school or with the girl scouts. Before everyone finally loads into the vehicles to take off, everyone who has come gathers in a circle for a prayer to bless the trip. There are the travelers, the youth leaders, the families, but also some retired church couples and pastors who are lovingly there for support. A few adults are usually designated to say the prayers which undoubtedly include requests for “traveling mercies,” “safe travels,” and to “watch over and protect” the group.
These phrases are what always confused me. I don’t know of any examples in the Bible where God is asked to keep someone safe. In fact, I can’t think of any stories at all, Biblical or otherwise, where the characters achieved any level of personal growth without some sort of struggle or conflict. Maybe the group needed a roadside breakdown to learn how to bind together as a team? Perhaps a little bit of risk or struggle sprinkled into the trip is exactly how a spiritual breakthrough might occur? As the youth pastor, I eventually asked our “prayer warriors” not to focus on our safety. As you can imagine, it didn’t go over too well. Still, our youth group trips that had the most impact on the participants always included a level of difficulty and risk.
I believed it then and I still do now. Without risk, struggle, and even sometimes suffering, there is no growth. Of course we should not be reckless, but if we are really interested in personal and spiritual growth for ourselves or our loved ones, our focus cannot be only on safety. For the same reason, I don’t think God is that concerned with our safety either.
The idea is sprinkled through pop culture as well. Van Halen shouts, “might as well jump.” Lee Ann Womack sang, “I hope you dance…” Even Elsa from Frozen 2 belts out “into the unknown…” In a favorite song of mine, Laura Story asks God, “what if the trials of this life are you mercies in disguise?” Something in us knows that risk is necessary. Still one of our biggest hopes is for health and safety. Don’t get me wrong. I do wish health and safety for all those reading this post, but even more I wish for you to achieve the growth that sometimes comes through struggle.