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Brian: Friend and Mentor

Sometimes coming up with blog topics is difficult. We sign up for our blogs at the beginning of the year, so we can plan our blog dates around our class schedules. I signed up for a blog this week because I knew we’d be discussing Nietzsche in Great Books IV. I assumed that my mind would be abuzz with important thoughts about Genealogy of Morals, and as such the blog would write itself.

As I’ve sat down to write, however, I find myself utterly unable to think about Nietzsche. My thoughts are drawn back continuously to my friend and mentor, Brian. So, I suppose I’ll talk about him instead.

Brian passed away six years ago today, but his legacy will certainly live on at least as long as I do. He was my camp counselor throughout high school. He prayed with me on the night I decided to really pursue the faith, and he became a dear friend as I graduated and began working at camp as a staff member. Brian was a listening ear when I was overcome by emotion and teen angst. He was an unshakeable advocate when I’d pull stupid pranks and find myself in trouble. He was a constant image of both grace and truth, challenging me to be better and loving me when I failed. When I was a teenager, Brian was one of the only adults I knew that I could trust. When I became an adult and began working in education, Brian’s life served as a guiding example of effective, genuine, loving youth ministry. While I’ll likely spend the rest of my life discovering and implementing what Brian taught me, for the purposes of this blog, I’ve consolidated his brand of ministry into four main points:

Acknowledge pain.

I was a deeply, obnoxiously emotional kid in high school. I had lots of feelings and I felt them very intensely. My summer camp experience often involved nightly cry sessions in the chapel, during which I would weep uncontrollably about every seemingly difficult thing in my life. To be my camp counselor in the midst of this must have been inherently difficult and at least a little annoying. But Brian did a good job of making me feel heard and loved.

He prayed with me, reassured me, and sent me on my way time and time again. He never allowed himself to get disillusioned with youth ministry or with teenagers as a group. Instead, he actively chose to know me as an individual and to love me well, to take interest in the things that mattered to me and show me that they mattered to him, too.

Don’t indulge drama.

Brian’s ability to acknowledge my pain and make me feel known is even more incredible when you consider that he refused to indulge my drama. Teenagers have many feelings, and as a teenager I took a strange pleasure—maybe even pride—in my pain. As such, and as I’ve described previously, I was prone to exaggerating the perceived crises of my life. My flair for the dramatic built all proverbial mole hills into mountains.

But Brian, despite acknowledging my pain and taking an interest in the things I cared about, never indulged my flair for the dramatic. He was unphased by my attempts to shock him, and he always took my drama in stride. He took me seriously, but in doing so he also called me out when I was being ridiculous. His ability to see me clearly helped me learn to handle my emotions and master myself.

Have your students’ backs.

I got in trouble at camp fairly often. When I was a teenager, I thought that pranks were the funniest thing ever and regularly tried to sneak out of my cabin after lights out to pull them. When I inevitably got caught, Brian was quick to shield me from excessive wrath. He went to bat for me with those in charge, providing a reference to my general character and his faith in my growth and development. He shielded me and stood in the gap, defending me and expressing loyalty to me as a student. I knew that I could count on Brian and that he loved me, no matter what.

Hold your students accountable.

At the same time, Brian always held me accountable for my actions. He told me when I was being stupid, he came down on me when I sinned, when I was irresponsible, and when I hurt others. He never hesitated from difficult conversations but was intentional about my moral formation and the discipline it often required. His care for me demanded that he hold me accountable.

Brian’s balance between emotional care and proper emotional boundaries, his balance between gentle grace and refining, purgative love characterized his relationship with his students. He showed me how to be an effective youth leader, what it meant to love and serve young people well. May I pay it forward to my students for my entire career.