On the first night of 7-8 grade camp, we watched the movie, Greater, on the back of a barn. It’s one we’d highly recommend watching with your 7-8 graders, or high school kids. We wouldn’t just recommend it because it’s a movie based on a really amazing guy who happened to be a Razorback (cough, cough, Sissy’s favorite team). We’d really recommend it because there’s so much to talk about…and so much to glean from this extraordinary man, Brandon Burlsworth, and the way he lived his life.
Brandon was a walk-on for the Razorbacks in the late 90’s. He worked so hard to not just play, but to persevere, that he was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts. Tragically, he lost his life 11 days later. But, the way this young man lived…and ran…and fought to maintain his faith and his integrity are something we talked about all week long at this particular camp. And it’s something we think would be great to talk about with your teenagers, too.
The first question the kids asked after watching the movie was something your kids might ask, as well: “Why did we see such a sad movie?” Melissa’s response was to speak to the heart of where 7-8 graders (and many teenagers) are.
“I sit here, look in your eyes, and I know there are hard places. Some of you have been through really tough times, just like Brandon. You’ve had friends who have left you or made fun of you. You’ve had struggles in your family, faced loss, endured hardship. And, honestly, just being a teenager can feel like a hardship on a lot of days. All of a sudden, you’re much more aware of what the people around you are thinking about you. You’re thiking more about yourself, and so many of those thoughts are negative. ‘Who are you going to sit with at lunch? Is that friend upset with you? Were those “friends” talking about you? Do they really like you, anyway?’
We don’t often think about living as a fight. We just keep moving, hoping things will be okay. You start school thinking, “I hope everyone is nice to me.” “Maybe I’ll be able to hang out with these kids.” “Who is going to sit by me today?”
2 Timothy 4:7 says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Paul was writing this letter at the end of this life. These words also reflect the way Brandon lived. He saw life as a fight. Just like his coach told him to be the first one to show up to football practice and be the last one to leave, he used the same ideas to fight for what he believed in. He saw that he had a choice…just like you do.
You want to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Brandon wanted, with everything inside of him, to be a Razorback. Could he make that happen? No. It wasn’t in his control. But, there were some things that were. He could work hard and do what his coaches asked of him. There are things you desire just as much as Brandon wanted to be on the team.
What are some of the things you want this year? Maybe it’s to be a good student, get a big part in the play, make friends, be a part of a team yourself. Which of those things are in your control? Which aren’t? But, what can you do to work toward them? You always have a choice.
So much is changing in these teenage years, inside and outside of you. Your emotions change a lot, and your friends can, too, at times. But, you still have a choice. You can focus more on who you’re going to sit by at lunch than who’s going to sit by you. You can think about small goals you can make to work toward a part in the play, a spot on the team, or the grades you want.
I also want you to think about what Brandon did when his friends were laughing at him, on their group date. They had given him alcohol, without him knowing it. He was so upset by it that his immediate response was to start running. Groups of kids can make you feel the same way Brandon felt in those times. But, again, you have a choice. Just like Brandon, and just like a verse a little later in 2 Timothy, you can run. In fact, 2 Timothy 3 (MSG) gives us a list of things we can run from…and a lot of those things seem to be surrounding you in these teenage years.
“Don’t be naïve. There are difficult times ahead. As the end (or teenage years) approach, people are going to be self-absorbed, money-hungry, self-promoting, stuck-up, profane, contemptuous of parents, crude, coarse, dog-eat-dog, unbending, slanderers, impulsively wild, savage, cynical, treacherous, ruthless, bloated windbags, addicted to lust, and allergic to God…Stay clear of these people.”
Don’t be naïve. These ARE tough times you’re in the middle of, as a teenager. Brandon ran from so many of the same things that you can run from, too. And, he ran toward something greater. So can you. Run away from someone making fun, and run toward kindness. Run away from self-promoting, and toward humility. In fact, “run after mature righteousness—faith, love, peace—joining those who are in honest and serious prayer before God.” (2 Tim 2:22). There is so much good you can run after…a whole host of other things from Romans 12:9-16, in fact. …honoring others (having humility), being on fire spiritually (being faithful in prayer), being cheerful/joyful (laughing with friends), not quitting/patience, giving to those who hurt (sharing tears with friends), encouraging and welcoming others, forgiving, getting along with others.
What do you want to run from?
What could you run after in these first few months of school?
What do you want?
What is in your control that you can pray for and move toward, with God’s help?
The title of the movie came from a sentence Brandon’s family said after his death, “Our loss is great, but God is greater.” God is greater than what you’re struggling with, too…the worry, the sadness, the hurt. He’s greater than anything you might be going through right this minute…and He’s for you. He loves you. He says you are worth more than you could ever imagine. You are loved and gifted and becoming exactly who He created you to be. Join us in 2 weeks on how to figure out more of who that is…Hopetown-style!