The heart is considered the seat of personality. It’s what makes us unique and impacts what we think, feel, and do. And it’s what we spent our 9th-10th Grade Retreat talking a lot about.
Yes, we skied and tubed and swam. We biked 14 miles through farmland to a yummy restaurant for lunch. We cooked Thanksgiving dinner together and exchanged $3 Christmas gifts bought from an antique store to represent someone else. We did all the fun things that usually happen at Hopetown. But, more than all of that, the 34 9th-10th graders who were at Hopetown this past week bravely and vulnerably shared their hearts.
We started the week off with another brave young man, whose journey we joined when he was a child learning to play football. We watched the movie, My All American, on the back of the barn the first night. It’s the true story of a valiant, kind-hearted football player named Freddie Steinmark, whose story has inspired countless lives over the years. It’s one we would recommend you watch with your high school kids, too.
The next morning, Melissa dove right in. “We start to believe that if we try hard enough, we’ll get rewarded. If it doesn’t work that way, we become demanding. We often stay in places and do things where we’re in control. When things get out of control, we blame others. Or we blame ourselves. In either case, we start to try to cover up. This week, instead, we want you to start right where you are. To really begin to grow up means that you learn to see things a little differently. You can still feel angry and hurt, but you’re not entitled to things working out a certain way. Freddie’s journey was one of growing up.
Freddie was too short to play football. He knew that, but he didn’t let it stop him. We all believe we’re too ___ for _____. You can fill in the blank. For Freddie, what he didn’t have (like height) was not the strongest part of him. What was the strongest, for Freddie, was his desire to play football, and his faith. It’s who Freddie was. What about you? Who do you feel like you are? When we cover up, try to hide our inadequacies, blame others or even ourselves, we lose a sense of who we are. In fact, very few of us even know that we don’t know who we are, because we’re so used to covering up.
Psalm 131:1-3 in The Message says, “God, I’m not trying to rule the roost, I don’t want to be king of the mountain. I haven’t meddled where I have no business or fantasized grandiose plans. I’ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart. Like a baby content in its mother’s arms, my soul is a baby content. Wait, Israel, for God. Wait with hope. Hope now; hope always!”
“In high school these days, your lives are anything but quiet. Technology alone—in addition to the voices of the kids around you, the anxious voice in your own head, the pressures, your fear of not measuring up…so many different things can make it hard for your heart to quiet down and to discover who you are. We want this week to be different. We want you to start with an honest look at who you are.”
And so, they did. In fact, they used this Psalm to write their own version. God, I’m not trying to…or I am trying to…and so on from there. Finally, just like the Psalmist, we moved toward hope.
As the week went on, we took an even deeper look at our hearts. In fact, we broke those hearts into eleven categories:
A lazy heart
A resentful heart
A selfish heart
A controlling heart
A deceitful heart
A critical heart
An angry heart
A victim heart
A stingy heart
A sarcastic heart
We all lean one way or another when we cover up. The kids divided up into small groups based on the direction their hearts lean. They answered the following questions:
What made you choose this group?
At what point did you choose that heart? Why
What were you hoping it would give you?
Does it work? How so or how not?
How does it impact other people?
Who gets the brunt of it?
Do you want to change? What could be the first step?
These hearts…our hearts…our attempts to cover up, represent what we do, not who we are. Our awareness is important. And these kids moved into a place of much deeper awareness as we talked about the hearts each of us lean toward and how we got there. But, as we know, awareness doesn’t bring change. Ezekiel 36:26 says “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” We can’t remove a heart of stone by ourselves. But God can.
And so we took those stone hearts—those lazy, critical, controlling, sarcastic, angry, victim, stingy, argumentative, resentful, selfish hearts in the form of literal stones and tossed them into the depths of Kentucky Lake.
Our verse in Philippians 4 goes on to summarize the very thing that summarized our week together. “Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized.”
These 9th-10th graders finished our time by putting so many of these things into practice. They shared truth; they were authentic; they threw their stone hearts into the depths of the lake. And then we had the privilege of reminding each one of all of the good that we believe God has placed inside of that new heart and new spirit of theirs. We finished the week filling our minds with those kinds of things. And ended it grateful for all that we heard and saw and realized, thanks to a God who delights in all of our new hearts.