Going To Youth Group for All the Wrong Reasons

I knew I should be paying attention, but there was so much to talk about instead.
“WOW.” I said aloud the word my friend Jaimee* was “signing”—with three raised fingers in a “W” shape on either side of her “O”-shaped mouth. I echoed her gesture.

“Wow!” mouthed Jaimee.

“Wow … Wow … Wow,” I repeated quietly.

Jaimee and I erupted into giggles, but quickly stifled them. We sat in the back row of youth group, as far away from any youth leaders as possible. We knew we should have been paying attention to Giles’s sermon, but we had no desire to listen to our youth pastor. There were movies and song lyrics to quote, boys to discuss, and inside jokes to crack.

Jaimee was my closest friend, but since neither of us could drive yet, we could only see each other at youth group. And her friendship was what mattered most to me.

I’d met Jaimee my freshman year. My family had just gotten settled into a new church and I met her at youth group. Before long we were the best of friends—completely inseparable when we were at youth group events.

Jaimee was the only person I trusted. We confided in each other about absolutely everything, including the guys we were interested in. So, the day a classmate told me that Jaimee was pursuing the guy I liked, I was stunned. I tried calling her so she could explain, but she wouldn’t return my calls. My shock and confusion became outright anger that I could hardly hold in.

The next Sunday, I waited outside of youth group to confront her. As Jaimee’s mom’s car pulled up, I sprung up from the bench I was sitting on, ready to explode. I managed a polite “hello” to Jaimee’s mom, but once she drove away, I started in.

“Why? Why would you do that?” I spat out. “You knew I liked him. Of all the guys in the world, why did you go for him?”

“I don’t remember you ever saying you liked him,” Jaimee innocently replied.

“Are you kidding? That’s all you and I talked about for weeks. And you didn’t even know him until I introduced you.”

“I guess I didn’t think you liked him that much. And I can’t help it if someone you like happened to like me instead.” She shrugged, quickly turned away from me, and walked into the building.

I stood there fuming. All I could think was, This is supposed to be my closest friend. And she’s a total liar.

Over the next few months, I tried to reconcile with her. Even though she never admitted to betraying me, we made up a few times—but then she’d backstab me in a different way soon after. Our giggles and jokes turned into icy glares and the silent treatment.

It wasn’t long before Jaimee stopped going to youth group. Even though she was my main reason for going to youth group, I decided to keep going. I ended up making some other friends, but I noticed they were different. They were focused on worship, attentive during messages, and really open during small group. I admired them for what seemed like a genuine faith, but I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be like them.

The next summer, I decided to go on the youth group’s annual summer camping trip. On a placid lake in northern Minnesota, miles from civilization, and without distracting friends, I actually listened to what Giles was saying.

Throughout the week, he taught on Colossians 3:1-3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (NIV). During an evening message, he said, “Setting your mind on things above means doing everything because of Jesus.” He continued, “The passage says you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Is that you? Have you died to yourself? You’ll know by how much you hunger for God.”

I felt totally convicted. I didn’t have a hunger for God. I was totally focused on earthly things. Thinking back to my relationship with Jaimee, I realized I had a tendency to make my friends into idols. I had often let them take the place of God in my life. During a morning devotional time, I stepped into a canoe with only my Bible, a journal, and a pen. I paddled a good distance away from shore and soaked in the stillness.

The lake was calm and the morning breeze cool as I started thinking and praying. I opened my journal and wrote a prayer: Lord, I’ve learned I can’t depend on people. I can only depend on you. I confess that I’ve idolized friendships and I want to change. Forgive me for my sins, and help me to walk with you and put you first.

I left that week with a real hunger to understand this God I had just been pretending to know. I still struggled with placing my friends above God. But I realized that if I seek God first, I would start hearing and seeing God through my friends—in their words of encouragement, hugs, and examples. My friends became more than just people to talk to and joke with; they became my brothers and sisters in Christ, who walked alongside me and continually pointed me to God.