Stories that Shape Us – Starting with Pipe cleaners

The annual  fall retreat is a long-standing tradition for our youth group. A lot gets packed into a weekend: community building, high-ropes adventure, group games, rest, and time outdoors. “Awaken” was the theme the chosen by the youth this year. Throughout the weekend we focused on awakening to who we are and who God is. The Friday evening component was designed to help students consider their call – something that they will be studying on upcoming Sunday mornings.

Storytelling as a tool for sharing our experiences and shaping our faith narrative is a growing interest of mine, an interest I share with author Traci Smith and other faith formation leaders. This retreat was one of the first times I was intentionally inviting students to share their own, personal stories. Knowing that not everyone in the group knew each other well, I decided that dipping our toes into the water of storytelling would be safer than jumping in.

IMG952485Pipe cleaners…er chenille stems, were the medium for shaping our stories. I asked the students to represent their life journey with all its twists and turns, ups and downs. Youth were then invited, but not required, to share a story about the shape of their life. If I had this to do again, I would break our group of 13 into smaller conversation groups for the story part.

Our next step was to consider how our lives give us clues about our call, or what the secular world calls purpose. Dr. Bill Damon has created a graphic illustrating the components of purpose. Three intersecting circles for a Venn diagram.  I translated his descriptions of each circle into Christian language:

What you love to do? –> What brings you joy

Your strengths and skills –> Your gifts

Needs of the world you care about –> Your Experiences of Deep Compassion

Next, each youth was asked to place stickers on their pipecleaner marking times when they felt joy, discovered a gift, or felt deep compassion. Again, we shared short stories of these transformational moments, discussing how our call can often be found in the overlapping of these three places.

As we discussed the idea of call, God’s purpose for our lives, a youth bravely mentioned that call can feel like a heavy expectation. Our youth are weighted down by grades, goals, and achievement. This is a place of deep compassion for me, which is why my knee jerk response was to downplay the expectations God has for us. Instead, I wish that I had shared more of my story. I wish that I had told them about the yearning for meaning that would not leave me alone. I wish that I had told them that even though I resisted God’s call several times because it was scary, risky and I felt ill equipped, that when I did answer, I began to feel empowered, lighter, and more free, even in the face of challenge and adversity.

Pipe cleaners got the stories started, but I believe there is a lot more for us to share together.

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