I found myself sitting in a cabin with twelve 16-year-old girls who were both profoundly broken and extremely underfed. Their physical appetite was satisfied, but what they craved was truth: clear-cut, unvarnished and removed from all superficiality and temporary optimism.
As we sat in a circle at the end of another full day at camp and settled into our daily devotional time, words were scarce, but the message was clearly received: these girls were desperate. And all their eyes were on me.
Their eyes pleaded with mine for words that would provide more than 10 minutes of comfort. The battle was physical and tangible. And not a word had been spoken yet.
Being a first year camp counselor, I felt inadequate and ill-equipped. I anticipated this moment throughout the day and endlessly mulled over what I would share. The absence of my co-counselors reminded me that I would be the one to lead the discussion; I would be the one to bring up deep spiritual truths that would challenge and convict and cause others to repent; I would be the one to change a life by speaking words that would offer advice and guidance as to how to flee from hardship. At least that’s what I thought at the time.
Only three days had passed since these teenage campers had arrived. Naively, I expected transformation to come easy. I quickly realized these girls were not inclined to share their personal lives with me as they dealt with various feelings of shame, fear, and total worthlessness. They wanted to build trust first. We only had one week to spend with each group of campers and with a deadline in mind, building relationships had to happen fast.
By divine measures, the topic of confidence and security was suggested for that third night. I remember thinking to myself, ‘They’ve probably heard this stuff a thousand times. What am I going to tell them that is going to be life-changing and significant? And who the heck is going to share first?’ These girls were as open as a slammed door. More than that, feeling pretty low in self-esteem myself, how could I pretend to have confidence and security completely figured out?
Our conversation began with generic, open-ended questions: What or who do you place your trust in? What do you turn to when life is stressful or overwhelming? Answers were unspecific and predictable. The conversation was one-sided and shallow. I was straining for someone to share more.
Out of nowhere, one of the girls raised her hand with tears in her eyes, and confessed, “I think if we are all honest with ourselves, the biggest thing we put our confidence in is our looks. We are all told we have to try to live up to a standard of beauty that we are all trying to achieve.”
I looked around at the faces of the girls in the circle. A reality seemed to kick them straight in the gut. Those slammed doors began to creak open as one of the campers had the vulnerability to admit her own weakness as well as a common struggle for most girls her age.
They began sharing about their struggles at home, and why it was extremely hard to find confidence and security in a God who seemed to have His hand removed from their situations. Tears streamed and for a moment I was granted access into the lives of these teenage girls. God had undoubtedly thrown me the key to their protected hearts.
Divorce? Broken Homes? Cutting? Suicide? Abuse? Unworthiness? Guilt? Abandonment? Adultery? Who was I to attempt offering advice or a how-to manual to free them from these circumstances? I was speechless.
There was a heaviness in the room that could not be described, only experienced. My words alone could not comfort the souls of these young girls, and it was disheartening.
I broke eye contact and looked down at my lap, realizing that gripped in my hands was the only tool that could bring life, truth, and freedom. It’s as though God’s voice was a loud whisper in the room saying, “I have given you all you need. My Truth is more than enough. Turn your eyes to Me. Let Me speak to them.” I had been vying to share my thoughts and felt pressure to quickly offer advice instead of giving them what they needed – a reminder of who they were.
I began reading to them, word for word, the truths of how God sees each of them: Beautiful. Chosen. Loved. Free. It was at that moment I not only saw but actually experienced the power of God’s Word. Healing began through vulnerability, tears, honesty, and spoken words of Truth. Days later they would return to broken homes, and the same pressures; but they would carry with them the Truth of who they were in Christ. I had heard countless times that God’s Word was the only Truth in this life, but wasn’t truly convinced that it brought the most comfort in times of honest struggle and hardship. That is, until now.
Although God has given us the powerful ability to share our stories and encouragement with each other, nothing comes close to competing with the power of His Truth. I was humbled that night as God revealed that my own words, which may provide comfort for a time, would not provide healing and restoration.
My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. 2 Corinthians 12:9
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
Timeless truth, made perfect in weakness.