Few words are as misunderstood in the contemporary English language as is the word spirituality. Probably the biggest misconception is regarding spirituality as something "other-worldly" and separate from us. Our spirituality is not "out there" but rather it is the transcendent within us. Spirituality is not some paranormal activity, an unachievable mystical experience, or something that only belongs to highly religious people. Our spirituality is rooted in and discovered in our everyday life. You may have heard this quote before, but it is worth repeating…
Watch your beliefs they become your thoughts.
Watch your thoughts they become your words.
Watch your words they become your actions.
Watch your actions they become your habits.
Watch your habits they become your character.
Watch your character it becomes your destiny.
- Author Unknown
This quote gives a wonderful explanation of spirituality because it causes us to pause and reflect deeply on our lives. "What" shapes our beliefs, thoughts, words, actions, habits, and character "is" our spirituality. Ironically, when we contemplate more deeply on our lives we often end up with more questions. Such is the nature of spirituality and faith. Yet, it can be unsettling to consider that we really do not have clear black and white answers to many of life's questions. Some would say our spirituality is the uncertainty or the unknowing itself.
Today's youth are a generation of great expectations. They have a need, perhaps a passion, for finding meaning to their lives. In a Prayer for Peace, Rolheiser writes; "Still the restlessness of my youth: still that hunger that would have me be everywhere, that hunger to be connected to everyone, that wants to see and taste all that is, that robs me of peace on a Friday night. Quiet those grandiose dreams that want me to stand out, to be special. Give me the grace to live more contentedly inside my own skin." Can you remember being a restless youth? I certainly can.
How can we help youth and ourselves recognize that restlessness is a divine gift in that in the midst of our searching we can come to know ourselves better? Perhaps we can start by helping young people to stand on their own two feet when it comes to spirituality. We can accompany youth on the spiritual journey but ultimately, they must accept responsibility for it; not their parents, friends, pastors, or youth ministers. Youth must be the ones to take on the journey and the ones who are open to being transformed by it. Only an individual can choose whether to open their heart and respond to call. But, we can share the Good News, that the invitation into a relationship with Christ is always being extended.
Accompanying youth on the spiritual journey requires that we believe spirituality is a life-long journey and it will grow and evolve as we do. Spirituality is not static. When we accompany youth, we share our spirituality story; our own mountain top experiences and valleys of doubt. We tell young people that their spirituality will not keep them from feeling scared, overwhelmed, or confused but that it will be there to guide them through those feelings, so they don't get lost in them.
It is no secret to young people that the current state of the world is noisy and distracting. There is always someone telling them what to do and how to live their lives. We accompany youth by teaching them to pause and listen to the voice of spirituality within. Scripture tells us to "be still and know that I am." If young people want to go deeper into knowing their spirituality, they must cultivate a love of quiet and stillness. We can accompany youth on the spiritual journey by imparting the rich traditions of a contemplative spiritual practice. By creating prayer experiences for youth to encounter the Divine Mystery in silence, we help them discern the importance of silencing the many distractions around them. Take time to introduce youth to meditation, praying in adoration or another contemplative practice, singing praise and worship music together, or going on a spiritual pilgrimage to a sacred place. Encourage youth to get outside and reconnect with God's creation by going for a walk, a hike, a swim, or even an exhilarating long run.
In a recent speech, Pope Francis stated, "In effect, today we often experience 'a spiritual desertification.' Especially in places where people live as if God did not exist, our Christian communities are meant to be sources of living water quenching thirst with hope, a presence capable of inspiring encounter, solidarity, and love. They are called to receive and rekindle God's grace, to overcome self-centeredness and to be open to mission."
One way we can quench the thirst of youth is by accompanying them as they search and question. The ministry of accompaniment does not mean just providing all the answers but instead building a relationship with a young person to understand the reasons for their questions. By leaving room for doubts and allowing youth to question and search we are permitting youth, like Augustine, to encounter God in their own restlessness.