Today, I want to take the opportunity to share why we do what we do at SVC.
I, along with about 20 staff members, 10 volunteers, several alumni, and 240 students, spent the week at the high school retreat. I have to pause and do a quick shout out to all of the staff and volunteers, our speakers and musicians, and Mrs. Fitch and the senior leadership team for a great event! Now, I will admit that my perspective may be a bit skewed due to the fact that I ended up in a cabin with only three boys and I’m not nearly as sleep deprived as some of my colleagues who spent the last three nights trying to get 12 teenagers to go to bed sometime before 2:00 am. Still, I think I can speak for the entire retreat staff when I say that it was an amazing week!
The retreat theme chosen by the senior leadership team and Mrs. Fitch was Connected. More specifically, over the three days, we looked at how our identity in Christ impacts the way we relate to ourselves, others, and God. I cannot think of a more important topic for teenagers today. Our speaker, Zac Rodarmel, made a comment on the first night that I think set the tone for the entire weekend. He said that the reason we sin and the reason we struggle in connection and relationship is rooted in an identity crisis.
I could not agree more. We don’t know who we are. We don’t know who Christ says we are. And in the absence of truth and clarification, we will believe rumors, lies, and innuendos. And if that is the case…if we look to culture to define us…there is no shortage of lies from which to choose.
Just think of the lies that our cultural perpetuates and how influential these can be. You are defined by your accomplishments. You only matter because you are pretty. If you lost ten pounds, people would like you more and you might actually have friends. If you win, you are a success. Happiness is defined by your ability to reach your own goals and dreams. Failure is just a sign that you didn’t try hard enough. You are whatever people think of you. Do whatever you can to feel good. Your bank account is your most important goal. You will never be good enough. He/she will always be better than you at everything.
We could go on and on. But, when we break down all of these lies, it is exactly like Zac said. Every single one of these is about identity. All of these statements share one underlying belief…that we are the sum of our own circumstances. This is the exact same lie that mankind has always faced. From the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness to a walk down the magazine aisle in our local supermarket, we have always been bombarded with the most prominent lie of the enemy…that we are in control. But, while this is not a new problem, our modern culture perpetuates it to an extent that we have never seen. And our social media-savvy teenagers are prime targets for this attack. They deal with these lies every single day, all the time, 24/7, through 19 different media outlets. The lie of the enemy has never been more real. But, because it is everywhere, it has also never been more covert. We don’t see it because it is everywhere. We don’t notice evil unless there is good with which to contrast it.
That is why this week was so powerful and so transformational for so many of our students. The message that was reinforced over and over was that our students do not have to believe this lie. They are not who people say they are. They are not limited to their own earthly interpretations of self. They are not the lies of the world. They are children of the King. End of story! Period! Their identity is defined by one thing…what God says about them. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” We have been redefined. We are no longer subject to the empty and fleeting praise of man. When God looks at us, He doesn’t see us as an accumulation of our successes or failures. That old self died on the cross. God defines us just as He defines the risen Christ…perfect, beautiful, lacking nothing. And, by trusting in Him, we can begin to live like this is actually true!
God is the author of our identity, and the more we can reinforce this with our students, the more they will begin to live into that calling. That is where all of the lies of the enemy start to fade away. That is where we find true freedom in relationship with ourselves, others, and God. That is exactly what Paul was trying to say in Galatians 2:20. And, though we know this, we often fall back into the patterns of the world. We forget that we are the very representation of Christ on this Earth. We forget that we were important enough to die for. We still walk around with masks. We treat each other with suspicion. We beat ourselves up for our past mistakes. We question our own validity. We hold grudges. We don’t forgive.
We are called to so much more!
So, that was the goal this week…to reinforce the identity that is already true of our students, such that their perceptions of self and others would be transformed. I saw the evidence of this all week. Students opened up, sharing struggles and questions and hardships. They served each other and made a true effort toward deepening relationships. They journaled and prayed and worshiped and rapped (yes…we had a Christian hip-hop group in the house) — all with the goal of deepening faith and growing in connection.
Now, like many of you and many of our students, I have been on a lot of retreats and have seen a lot of climactic moments. But there was something special about our last night. Part of it was the anticipation. Part of it was the focus on identity and connection. Part of it was that there were a lot of spiritual walls that were broken down over the course of our three days together. Part of it was the fact that a lot of you were intentionally praying for our students during this retreat. But even with all of this, what I saw on the last night blew me away. During our extended time of prayer and worship, I saw a room full of high school students praying for each other, crying tears of joy, raising their hands in worship, reconciling with each other, and singing at the top of their lungs. There was complete freedom and vulnerability. It was a beautiful time. And, while it is too great a leap to say that this was a life-changing moment for everyone involved, it is also far too simple to write it off as a mountain-top spiritual high. This was real faith in action. It was undeniable. And, if nothing else, it is a moment in time that they can fall back on as they continue along in their journey of faith. They can remember what it is like to really worship and to really pray for one another.
This is why we do what we do. It is why SVCS exists. Every school educates. Every school prepares kids for college. Every school offers extracurricular programs. But we have a calling that far exceeds a typical educational experience; to disciple every student, to help point them toward the discovery of their identity in Christ, and then to get out of the way and allow the Holy Spirit to change hearts and transform lives. And that is the biggest lesson of the retreat. If we create time and space and opportunity for students to live into the calling on their lives, God will show up and do the rest. Amen for that!
Head of Schools