B Daddy and I spent this past weekend with 2000 high school students at a retreat Northpoint Church puts on called MyLife. We only get to go on retreats three times a year, but every Sunday night we get to hang out with a small group of Junior students that we have been leading since they were itty bitty 6th graders.
Every now and then when I talk about being involved in high school ministry, someone responds along the lines of, "oh that's so GOOD of you," and I feel really uncomfortable. Doing this each week is pretty much the farthest thing from good OF me. I LOVE high schoolers (in particular, MY high schoolers...) I love their hearts, their goofiness, their style, their music, pretty much everything about them except their drama and their phones.
All of that aside, B Daddy and I believe that serving each week is incredibly good FOR us and for our marriage. Our relationship has been blessed tenfold by volunteering with this ministry - here are a handful of reasons why.
1. We have a weekly date night we can't back out of.
If you're married with kids (we have a 4yr old, a 3yr old, an almost 2yr old and one on the way...) everyone tells you that date nights are critical to keeping your marriage healthy. The problem is that a weekly date night is darn near impossible to commit to. Between the cost of a sitter, the logistics of working out a night away from the kids and the fact that we're usually exhausted by 7pm, date nights seem like a really wonderful idea in theory, but they can be hard to make happen regularly.
By volunteering each Sunday night at our church, we have something to look forward to at the tail-end of what is usually a very full weekend of KID TIME. It doesn't hurt that our church helps reimburse the cost of a sitter. Nope, that doesn't hurt at all.
We've got a group of people expecting us to show up somewhere each week and that goes a long way towards making sure I book the sitter and we save up some energy to get out of the house. We get a 15 minute car ride down together where we change out of our mom and dad costumes and put on our Katie and BJ attire. And as anyone who's been married a while knows, it's not really so much about what you do on date night, it's that you're doing it together. Doing this together is like sharing a really significant hobby. We get to share the experience of small group each week, talk about what's going on in our students' lives and hang out and enjoy the worship, the teaching and dinner together each week.
2. We stay connected spiritually.
We are part of an adult small group through church as well and that is HUGE for staying spiritually connected, but we've had seasons in our marriage where we weren't in small group for different reasons. And through those seasons - our volunteer commitment has been there.
Serving students requires some serious authenticity. You can't fake it - their BS detector is highly-tuned and amazingly accurate. We talk about tough topics on an almost weekly basis: drug use, sex, divorce, pornography - and also Christian disciplines like reading the Bible, how to pray and living a life of faith.
I'm amazed at how many times we've gotten in the car on Sunday night and had in-depth discussions on subjects that would otherwise not come up between us. Striving to be authentic with our students means we have to be willing to be authentic with each other and stay intimately connected on things that it's usually easier not to talk about.
3. We have access to mentors whose marriages we admire.
We get to meet a lot of new people through our service commitment at church - people whose marriages are on pretty open display thanks to the conversations we have with their teenage children. Did you know that parents-of-teenagers?? It's true. We hear the good, the bad and the ugly about what's going on in these students' lives each week.
While we definitely take what is said with a grain of salt, it's pretty obvious which students' parents have a healthy relationship with each other and with their kids. We have sought these folks out and we have been able to gain incredible insight from them. B Daddy regularly meets with the dad of one of his students and I have been able to lean on the support of several of the mothers of our students- whether it's helping me with my own kids or offering up their valuable wisdom and experience from parenting older children.
4. We've gained a new network of friends.
We live in a bubble. B Daddy works all day and does Dad-duty all night. I am in mommy land 24/7. This means that B Daddy knows the folks inside his office and a few of our neighbors. I know the girls at the gym (for the most part also moms) and my mommy friends.
We attend an urban church with a high percentage of single people, so hanging out there gets us out of our little suburban kid-centric world. It's refreshing to hang out with a diverse crowd on Sunday nights. They give us perspective and remind us that potty training and sleep schedules are not hot topics in everyone's world. They keep us connected to what life is like as a 20-something and I like to think that we give them a bit of hope about life as a married-with-kids-something.
5. We're learning what teenagers are like.
We have a unique role as small group leaders in the lives of these students. We're not their parents and we're not just their friends. We have this awesome privilege of relating to them on an in-between level. Sometimes we're just singing karaoke with them and other times we're walking them through a crisis of faith, or giving them advice on how to choose a college. We have learned so much about what it's like to be a teenager these days. It's A LOT different than it was when we were in high school - and at the same time, it's EXACTLY the same. I love that we won't be thirty years behind the times when our own kids are high school age...just 15 years removed thanks to these students. And there's always the chance that our students will grow up and be mentors to our own kids or their friends if we stay in this area. That is priceless.
So this is basically one very long PSA encouraging you to get involved in something bigger than yourselves if you're married. It's been amazingly beneficial for us and I can only imagine it would be for you too.
Have you and your significant other ever volunteered together? Did you find similar things were true of your experience?