Do you ever long to figure out your purpose in life? Or perhaps you know but don’t quite understand how you are called to fulfill it? I’ve battled with both of these questions a lot but recently discovered some answers and believe it or not it all became clear because of Warped Tour.
After attending Warped two years ago, my husband and I vowed to never bring our kids there again due to the environment they were bombarded with while we were there. Profanity, drug promotion, blatant messages condemning God and t-shirts proclaiming allegiance to Satan were everywhere placing a dark cloud over what we thought would be a fun day seeing some of our favorite bands.
Before you write me off as too old and uptight to have fun let me tell you I’ve had more than my fair share of concerts like these and thought nothing of the environment surrounding me. After all, I was there to see bands I loved and I didn’t really pay attention to anything else. But with two kids, 11 & 12, in tow my husband and I saw everything in a completely different light. The questions they asked were ones we wished we didn’t have to answer. I completely understand and value music as a chance to express ourselves and let go of our emotions, but it was upsetting to us that the majority of messages were dark, angry and hopeless and so many people were buying into them.
Fast forward two years to this spring when we were given free tickets to Warped because we had participated in a fundraiser for the organization heartsupport, whose mission is to reach out to people who are struggling in the music scene with issues such as addiction, self harm, suicide, depression and anxiety. So the dilemma was do we go and risk condoning certain choices to our children? Would we essentially be saying these things are acceptable and no big deal? But then all of the sudden we realized we needed to change OUR perspective. Was this a place we were called to be? Afterall, heartsupport attends every date on the tour and considers it their biggest outreach. What if we, as a family, viewed it as an opportunity?
People at church have shared about opportunities they have had with ministries and as a family we could never figure out how we could ever be missionaries. But then it all became clear. We didn’t need to go overseas or to a war zone to be missionaries. What if a festival like this was being presented to us as our mission field? The answer seemed so obvious when we shifted our thinking from wanting to shelter our kids to realizing we needed to be right in the middle of it, helping heartsupport spread their message of hope.
By no means am I saying everyone who shows up at a music festival makes bad choices or is struggling with serious issues. But when I looked around with intent to reach out to people who may be in trouble, they weren’t hard to find.
Our job as volunteers was to see beyond the t-shirts proclaiming that ‘Sinners are Winners’ and notice the person inside of it. What happens when we do that? It amazed me how willing people were to open up about their battles when a volunteer really took the time to connect on common ground with people who stopped to check out the tent. Almost every person who stopped and had a conversation with one of us was quick to share that either they or someone they knew struggled with a variety of issues and were grateful for the opportunity to be heard.
It got me thinking about my history with mental illness and all of the self destructive ways I used to cope with it. Here I am, 47 years old, with the potential to connect with a teenager because I truly identify with what they are dealing with since I had been there too! I knew what it felt like to keep my scars hidden in 90 degree weather beneath a long sleeved hoodie because I had failed to control the urge to cut. I could sense their hopelessness and empathized because of all the times I had taken my feelings of shame out on myself. The relief that washes over a stranger’s face when they realize they are not being judged and do not have to feel shame because of what they’ve done is the reason we should all be willing to be vulnerable.
How often do we actually do that? When we see a kid walk by with a ‘F-God’ shirt on, do we look away in disgust and write them off as what’s wrong with society, or do we stop for a moment to wonder why they would advertize that? Even if it’s purely a form of rebellion, why are they proudly flaunting a hatred toward God?
After revisiting my own experiences, as well as listening to and reading countless stories by people who took the step to open up, one thing is perfectly clear…a sense of shame and a belief that they deserve to feel that way because of choices they’ve made overwhelms them. They have been made to feel worthless and hopeless, and the only coping mechanisms they have are self destructive because they believe, as I did, that they deserve the pain. They’ve been judged by family, society and even church, written off and being shunned because of their choices, therefore never realizing God loves them no matter what. But how will they ever come to believe that when they are ignored, scoffed at or downright shamed, especially by those who are supposed to be spreading hope?
When I began sharing about my struggles with bipolar disorder and all of the destructive ways I tried to cope, the thing I feared most was judgment. And you know what? Some people did judge me and it hurt as they slowly fell away, but the majority of people I knew supported me, especially when, because of my honesty, felt safe to open up as well. When I felt it was safe for me to stop having to strive to be perfect in everyone else’s eyes and that whomever I was sharing with cared and showed empathy, healing took place.
Think about it…if you are struggling with something and then someone else confides in you that they are too, doesn’t it provide a huge sense of relief knowing you are not the only one? You are not alone? I love how every Sunday my pastor stands in front of our congregation and tells us all what a complete dumpster fire he is. Yeah, we don’t need to be fixed in order to go to church or have a relationship with God. We all deserve to know that. But it won’t be believable unless we can trust and connect with those who are hurting first.
My family and I witnessed something extremely powerful while we were volunteering. A young girl wearing a ‘Satan is My Daddy’ shirt stopped when another volunteer asked about her favorite band. For the next 45 minutes they sat together, shared, cried and hugged. By the time she left her life has been radically changed.
The point is that we all have to find our mission field, and trust me, we all have one. You are here for a reason and whatever struggles you have gone through in your life are meant to be shared in order to help someone else. God does not waste your pain. There is no shame. You are not the choices you have made. God loves you no matter what and when we realize that and embrace it it becomes clear that our purpose is to lead others to believe that as well. We have all learned lessons in life and they are not meant to be kept hidden.
Two people recently had the courage to share their mission in church. They had no idea that what they were saying started our quest to find ours. We never would have gone to Warped Tour. We never would have connected with someone who needed us because of who we are and what we’ve gone through. Yes, it was a dark place but the darkness is where we need to shine our light…what part of your life is dark? Where do you see people who are lost and hurting? Concerts? Work? Overseas? Classrooms? Our family? Where does your heart take you when you consider where your gifts could be used?
I sat with a large group of teenage girls after I first shared my story publicly in my blog. I was terrified. I didn’t know if I could say out loud all the things I had been through in my life that I had once been ashamed of. But when I saw their faces and willingness to listen the words just poured out of me. There was no shame. All I wanted was for them to know they are not alone because I got it. When I finished speaking and asked if there were any questions no one spoke. But as I was about to get up a girl raised her hand and started to share that she had cut as well. After that it was as if the floodgates had opened and one after another the girls all shared their stories. I can’t even begin to express how powerful that was to me. Not only did healing begin for those girls, but it showed me that God would not waste my pain and that it all had a purpose.
If we don’t use our experiences to connect with others in order to help them I believe we won’t truly be fulfilled. We have to take risks and when we do we will realize just how powerful our stories really are.
1 Peter 3:8 Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Corinthians 12:25-26 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.