Meaning Over Manuals

Over the course of this year, and especially since joining the staff of YMCo., I have heard a lot about being “intentional” with my actions. That could mean praying intentionally, having intentional conversation, or sometimes it means being intentional about the way that I explain an activity. Yet, somehow the term has always felt a bit unnecessary to me. Don’t we always have a reason for doing what we do—otherwise, why do it? It wasn’t until my first week as an AYM intern that I learned the real importance of intentionality.

The first week is always one of the hardest because everything is new. The schedule is new, the theme is new, and my experience as an intern is certainly different from anything I’ve ever done before. Whether I realized it or not, the most prominent thought on my mind in that first week was that I would not mess up. I spent hours practicing my routes so that I wouldn’t get my group lost on the way to a worksite, I looked over every program at least a few times, and I practically memorized a whole page of policies for one of my more involved worksites. At every worksite I made several rounds to check on each youth so that I could be sure everyone was on task. I checked in with the youth leader of the group multiple times a day to make sure that we were on the same page, and at program, I was determined to get as many of our high schoolers to participate as I possibly could.

By the middle of the week, everything seemed to be going as planned up until I sat in a small group at our Wednesday night program. For several minutes I had been trying to get each of the youth to dig deep and really think about a moment where they saw God during their week. By this time, they were rather tired from a full day of work, and they seemed to feel that there was nothing more they could add to the answers they had already given. Eventually, one of the girls looked up at the rest of the small group and realized that no one had the energy to dig any further into my question.  With fatigue and maybe a bit of exasperation, she looked over at me.

“Well where did you see God this week, Emily?” she asked.

I stared blankly. With that simple question, the question that I had been trying to get everyone else in our group to reflect on and share, she had me completely dumbfounded. Well, where did I see God this week? We’d been talking with our youth about it at every program and at many of the worksites. Yet, on our last day of working, I realized I hadn’t once stopped to think about that question for myself. I’d been so caught up with memorizing the policies, getting to the worksites, and trying to make sure that everyone was on task that I hadn’t taken any time to think about the most important part of all: why did our work matter?

Suddenly remembering that she was still waiting for an answer, I intelligently remarked, “huh” and did a mental run through of everything we’d experienced that week. After several seconds, I began to talk about the janitorial work we’d done at one of our worksites earlier that day, and how I’d come to see that it helped my group and me achieve a better appreciation for work that we often take for granted. However, what’s more important than my answer is that it took one of my high schoolers flipping my own question back onto me before I saw the significance of our week.

This work isn’t about getting our youth to every worksite that we can so that they hopefully have a good mission experience. It’s about discovering with them a newfound appreciation for hard work and the people who may have lower level, yet very important jobs. It’s about the process of meeting people who have fewer financial resources than us, and understanding that we are both equally valuable, beautiful, and gifted children of God. This work has to be intentional. We do not work solely to get the job done—we take the time to see the beauty in every human, in every relationship, and in every job taken on. God has woven new meaning into all of life’s experiences. People, as his beloved children, just have to be intentional about finding it.

Emily Pittman is a Summer Intern at Asheville Youth Mission.  She attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is from Cary, North Carolina. 

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