By Jenna Ebener
Last month, I discussed my emotional challenges chaperoning middle-schoolers at a youth group retreat. Due to an intense school year, I was emotionally, mentally and spiritually drained. I struggled with not being able to be what I thought our youths needed from me. What helped me work through all of my emotions was feeling them, thanking God for them and then offering them back to him. I also knew innately that adoration would be a time of healing.
Adoration at this retreat was unlike anything else I have experienced. To have more than 1,100 middle-schoolers gathered in one room and utterly focused on God is truly incredible. I have never seen the Holy Spirit more at work. Last year, while gazing at Jesus in the monstrance, I was filled with the most joy and love for God I have ever felt. I thought my heart would burst; I felt his presence so strongly! This year, I had a moment of fear before adoration that I would not be able to feel God’s presence as strongly. However, that fear was extinguished the instant I laid eyes on him.
I asked God to help me and told him I did not know what to ask for. I did not have to wait long — one of the first songs had this refrain: “You’ve always known what my heart needs. Can you tell me” (“Tell me,” Carrollton). I used this refrain as a mantra and sang it to God with all my heart.
Immediately, I started to connect with every song in a way I had not been able to all weekend. While I enjoy listening and singing along to praise and worship music, I reached a new level. I took at least some lyrics in each song to heart and sang them directly to God as if he were right in front of me. He was telling me what I needed to hear and I sang my response back to him. I could hear God telling me to look up and keep my eyes on him.
It is okay to feel negative emotions such as sorrow and pain, but I realized I was focusing too much on those feelings and not bringing them to God. By keeping my eyes on him, I could forget that I was drowning. I realized I can never drown when I am with him for he is my lifesaver keeping me afloat. I just need to remember to reach for him. He wants to share every feeling we have; we just have to let him. As I came to these conclusions, I understood what it meant to adore and unite with God. I rested my chin in my hands and stared at him in wonder.
As I continued on with the weekend, I was able to be more like myself. While I was physically tired from the nonstop weekend, my renewed spiritual and mental energy brought a lightness to my soul that was palpable to others. For the first time in a while, I could truly say I felt good. “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 42:11).
(Jenna Ebener, who has a Master of Social Work from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with disabilities.)