Meet God in the mess

It seemed like everything that could go wrong for our first YWAM Family Gathering, did; perhaps God was doing something better than everything going “right.”

Over the last several weeks, we have been part of a Family Ministries team with YWAM VA (Youth With A Mission Virginia), and have been taking steps of obedience towards an idea God placed in front of us. The idea — to create a virtual space for families around the world to be inspired and equipped to seek God together — came out of nowhere during a time of prayer. The more we prayed into the idea, the clearer two things became: 1) that God was up to something big, and 2) that He was only going to show us a little at a time.

We spent the following weeks preparing for something that could be simple, but powerful: we would invite families we knew to a virtual Zoom gathering, where we would share and demonstrate how accessible it is for families to seek God in their homes, as they are. We knew all the elements that could go wrong, and in the days leading to the gathering we held several rehearsals.

The day arrived, and it was a wild ride.

With over 30 families on the call, representing 7 countries, we felt the pressure for things to go well. From the start, technical difficulties hit hard. On top of the normal video call issues, we found something was wrong with the live interpretation, and there were audio/visual issues that hadn’t happened during rehearsals, including equipment failures. Instead of an opening, energetic song, there was a deafening silence. Normally, I have no problem improvising in these spaces, but today was different.

The night before, my wife left for a getaway, and I knew I would be cohosting the gathering while trying to keep three young kids — 7, 5, and 1 — engaged. At first, it seemed the fun Zoom filters and toys strewn around the room were working; the moment they saw their mom on the call, though, the mood shifted. That, combined with the pre-lunch restlessness, led to cries, whining, and loud talking, all while I tried to stall to fill the silence. Each time I tried to consult my notes for a section I was leading, I had a toddler screaming, or a little girl asking if she could tell everyone about her shoes, or a boy pushing past me to change the filters.

Needless to say, it was hard to focus. The first phase was a blur, but I knew the second phase — when we went into personalized Breakout Rooms — should be a little easier.

Not quite. The volume, resistance, and interjections increased, all while I tried to teach a game that necessitated family involvement. I managed to get one child to join in the group game, and did my best to give the instructions, at least until my wife unmuted and shared they couldn’t hear me over the crying toddler. I persevered, and as I sent the families to play the game in their own homes, I muted and took a deep breath.

Surprisingly, my kids began to engage. We were actually able to do the game. After each of us had a turn, I let the other families know to return to the call.

Knowing how much prayer went into this gathering, I took a moment before the families returned to ask, “God, what are you trying to show us?”

I felt like He said, “People need to see the mess.”

If we’re honest, this is how we want gatherings like this to go:

  • Everyone we invite shows up.
  • It all starts on time, and goes completely to plan.
  • Audio and video elements are seamless.
  • The kids are not just engaged, but cute and enthusiastic.
  • Our family demonstrates the game perfectly.
  • Families are inspired, lives are changed, and we sleep well that night.

As great as that sounds, it teaches those families a limited lesson: this is how you can grow closer God, as long as everything is going to plan.

I don’t know about your family, but “going to plan” is not the norm for ours. Realistically, things can regularly feel busy and hectic; our kids are frequently working through some hard emotion; we parents often feel limited in our capacity to navigate “life” stuff, much less press in spiritually.

The Gathering could have gone perfectly, and completely missed one of the most important truths: we can meet God in the mess.

As the families returned, I shared openly (or at least, this is what I think I shared; it’s all a blur):
“This has been a crazy time so far, right? Crazy because of these silly filters, but also because of the technical difficulties and frustrated children. Isn’t this a reflection of so much of life as families? No matter how hard we plan, and what we put in place, we face these messy moments where nothing seems to go right, and we feel like we, as parents, have little to no capacity to make it through.”

“I’ll be real with you: if I wasn’t responsible for leading this time, I would have stopped our video, gone and dealt with the kids, and likely not done the activity. I wouldn’t have felt like the game was possible, much less worth the work and tears that I’d face. But because I had to lead it, I had to keep going. Where I didn’t have capacity, God did.

“It’s okay if these times don’t go as planned. It’s okay if they seem to be absolutely awful. We’re just taking little steps, practicing what it means to seek God together. As we do this, we are creating a new culture; and one day, we will see a little change here, and unexpected engagement there. Seeking God as a family isn’t about being perfect; it’s about taking little steps to be with Him.”

We often believe we can only seek and experience God when conditions are ideal; we don’t say that, but our responses reveal the hidden belief. What does a belief like this say about families in far more difficult situations? Do they not get to seek or experience God? No; any circumstance can be an opportunity to seek and experience God.

In fact, the hardest circumstances are often the ones where we experience God in some of the most powerful and transformational ways.

Families: God is at work, and wants your family to experience Him. The harder it is, perhaps the deeper you will discover God together.

These were the values that guided our gathering:

We believe that families are a gift; God is up to something big in and through families, and now is the time to join in.

We believe that prayer is powerful; God has given our families access to something that can accomplish abundantly more than we could ask or imagine.

We believe that games are fun; and by having fun as a family, using games to pray and seek God together, we can find ourselves growing closer, not just to each other, but to God.

When I was finally able to leave the meeting, I was exhausted and my nerves were still shaking. In my humanity, I would have preferred the perfect gathering; but if our mess inspires just one family to believe they can actually experience God, as they are, then I’ll gladly take it.




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