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January 06, 2023
What Does Sanctuary Mean to a Teenager?
By Mike Standish

You shouldn’t be running in church. My sister and I heard those words a lot growing up. As a kid “sanctuary” was communicated to me as “a place of stillness and silence.” In my mind, church was no place for fun and rowdiness. 

Sometimes the opposite of “stillness and silence” isn’t a rowdy kid but a distracted teen. We see our students studying and assume because the music is blaring, there’s no way they can be concentrating. I’ve made the same assumptions when my kids bounce off the walls during nightly Bible time. In my frustration I’ve said, you aren’t even paying attention! To my shame, they then go on to explain everything I just said. 

So let’s come back to the idea of sanctuary. Is it just about stillness and silence or is there more to its meaning? What kind of “sanctuary” does a teenager really need?

Sanctuary is safety and security.

My kids have gone through phases when nighttime brought fear. To give them a senes of security, we memorized Proverbs 18:10, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and they are safe.” Anytime they got afraid, we spoke these words out loud. 

Proverbs 18:10 gives us one picture of sanctuary – the safety and security of our Father in the midst of chaos. Here sanctuary does not necessarily imply stillness and quietness, but safety and security. I’m convinced that my parents could have been freed from guilt and shame when their rowdy kids were running in church, if others had a better understanding of sanctuary. 

What if the goal was making sure we understood that church is a safe place, not just a quiet place? What if the goal in connecting with God was not simply coming to a place where we turn off the music and quietly read our Bibles, but coming to a place where we find security in the words of our Father? 

 

Your teen needs safety and security.

Parents, it’s possible for your students to be listening to the Bible and loud music (and maybe even doing a few more things) at the same time. James says to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). That means when we’re tempted to shut down the chaos and assume there’s nothing productive that can be happening with this many distractions at once, ask a question instead. What’s God teaching you? What’s your favorite song on this playlist? The response may show you there’s a lot more happening behind the chaos than you realize. 

What if you learn that the song they have blaring gives them a sense of peace when their world feels so fragile? What if our goal is to help them learn that God shows up in different ways to provide safety and security? 

Our students have a lot of stress and pressure in their world. More than ever, they need sanctuary. They need the presence of God to break through in their life and remind them it’s going to be okay. He’s bigger than any issue they face and He’s strong enough to handle what they can’t.

 

Your teen also needs stillness and quietness.

While sanctuary is much broader than stillness and quietness, it certainly includes these concepts. Sometimes we adjust our understanding and sometimes we encourage our students to be challenged in their understanding. In some of our Gracestudents teaching series, we have challenged students to consider the role stillness and silence can play in their lives. Silence can be painfully hard. In fact, the magic timeframe a small group leader can wait in silence after asking a question is typically ten seconds. By that point, someone usually breaks the silence to end the awkwardness. 

Some students may struggle with the idea of silence or a single-focused activity. That’s okay. Understanding that discomfort is not always bad is a huge step toward maturity. Find strategic moments to encourage your student to consider the moments when they can put away the device so they can listen to the voice of God in a fresh way, or face the painful thoughts in their head that can lead to healing. Challenge them to ask themselves one question a week and then take time throughout the week to stop and actually give it some focused thought. The question can be spiritual, relational, or emotional, but the idea is to help them grow in learning to work through silence. 

Sanctuary is both a retreat from the chaos and safety in the midst of chaos. The primary goal is not silence; the goal is experiencing the presence of our Father who meets us exactly in the ways we need to be met so we can enjoy Him in new ways. He meets us in the silence, and He meets us in the busyness. He meets the kneeler praying in silence, and the rowdy kid running with joy. He meets us in the quietness of the early morning before anyone is up, and the noisy room where music is playing and conversation is happening at the same time. Praise God that He shows up in a variety of ways so we can experience sanctuary.

Want to help your student get connected at Grace? Click here to learn more about the ministry of Grace and opportunities for kids and students. 

 

1 Comment

  1. JoAnna

    Sanctuary as safety and security. I love this so much. Growing up in a Western culture, it was shameful to be afraid or show fear. Cowboy up! What a difference the timely words of God would have made, especially at night.

    Reply

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