What youth workers can learn from Grey's Anatomy about prayer

As I've been breastfeeding, I've been binge watching Grey's Anatomy. I recently watched an episode in Season 5 in which Addison's brother, Archer, has worms in his brain – something that's clearly a very serious condition. In an attempt to save his life, they fly to Seattle to have Addison's ex-husband, Derrick, a neurosurgery god, attempt to save Archer's life. Upon learning how many worms Archer has in his brain, even Derrick decides the surgery is far too risky for him to complete. Left with no where else to turn, Addison retreats into the chapel to pray only to discover she does not know how. It's then that Addison's colleagues find her.

When Callie, an orthopedic surgeon, sits down next to Addison, Addison confesses, “I don't know how to pray. ..I have no clout with God. God doesn't even know who I am. Which sucks because I could use some help.”

Rather than respond to this, Callie kneels and offers a prayer of her own.

As I watched this late the other night it occurred to me what a youth ministry “moment” this was, right in the middle of Grey's Anatomy.

How many Addison's do we have in our youth ministries? Teens who are unsure how to pray, when to pray, or if they're important enough for God to hear their prayers?

There are certainly several Addison's in my youth ministry. In discussions, they vocalize their inadequacies about prayer. On retreats, they struggle with our prayer stations. They freeze when they're invited to pray in front of others.

When I hear and see these things, so often I try to respond with words – by quoting what Jesus says about how to pray – or by reassuring them that there is no wrong way to pray; That God can and does hear their prayers.

I'd like to think that sometimes these words are helpful. 

Maybe they are.

Even so, I wonder how much more helpful it might be if in these moments, we instead followed Callie's example. Rather than tell teens how to pray or even reassure them of the importance of prayer, maybe what teens need most is for someone to instead sit with them, to become a visible reminder of God's presence to them. Maybe teens need someone in their lives who's more committed to showing them how to pray than to teaching them how to pray. Maybe they need someone who will stop lecturing them and instead pray with them.

The next time I stumble upon one of the Addison's in my youth ministry, I hope I have the courage NOT to try to fix their prayer life but instead, to show them my prayer life – as imperfect as it may be.

Maybe then teens will see they don't need clout to approach God in prayer. Instead, thanks to Jesus' work on the cross, as the author of Hebrews says, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Jen Bradbury on Youth Ministry

Jen serves as the director of youth ministry at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. A veteran youth worker, Jen holds an MA in Youth Ministry Leadership from Huntington University. Jen is the author of The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe about Jesus (The Youth Cartel), The Real Jesus (The Youth Cartel), Unleashing the Hidden Potential of Your Student Leaders (Abingdon), and the forthcoming A Mission That Matters (Abingdon). Her writing has also appeared in YouthWorker Journal, Immerse, and The Christian Century. Jen is also the Assistant Director of Arbor Research Group where she has led many national studies. When not doing ministry or research, she and her husband, Doug, and daughter, Hope, can be found traveling and enjoying life together.

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